Rob Ridgell’s love of music has taken him around the country, the world and has now brought him home to Charlotte.
For the past three months, the Charlotte native has been serving the church that helped define his career path. Ridgell, a nationally acclaimed church musician and organist, is now the director of music at Christ Episcopal Church on Providence Road, where he began singing in the youth choir as a boy.
“I really got the ‘itch’ at Christ Church,” Ridgell said, noting that he was 11 when he began playing the organ.
Ridgell, now 37, said the church funded a trip for him to sing in New York City when he was 14, an experience he said inspired him. “It fed me into a musical experience that ignited my heart,” he said. “That’s the joy for me; music can take us all away to another place.”
His mother, Jane, was also a church organist – at Dilworth United Methodist and other churches during her career. “That certainly influenced me. In essence I was born on the organ bench,” he said.
He has been studying, playing and conducting ever since. For the past 20 years, Ridgell, who graduated from Myers Park High, has held positions at cathedrals and churches such as the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City and the Cathedral Church of the Savior in Philadelphia. He was also the organist and director of music education at Trinity Wall Street, N.Y., for six years and spent two years as the director of sacred music at the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Saint Paul, Minn.
Merging faith and music
When the director of music position opened at Christ Church, Rector Chip Edens said a search committee felt Ridgell was uniquely qualified. “Rob is one of the most highly acclaimed church musicians in America,” Edens said. “Rob had performed in a number of unique settings: movies, the Olympics, Spoleto. He has toured throughout North America, Europe and Asia offering concerts and lectures specializing in liturgical music and community-wide music initiatives.
“What most impressed me about Rob was that he has a deep faith and remarkable spiritual vision for music and the arts.
“Not only was he skilled and experienced, he was this amazing person who is passionate about sharing music and its connection to faith with the community in ways that are not necessarily traditional for churches.”
Ridgell said the decision to bring his family back to Charlotte required discernment and prayer, but in the end was his calling. “It made sense to join our family and our spiritual home in Charlotte,” he said, noting they’re building a home in south Charlotte.
“We’re here to plant roots and stay.”
As he settles into his new role, Ridgell said he’s looking forward not only to serving the congregation, but to working to expand youth appreciation of music in the church and community.
“My role is within the church, but the church equips me to be a community developer of music,” he said. “(Music) empowers the lives of others. The next generation is my focus, building youth and musical education is a key part of my work. Music and arts in any church is essential in helping teach … music education in a time where (schools) don’t always have state funding. The church is equipped to pick up that tab.”
‘An open door’
Kevin Kerstetter, course manager of the Royal School of Church Music Carolina, said Ridgell has been involved with the organization nearly 20 years and has been the course organist a number of times.
“Rob is respected nationally as being a really fine, well-rounded church musician. That’s one of his greatest attributes. He’s a choral conductor, organ recitalist and a really fine service player,” Kerstetter said.
While Ridgell looks forward to working with young people, he said there’s room for all within Christ Church’s music programs, regardless of age, beliefs or talent.
“This is an open door for all people,” he said. “My job is to empower and help others, especially in a day and age where we need that ‘love of neighbor.’ ”
While Ridgell lives his vocation, he said it’s still a passion that he’s happy to practice for “hours and hours” each week. “I feed my soul by practicing. There are times at home I will play piano and my children will dance. That’s just as much practice as enjoyment. It feeds the soul like reading a good book.”
Trenda: 704-358-5089 Twitter: @htrenda
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