South Charlotte

Ministry allows volunteers to share gift of music

Martha Iley, 90, is a founder and still an active participant in Metropolitan Music Ministries. She also teaches a few piano students each week.
Martha Iley, 90, is a founder and still an active participant in Metropolitan Music Ministries. She also teaches a few piano students each week. MELINDA JOHNSTON

Metropolitan Music Ministries recently held its 30th annual concert at Providence Baptist Church.

More than 400 people attended the celebration of music in worship, where noted directors, choirs, and instrumentalists performed sacred music.

While the annual concert is a way to thank the community for support, it’s also a kick-off to another year of service for the nonprofit that matches volunteer musicians, instrumentalists and others with nursing homes and other places that request their services.

Metropolitan Music Ministries was established in 1984 by friends Rebecca Echerd, Martha Iley, and Catherine Stout.

For Iley, a music teacher and choir director, it was the fulfillment of a call she received eight years prior while working on a patriotic program at Hawthorne Nursing Center to celebrate the country’s bi-centennial.

“It was July 1, 1976, and the residents and I had practiced all morning. After lunch, when it was time for the residents to rest, I stepped outside on the balcony to take a break. Suddenly I was aware of this presence. Someone was speaking to me saying, ‘I have something special for you to do. Take your music out into the city,’” Iley said.

“I thought, ‘I’m already working with these old people. What else can I do?’ I had no idea how that would happen, but that was the message. And, sure enough, over the next few years, the meaning of that message would gradually unfold.”

The three friends were already going to several nursing homes on their own to provide music for residents. They realized that, if they pooled their resources and talents, they could bring other people on board and reach a wider audience.

MMM was born.

Over the past three decades, the organization has grown exponentially. There are no dues or membership forms to participate. All that is required is a desire to share the gift of music. Some volunteers serve monthly, some on an as-needed basis.

Since its founding in 1984, MMM has presented over 11,750 programs or services to organizations across the area including nursing homes, assisted living centers, retirement and rehabilitation centers, hospitals, prisons and shelters.

Over 481,000 have attended MMM programs thanks to the hundreds of volunteer clergy, musicians and lay ambassadors who give their time and talent.

The MMM scholarship program awards several $1,500 scholarships annually to college music majors committed to sacred music. Since their beginning the group has awarded more than 60 scholarships.

Under the MMM umbrella a group goes to Rebound program at Charlotte Rescue Mission one Sunday afternoon a month for music and a short worship service. A few days before Christmas each year they pull out all the stops gathering a brass ensemble from players across the area to perform Christmas music followed by Iley leading the resident in carols.

Charlotte Rescue Mission’s Megan Lepore said such service means a lot to those in the mission’s programs.

“This group comes once a month to lead Chapel Services. When groups come to do that, it shows our residents that the community really cares and that they aren’t forgotten,” Lepore said.

Many senior residential facilities also benefit from MMM.

“We do a lot of programs for people that don’t get a lot of live music or attend church services. We bring it to them and if we’re on their schedule, you can be sure they will be looking for us,” said MMM volunteer Lisa Honeycutt.

Honeycutt performs seven times a month at five nursing homes and assisted living centers. Depending on the schedule she may sing with a partner and an accompanist, solo with an accompanist, or solo with her keyboard.

“It’s such a joy to serve. It’s all about forming relationships with these seniors who are so deserving of the attention and special friendships that we develop. I know their names and look for them each time I come. They are such a blessing to me in so many ways,” Honeycutt said.

Iley said music is magic for many seniors with the right melody bringing back memories long forgotten.

“Sometimes people have lost the ability to talk, but if we are having a little chapel service and we start signing the doxology or saying the Lord’s Prayer, they will join back in. It’s something about the worship that brings back those connections for them if only for a little while,” Iley said.

MMM board president, Diane Back, said the organization allows her to use her gifts and talents in a different way.

“I am the director of the Center of Leadership and Staff Development at CPCC. I am not a professional musician, but I organize a service each month lining up the singers and musicians. I meet a lot of interesting people, and I get to use the skill set I use at work in a religious setting. It’s a great way to serve the community,” Back said.

At 90, Iley is still active in MMM.

“It’s a wonderful thing to have been called. I would have never thought of this myself, but the Lord had this in mind for me, and he made it clear to me. And it’s been such a joy and a privilege,” Iley said.

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: m.johnston@carolina.rr.com.

Want to know more?

Metropolitan Music Ministries is always looking for volunteer musicians, singers, instrumentalists and others who would like to serve in various venues throughout the area. They are also willing to add other venues to their regular rotation if volunteers are available. To volunteer, or to get your organization on the list, call 704-529-1616. For more information visit www.metromusicministries.org

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