Religions and Spirituality

Grace Episcopal Church: The Woman Behind the Music Celebrates 20 Years

08fd91c3e630da287db1_matlack_hands_out_cottas.jpg
Novice members of the choir at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison receive their cottas at a Sunday service. Pictured (left to right) are the Rev. Lauren Ackland, Graham Ayer, Dr. Anne Matlack, Kiera Munter, Kathryn Blount, Lauren Massey, and head choristers Tommy Cullen and Siobhan McCulloch, and Heather McCullough, who received her blue-ribbon promotion. Credits: Paula Roper
e33e1cc4127cf833a7cd_anne_matlack__1.jpg
Rehearsing for the big Halloween Concert set for Oct. 30 at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison is Anne Matlack, D.M.A., who is celebrating 20 years as organist and choirmaster. Credits: Suzanne Wegner Reeds
08fd91c3e630da287db1_matlack_hands_out_cottas.jpg

MADISON--Church choirs have been around forever—a Sunday morning fixture in many churches. Popular perception is that a choir rehearses once or twice a week during most of the year, and steps it up a bit for the holidays. Thumbing through the want ads for choir director will bring up a number of part-time jobs.

That’s not how it works for Anne Matlack, D.M.A., full-time organist and choirmaster at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison. She is also the artistic director of the Harmonium Choral Society, which is a part-time job. Between the two, there is always something coming up, and she works more than full time. Her current project is a Halloween Concert to be performed on Oct. 30.

Matlack began her career at Grace 20 years ago, an anniversary that will be formally celebrated at the church in November. When she was hired, she learned she would replace a woman who had been there for 50 years, which was intimidating. “It’s a challenge to follow someone who has been with a choir for so long.”

Sign Up for E-News

A lot has changed in the last 20 years, but the heart is still the same; Grace has always had a strong choir. “When I came, they wanted to get more kids and young families,” Matlack remembers. “It was an older congregation, and I had a four-year-old; I felt like the only person with a preschooler. We added babysitting, though I was the only one using it, but then I was able to tell people that we offered it and more and more young people started coming.” Now the church is full of young families.

Matlack works a full six-day week, including all day Sunday. Of course, she does have two jobs, but the majority of her week is at Grace Church, where she plays the organ for most of the services, and manages a chorus of around 100 members who are divided into multiple groups. She has the adult choir, School Choir I and School Choir II, and an all-male youth choir called the Gargoyles.

“Sometimes adults sing alone, but all groups sing both separately and together depending on the music and needs,” she explains. That requires figuring out how to include third and fourth graders in Handel’s Messiah or a piece from Mozart, along with the older youth choirs and the adults.

Kids do real music in Matlack’s choirs—nothing is dumbed down. “Some music is difficult and hard to rehearse,” said Matlack, “or words are harder and so the younger singers might not be included,” but that’s usually not true of the whole piece, just sections.

The organization of so many people and age groups is difficult, and planning how to include everyone in classical music programs is a big job. “It’s complicated,” Matlack admits, “but I don’t see the point of not having everyone sing together.” It’s one of the experiences from her own years in a choir that she appreciated.

Matlack’s path to her career began when she was in the third grade and joined the choir at her church in Philadelphia. “We sang Bach and Britten as we do here. We were really dedicated,” she recalls. “My second year in choir, when I was in the fourth grade, we got a new choir director who was only 22 years old, and we were very naughty to him.” Matlack and several of her friends would play tricks on him, like backwards day when they would do exactly opposite to whatever he said. “He was on to us right away,” she said, and he would leave them sitting when the others were singing. They changed their behavior pretty quickly. The young director gave children real music and solos, and she thinks that’s a lot of what kept their interest.

In order to make order out of what could be chaos, Matlack mixes the experienced kids with the inexperienced, and older with younger. “Third and fourth graders are interspersed with novices,” she said, “and their job is to get to their own page, then check to make sure the kids in their charge are on the right page. It’s an Anglican tradition to have someone act as a head boy, such as what you see in the Harry Potter movies. That’s not a lesson I see kids getting in a lot of places.”

Some of Matlack’s singers begin in the third grade, and stay until they graduate from high school, returning from college to sing with her choir at the Christmas Eve midnight service, a service that actually begins at 10 p.m. “It means we’re singing Silent Night at midnight, which is enough at midnight for most,” she said, so people can enjoy the Mass without being out until the wee hours of the morning.

No one auditions for any of the choirs; anyone who wants to join can. They don’t even need to belong to the church. And what if someone really can’t sing? “I don’t know,” Matlack said. “That’s never happened.”

One of the most popular concerts Grace does is the bi-annual Halloween Concert, which was instituted by Matlack in 1992. “I always wanted to do a Halloween concert. We had one every year when I went to Yale. The kids love it, and they always ask why we can’t do it every year,” Matlack said. “But they would get bored with it if we did, and so would I.”

On the off years, the choirs sing in an All Saints concert.

The Halloween Concert has grown in the years since it began; it is now a huge production involving all of the singers, as well as musical guests. “It was simpler back then,” she said. “We did songs about animals, and “Lover’s Ghost” by Vaughan Williams, then we started adding things. This year we’re doing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and one year I had a fabulous fiddle player and we did “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” I once got someone to do  “The Werewolves of London.”

While many churches shy away from the celebration of Halloween, the rector at Grace doesn’t. “I know there are some people who talk about the forces of evil,” said the Rev. Lauren Ackland. “I say if you’re laughing at the forces of evil, they have no power. We’re the ones who give it power; it doesn’t have a power of its own. And the musicality of the Halloween Concert, the quality of the music is just excellent!. They sing beautifully and take that part of it seriously, and if Anne throws a spider up in the air and everyone shrieks, that’s just fun.”

In fact, Matlack does throw a spider in the air during a performance of “Miss Muffet,” which is played in the style of Handel.

Matlack always wanted to be a classical musician, and she went to the Settlement School in Philadelphia for training. When she was in high school, her teacher suggested she learn the organ as a way to pay her way through college.

While a student at Yale University, she sang in the chapel choir and decided then that she wanted to do what the choir director did, so she decided she should renew her interest in the organ. “I was never an organ major,” she said, “but now it’s my bread and butter.”

She went to graduate school at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati and received both  Master of Music and Doctorate of Musical Arts degrees.

Matlack’s wishes came true, and she is very happy with the career path she chose. She has gotten involved in a number of other projects, such as a compline service held on a Wednesday night once a month for kids. There’s small chapel in the basement of the church where the service is held. It’s an opportunity for kids to go to service with their parents.

She also sends a lot of kids to Royal School of Church Music camp in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania for a week. “These kids really make friends that they keep their whole lives. They rehearse all morning, then have a break, then rehearse in the afternoon and sing Evensong. Last summer, we gave a Harry Potter theme to the camp. It was so much fun.”

And to fill in the gap of any free time she might have, Matlack works with Neighborhood House in Morristown, an afterschool program for people in primarily urban low-income families whose kids would otherwise go home to an empty house.

“Monday is my day off, and I’m very sacred about it,” she said. “I go to the supermarket, pick up my daughter from school, clean the house, read a book. The rest of the week I start after breakfast and go, so I really make the most of that one day.”

For details on the concert, go to http://thealternativepress.com/articles/bi-annual-holloween-concert-at-grace-church

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Livingston

Evolve Cycle And Fitness Presale Happening Now!

May 18, 2018

CALDWELL, NJ - Evolve Cycle and Fitness is now offering 10 classes for only $90. That’s only $9 a class when you purchase before its official Grand Opening on Friday, June 1, 2018. 

Only two weeks left to take advantage of this limited time offer! Call Martha at 973-979-5919 or click here to sign up.

Evolve Cycle and Fitness is a Premier Fitness Boutique ...

Save Up To 20% at CNP Treasures

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Are you still looking for the perfect gift for your mom or that special someone in your life for Mother's Day? Then CNP Treasures has you covered! Save up to 20% at CNP Treasures located at 14 Northfield Ave in West Orange.

Come by this weekend so we can help you find the perfect gift! Offer expires Sunday, May ...

Upcoming Events

Wed, May 23, 7:00 PM

Livingston Community Center (lower level), Livingston

NJ-11 Congressional Candidates Debate, hosted by ...

Education Government Law & Justice

Carousel_image_858d52d71559e8db11c1_35608_125981954105061_273496_n-1

Thu, May 24, 6:30 PM

Heritage Middle School , Livingston

Livingston Public Schools Presents: 6th to 7th ...

Education

Carousel_image_27a1c651521c971f9a4d_1cdb218c0a6934197fac_b2a4cff22151f502f44b2552724bef71_xl

Thu, May 24, 7:00 PM

Livingston Public Library, Livingston

Understanding Hearing Loss

Health & Wellness

Montclair HS Student Reported Sexual Assault in All-Gender Bathroom, Officials Say

May 17, 2018

MONTCLAIR, NJ - According to published reports on Wednesday, Montclair Police officials are investigating allegations of sexual assault reported to have occurred in a bathroom at Montclair High School.

Montclair police officials state that officers received a report about an incident at the high school of a sexual nature that occurred around 3:18 p.m. on Monday. The ...

Still Time to Register for Livingston's Fall Intown Soccer

May 14, 2018

LIVINGSTON, NJ — Although a late fee may be applied as of May 13, registration is still open for the Fall 2018 Intown Soccer season in Livingston, including the high school co-ed program.

Livingston Soccer Club's (LSC) Intown program is all about sportsmanship, making friends, getting some exercise and learning a bit about soccer along the way. LSC provides the following ...

10-Year-Old Cancer Patient Receives Donation from Randolph Hockey Family

May 21, 2018

RANDOLPH, NJ — While the inter-town hockey battles on the ice between Randolph and Roxbury are fierce at every age level, when it comes to real-life battles off the ice, there is no hesitation to offer help to their neighbor.

Such is the case with a recent gesture of unity and support from the members of the Randolph varsity hockey team, when they came together to ...

A Royal Pain

I went to a big wedding over the weekend.  It was in England.

I like to think I was invited, but according to the Royal Guards and the Thames Valley Police I was not.  But more about that later.

You see, not too long ago I received an evite addressed to me from H&M@royalwedbot.co.uk.  Curiously, it was in my spam folder with a warning message. For an evite it was pretty ...