Lake Norman & Mooresville

Mt. Zion UMC choir sings world premiere

Composer Pepper Choplin works with the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church Chancel Choir, which performed at the Lincoln Center in New York City on Memorial Day.
Composer Pepper Choplin works with the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church Chancel Choir, which performed at the Lincoln Center in New York City on Memorial Day. MT. ZION UMC

The Mt. Zion United Methodist Church Chancel Choir spent Memorial Day weekend singing in one of most famous venues in the United States.

While choir members said they were awed by the opportunity to sing in the world premiere performance of Pepper Choplin’s “We Are Not Alone: Experiencing the Lord’s Prayer” at the Lincoln Center in New York City, many were moved by more than the venue.

Marcy Mittelstadt, director of music ministries for Mt. Zion in Cornelius, sang with her choir at the Lincoln Center. She has previously taken choirs to the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, so she wasn’t expecting a rush of emotion.

“You think I’d be a little jaded, but at rehearsal I started crying,” she said. A woman next to her was sobbing. “The music was starting to get to me,” she said. “It was very emotional for a lot of people.”

Twenty-one members from the Mt. Zion chancel choir joined another 200 singers from across the United States for the Memorial Day concert.

“We Are Not Alone” is a 40-minute musical arrangement of The Lord’s Prayer, a 10-line prayer Jesus taught his disciples, as recorded in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.

Mittelstadt said that Choplin, a composer and church music minister based in Raleigh, wrote a musical piece for each phrase of the prayer.

Choir members practiced for several hours a day over Memorial Day weekend before performing the piece on Monday night. All participating choirs, which came from as far away as Oregon, were invited or recommended by Choplin.

“The Mt. Zion United Methodist Chancel Choir received this invitation because of the high quality and high level of musicianship demonstrated by the singers and by the exceptional recommendation given by Pepper Choplin,” said Jonathan Griffith, artistic director and principal conductor for the production company that organized the concert, in a press release.

The Mt. Zion choir spent five days visiting New York City and attending rehearsals. The extended practice time was rare for church choirs, which typically rehearse once a week.

Mittelstadt said that working in-depth with the music gave choir members time to delve into the meaning of the words and the music.

“Choir members told me they never realized ‘all of that was in the Lord’s Prayer,’” Mittelstadt said. “After our Sunday morning rehearsal, I told them, ‘Who needs church? We just had church.’ Having a musical experience is like worship, and we were doing it with faith families from all over the country.”

Janice Travis, who has been a member of the Mt. Zion chancel choir for two years, said that singing with a full orchestra was “amazing.” The choir sings with a much smaller orchestra at Mt. Zion.

She said she didn’t get nervous on stage, likely because of Choplin’s leadership during rehearsal, when he encouraged choir members to “sing our hearts out.”

“I cannot describe how wonderful it feels to have your voice melt into a beautiful oneness with such a large choir and extraordinary orchestra,” said Travis, who lives in Cornelius. She added that the experience was transcendental.

Jeff Knight, who has sung with Mt. Zion for more than 11 years, said he never expected singing with a church choir would lead to a performance at the Lincoln Center.

Waiting backstage in the Lincoln Center’s Charles Dana Lounge, where there are pictures of the tenured and guest conductors who have led the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, made him realize how special the event was.

“But, what really touched me most was performing this on Memorial Day,” Knight wrote in an email. “As a retired U.S. Air Force veteran, Memorial Day holds a unique place in my heart, as it does for most veterans. So, it was appropriate to sing a cantata based on the Lord’s Prayer.”

Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story for Marty? Email her at martyminchin@gmail.com.

Learn more:

The Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6:9-13, New International Version:

“‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.’”

Want to go?

The Mount Zion Chancel Choir with chamber orchestra will present “Our Father: A Journey through the Lord’s Prayer” by Pepper Choplin athe the 8:30 and 11 a.m. services May 31. The church is at 19600 Zion Ave., Cornelius. www. mtzionumc.net or 704-892-8566.

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