by Michael Caruso
When Ken Lovett completed playing and conducting his final service at Chestnut Hill’s Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields on Sunday, June 26, the question I was asked most frequently following our story about the milestone in the Local was “What’s he going to do now?” The question got me an invitation to Lovett’s home on West Mt. Airy Avenue, a summation of those 25 years at St. Martin’s and a look into his future endeavors.
Of the future, Lovett said that he was accepting the position as organist for Donald Nally, who is taking over from Mark Anderson as music director of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. He’s also planning to offer private piano lessons in the guesthouse behind his home.
Lovett came to St. Martin’s Church after graduation from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. Lovett studied organ with Gene Roan, who suggested that he audition for the position of organist and choir director at a small church in Chestnut Hill.
“Gene said he felt that St. Martin’s would be perfect for me,” Lovett recalled. “He brought me over to the church. I saw it, liked it, applied for the position and got it. It’s the only job as an organist and choir director I’ve ever had.”
Lovett, 50, described the St. Martin’s congregation as a “community of bright people. That was evident right from the start at the audition.”
At the time, St. Martin’s mixed choir of men and women was only five years old. Its predecessor was a choir of men and boys, the traditional choral ensemble in Anglican churches all over the world, which trace their foundation back to the Church of England, which split from the Roman Catholic Church in the second half of the 16th century during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1.
When Lovett took over the position of music director, he inherited a paid professional quartet and 11 volunteers. “The volunteers were wonderful and interested in learning new things,” Lovett said. “It was an enviable chorus to inherit. The individual volunteer members are not necessarily great solo voices — we have the professional soloists for that — but they’re intelligent singers. I’ve never had to spend time teaching them the notes. I’ve always been able to work on sound and expression. And I think that the space in the church, itself, works with you to produce the sound.”
Lovett recalled with great pleasure the project to renovate and expand the church’s small Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ by the Austin Organ Company, which in turn inspired the renovation of the building, bringing it back to its original pristine Gothic Revival beauty. “The organ is now perfect for playing Anglican services. It’s not a concert/recital instrument, but it supports the choir and congregation beautifully.”
Of disappointments, Lovett spoke of dealing with the financial limitations of a small-to-medium congregation. Of pleasures, he spoke of forming a children’s choir that now numbers 19 as well as the revival of Choral Evensong, the Anglican answer to the Latin Vespers of the Roman Church.
The 2011 season of free concerts in Pastorius Park, sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Community Association, came to a glorious finale last Wednesday, July 27, with the West Philadelphia Orchestra. I started writing for the Local in 1986, and this summer season was the first one in quite some time in which every program came off as planned — out-of-doors before an enthusiastic audience that was clearly enjoying itself.
Last week’s concert was preceded by a picnic thanking those police officers and firefighters who regularly serve Chestnut Hill.
The West Philadelphia Orchestra is not a symphonic ensemble that performs the classical repertoire of an orchestra, like the Philadelphia Orchestra. Not quite the polar opposite, mind you, but very nearly that different. The West Philadelphia Orchestra is, at its core, a wind band – woodwinds and brass instruments plus percussion – that plays updated versions of Klezmer and Eastern European folk music arranged for its complement of instruments.
Almost all the music the group played last week is music that could be danced to, and probably was at one time or another. All the selections were performed with an engaging rhythmic swing as well as admirable balance and voicing. Individual players took turns soloing, embellishing the basic tunes with highflying displays of technical and tonal virtuosity, pushing against the boundaries of traditional harmonies. Especially intriguing were the forays into jazz, rhythmically and harmonically, that flavored and energized the music.