St. Paul's Church seeking a new musical director

Posted 9/6/18

Former Chestnut Hill resident Alex Serio is set to take over as the next director of the Wynnefield branch of Settlement Music School. (Photo courtesy of Alex Serio) by Michael Caruso Ever since …

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St. Paul's Church seeking a new musical director


Former Chestnut Hill resident Alex Serio is set to take over as the next director of the Wynnefield branch of Settlement Music School. (Photo courtesy of Alex Serio)

by Michael Caruso

Ever since Zachary Hemenway left his position as director of music (organist and choir director) at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, in June of this year, the search has been on to name his replacement. Because St. Paul’s Church plays so prominent a part in the musical life of Chestnut Hill, it’s a search that holds the interest of many music lovers beyond the confines of the parish itself.

The Rev. Clifford Cutler, the rector of St. Paul’s Church, explained that the search began immediately upon Hemenway’s departure for a similar post at Epiphany Episcopal Church, Seattle, Washington State. Arabella Pope and Wendy Munyon are the co-chairs of the search committee. The search is now closed. Among Hemenway’s most notable predecessors are Thomas Dunn and Rick Alexander.

Cutler said, “The church’s music ministry includes a 45-voice adult choir with 8 to 10 professional staff singers. A year ago, this choir was in residence at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, England. There is a choral scholar program for high school youth that adds four aspiring young singers to the adult choir. The chorister program includes 30 youngsters ages 8 and older who receive significant musical and choral training. The expectation is that an organ scholar will be added after the new director of music is hired.”

Cutler pointed out that the church’s organ is an Aeolian-Skinner instrument, the last to be finished by famed tonal director Donald G. Harrison. St. Paul’s organ has 6,357 pipes in 110 ranks, compared to the Fred. J. Cooper pipe organ at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall, which has 6,939 in 97 ranks.

“With such an instrument,” Cutler continued, “the church is looking forward to a music director who can satisfy a sophisticated and critical audience in performance and improvisation. Equally important, with two significant choirs, is a proven ability to lead, conduct and inspire both our choristers and adults.

“Most important,” he said, “is engaging the entire congregation in musical participation at worship. Being at home with music in the Anglican tradition is a must. The church is also looking for a diversity of musical styles and a willingness to grow in the position. Finally, collaboration is critical. The rector and music director form a partnership to bring the congregation together in its growth in Christ.”

Cutler added that the church is looking for a music director who can work with outside organizations in presenting public events. “A survey of the congregation,” he said, “highlighted the following qualities for a new director of music: an excellent choral conductor, understands music’s role in liturgy and worship, strong in choir rehearsal and management, broad and sophisticated repertoire of music, superior church organist, and a positive relationship with the congregation.”

Cutler said that St. Paul’s expects to hire its new music director by the end of the calendar year. The three finalists were drawn from an applicant pool of 47.


Now that all six branches of Settlement Music School have re-opened their doors for the start of the 2018-19 academic term, two of those branches have welcomed new branch directors. Los Angeles native Sara Hiner is taking over at the Germantown Branch (located at 6128 Germantown Ave.) while Ohio-born Alex Serio is taking the reins at the Wynnefield Branch (4910 Wynnefield Ave.). Hiner has already settled into her new home in East Mt. Airy while former Chestnut Hiller Serio has moved to Manayunk.

Hiner’s undergraduate and graduate work as a bassoon performance major was done at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to Settlement’s Germantown Branch, Hiner worked as the assistant dean at Los Angeles’ Colburn Community School of Performing Arts, located just across the street from the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Founded in 1950, the entire organization is comprised of the community school, a dance academy, and a conservatory.

Hiner explained that the community school’s students are a diverse group of budding musicians, much in the manner of the student body at Settlement Music School. Some pay full tuition, some receive financial aid, and some are given merit-based scholarships.

After a decade at Colburn, Hiner felt the urge to move. “When I saw the opening for a branch director at Settlement,” she recalled, “it was a no-brainer. Philadelphia, like Los Angeles, has a national and even international reputation for the arts, plus there’s its incredible history, which is an added bonus.

“I took the interview at the Germantown Branch,” she continued, “and I really liked the juxtaposition of the old and the new, that the school’s traditions have been preserved even as the school is preparing to move forward. And, of course, it didn’t hurt that Sol Schoenbach was a bassoonist!”

Schoenbach was Settlement’s executive director in the 1950s when he decided to expand the school’s reach into the city’s neighborhoods by creating the Germantown Branch. Prior to his tenure at Settlement, he was the principal bassoonist for the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Ohio native Alex Serio comes to Settlement’s Wynnefield Branch from much closer by. His previous post was at the Main Line-based Nelly Berman School of Music. A graduate of the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, which is part of Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, he’s a trumpeter by training.

Serio continued his musical education with graduate study at Towson University in Maryland. During summers, he worked as director of private lessons at the Philadelphia International Music Festival, which is held at Bryn Mawr College during the months of June and July.

At the Berman School, Serio started as the administrative assistant and eventually became administrative director.

“When the position of branch director for Settlement’s Wynnefield Branch opened up,” he continued, “it seemed like the right time and the right place. I liked the idea that the Wynnefield Branch was the intersection for kids on the Main Line who are often quite wealthy with students from West Philadelphia who aren’t necessarily so well off, and that they would be receiving the same high level of music education and working together making music.”

All six branches of Settlement Music School will host an Open House Saturday, Sept. 29, from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. For information about the Open House at the Germantown Branch, call 215-320-2610; for information about the Wynnefield Branch’s Open House, call 215-320-2640.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a member of Settlement Music School’s piano faculty since 1986 and teach at the historic Mary Louise Curtis Branch located at 416 Queen St. in Philadelphia. You can contact NOTEWORTHY at To read more of NOTEWORTHY, visit

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