Randall Hartsell, 61, is director of music at Cross and Crown Lutheran Church on N.C. 51 in Matthews and founder of a free concert series offered by the church.
An accomplished pianist with 27 years experience writing and publishing piano-teaching music, Hartsell set out this year to provide an accompaniment upgrade for the church choirs and bring "a more moving sound" to the sanctuary.
Hartsell's goal was realized this fall with the acquisition of a Kohler & Campbell baby grand piano that fits on the right side of the small sanctuary.
Hartsell and the church council felt, however, that the new piano's sound should be shared with more than just the 250 congregates.
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The Cross and Crown Friends of Music was formed to address the need, and the plan for a free concert series took shape.
Hartsell's idea was that the series would be an educational performance to involve the community in music.
Raised 25 miles east of Charlotte in the Stanly County town of Locust, Hartsell realized early he had a love of music.
He majored in piano performance and pedagogy at East Carolina University, graduating in 1972. He moved back to Albemarle, where he worked part time at Pfeiffer University - then Pfeiffer College - and taught private piano lessons.
In 1983, he moved to Charlotte: It proved to be a good move.
"I decided that if I learned to play the organ I could work at a church," said Hartsell. He took lessons with Stanley Scheer, professor of music and head of the Department of Fine Arts at Pfeiffer University and recognized for his expertise in church music and organ design.
Once trained, Hartsell played at Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church on Carmel Road and Pleasant Grove Methodist Church in the Oakdale section of Charlotte.
In 1991, Hartsell came to Cross and Crown. About the same time, he started writing piano-teaching pieces for publication, in addition to private piano lessons.
Over the last 27 years, Hartsell has had 76 compositions and 24 books published.
"You're never satisfied with what you're doing (when composing music). You're always looking to the future," said Hartsell.
As chairman of the National Guild of Piano Teachers and a member of the Charlotte Piano Teacher Forum, Hartsell has been instrumental in providing recital opportunities for young piano students in Mecklenburg County.
Hartsell has offered the Cross and Crown sanctuary for students' annual recitals.
"In the past, the students had to play on the studio piano we had in the sanctuary, and I felt that the sound of the piano was not what I would have liked," Hartsell said. "We needed to get a better piano."
Armed with the seed money his guild had paid for sanctuary rental, Hartsell was able to raise the remainder of the $9,000 needed to purchase the new piano.
Once the baby grand was installed, the community concert series took form after Hartsell met Dylan Savage, associate professor of piano at UNC Charlotte, this past summer.
Hartsell knew of Savage's passion for piano education. Savage agreed to play the inaugural concert, which took place at the end of October.
"The importance of a community concert series such as this can't be underestimated," Savage said. "It brings high-quality music to audiences who might not otherwise be exposed to this art form.
"It enables people to attend in a less formal atmosphere, making them feel more welcome. They know they will be among friends."
The Cross and Crown concert series plans to offer performances quarterly, with the next tentatively scheduled for January 2011.
"The sound of the music was intimate and moving," said Hartsell. "The concert was so energizing. I want the community to feel the energy, too."