Community Music

Concerts with a Cause celebrates its 20th anniversary with a bluegrass flair

The featured photo is from the 2018 Monroe Crossing Concerts with a Cause appearance. Photo credit: Ed McCranie

It started as a way of celebrating St. John United Methodist Church’s new pipe organ, but it has evolved into a beloved music series that has raised more than $300,000 for area charities.

Concerts with a Cause marks its 20th anniversary this year.

“It’s mainly classical music,” said Jamie Garvey, St. John’s director of music, of the series.

Choral arrangements and chamber music are often showcased in the series. The 1844 sanctuary’s rich acoustics complements the music well, she said.

A photo from Monroe Crossing’s 2018 Concerts with a Cause concert taken by Ed McCranie.

The third concert of the series is a departure from the classical repertoire and features Monroe Crossing, a Minnesota-based bluegrass band whose name pays tribute to Bill Monroe the “father of bluegrass.”

This is the second time the group has performed in Concerts with a Cause; the first was in 2018.

“They are old-fashioned bluegrass. They play with a lot of energy. There’s a personal connection with the audience,” she said. “They do play some gospel music.”

But Monroe Crossing stands out among bluegrass ensembles, she said.

In 2007, composer Carol Barnett created a bluegrass mass especially written for the musical stylings of Monroe Crossing and the vocal ensemble, Vocal Essence.

Barnett’s objective was to “bring the solemnity of the classical choirbased mass together with the down home sparkle of bluegrass,” according to her notes at her website.  “My highest hope is that listeners coming from one tradition— classical or bluegrass—and perhaps dubious about the other, might discover something new and wonderful in the combination, as I have.”

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Barnett’s result, said Garvey, is a wonderfully complex and beautiful arrangement.

The St. John choir will join in for one of the songs during the performance.

The concert’s cause is Valor Station which provides services to first responders dealing with substance abuse and post traumatic stress disorder.

Monroe Crossing will be at the church at 3 p.m. Jan. 22.

All concerts are performed in the same mid-afternoon time slot, which is perfect for enjoying the sun as its light cascades into the sanctuary through the stained-glass windows, she said.

The next concert in the series might sound like another departure from the series’ classical bent, but the Kenari Saxophone Quartet doesn’t play jazz. The group plays classical music and will be in concert Feb. 19 with the Jessye Norman School of the Arts as the cause.

The season will come full circle on March 12 as the series ends highlighting the organ that started it all.

Ken Cowan and Bradley Hunter Welch, who are series’ patron favorites, will present a duo organist concert.

They are amazing as soloists, she said, and shine as a duo.

There will be a special organ crawl on Monday, March 13, with organist and organ builder, John Ourensma.

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Lynn Dobson of Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa, who built St. John’s organ, will be in town for the March 12 concert, she said.

The HUB for Innovation Augusta is the cause for the season finale.

Garvey said admission to the concerts is free thanks to the generous sponsors. Donations are received during the concert for the featured charity.

Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at Subscribe to the Augusta Good News’ newsletter here.

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