peachtree road storybook

Write down for the coming generation what the Lord has done, so that people not yet born will praise him. – Psalms 102:18

Music at Peachtree Road UMC

At the heart of our worship experience

By Kelly Brannon

Anyone who has been to a Peachtree Road service knows that music is at the heart of the worship experience. We are blessed with three organs, a gifted choir, frequent visits from the Atlanta Brassworks, and the joyful voices of young children filling our sanctuary with the Spirit of the Lord. Do you ever wonder how this came to be? Did our predecessors at this church always value captivating music when worshiping together? The short answer (thankfully) is YES! The long answer is much more fun.

The Early Years

As with other aspects of the church, our music program started small, but it was nevertheless at the center of the early church experience. Mrs. CJ Cofer, our first pianist, volunteered her skills at all services held from April to September 1925. No choir joined her in those days, but the congregation filled the room with their voices!

By September, Miss Leona Wood (daughter of the founding minister Rev. EH Wood) and Mrs. CH Wetmore joined Mrs. Cofer as additional pianists. A quartet of professional singers joined our services in October. By December of that year, Leona Wood had officially become the church’s first Choir Director, a position she would hold until 1947.

Like other members of staff at the time, the position of choir director was unpaid in the early years. It wasn’t for another few years that the choir director became a paid part-time position. These musicians were answering the call to give their time and talents!

Peachtree Road United Methodist Church History 1953-1978: Adult Chancel Choir

Getting the Organ

Amidst the construction of the new colonial-style church in 1949, plans to secure Peachtree Road’s first organ were underway. Worship services had been led by a piano until that point, but the congregation secured a three-manual organ from MP Moller Company for the new building.

Installed in December 1949, the Moller organ was dedicated in a ceremony on February 12, 1950.  The dedication ceremony was capped off with a beautiful recital by the organist of the First Presbyterian Church, Dr. Charles H Sheldon, who had also designed the organ. By 1953 a second part-time organist joined the music staff to support music director and organist Peggy Hughes.

 

The cost of the new organ was $30,000. For comparison, the new church and church school building were built for $485,000. The organ was ~6% of the building cost, a further demonstration of this congregation’s appreciation for the role of music in worship.

Though the effort was undoubtedly shared by many, one man is credited with inspiring the congregation to purchase the organ (and fundraising to make it happen!) R. Howard Dobbs, the Chairman of the Music Committee at the time. 

Howard Dobbs
Peachtree Road United Methodist Church History 1953-1978: Music Suite

Expansion of the Choir

The Chancel Choir, the group who leads our worship each Sunday, was established in 1936 by Leona Wood. What did we do for 11 years without a choir? A quartet of singers led the congregation in song and worship at each service, starting in October 1925. Four singers, one for each voice part, were hired to ensure consistency and lead worship with a high caliber of music. This tradition continues today.

When Miss Evelyn Wall (later Mrs. Jack Robbins) served as choir director from 1947-1950, she expanded the choir program to include the first children’s and youth choirs (The Cherub, the Intermediate, the Youth choirs) and a Men’s Chorus.

Continued emphasis on children’s choirs by music directors and church leaders led to a strong program for all ages. By 1969 there were 170 children and youth actively in one of the six choirs for their ages.

Peachtree Road United Methodist Church History 1953-1978: Choir Room
The first choir room at Peachtree Road.
Peachtree Road United Methodist Church History 1953-1978: Children's Choir
Children and Youth Choirs

Choir Directors

When Peggy Hughes joined the church staff as choir director and organist in 1950, she brought a sense of whimsy, humor, and vitality to her programming. She shared beautiful music each week on the new organ, and it was well known that her favorite anthem was “My God and I.”

She also liked a bit of fun – like the time she convinced a group of men to perform an all men can-can dance routine for the annual church banquet one year to match the “Evening in Paris” theme.

Peggy passed away from cancer in 1962. The church remembered her with a beautiful rendition of “My God and I” and the dedication of the church organ chimes to her memory that year.

Peachtree Road United Methodist Church History 1953-1978: Peggy Hughes
Peggy Hughes seated at the piano.

John Dressler brought a different energy with him when he came to Peachtree Road in 1965. He and his wife were from Austria and had spent eleven years serving a church in Alabama before coming to Peachtree Road. Both had a passion for high caliber music that brought the church into a new era of outstanding music. Mr. Dressler’s creativity included composition of his own work – he published four cantatas, two organ books, and thirty-five anthems between 1965 and 1978. These pieces were featured at standout services – including the fiftieth-anniversary celebration – and were known to be very moving.

Mrs. Lottie Dressler, along with the assistant director of children’s music Janice White, established seven new choirs during her husband’s thirteen-year tenure at the church – it is thanks to her that every person (ages five and up) has an opportunity to sing.

Peachtree Road United Methodist Church History 1953-1978: 50th Anniversary Anthem
50th Anniversary Anthem by John Dressler
Peachtree Road United Methodist Church History 1953-1978: Advent Band
Advent Orchestra organized by John Dressler

Mr. Dressler’s focus was ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord.’ He wanted everyone to be included in the music ministry and used his considerable talent to draw in new members to the choir, band, and orchestra. If you played an instrument and wanted to be involved, he’d be happy to write you a part so you could join.

The tradition of wit and humor continued as new organists joined the staff:

Jerry Black was organist and music director from 1978-1981. When he felt there had been a few weeks of the congregation arriving late to church, he concluded the prelude to the service with a rendition of “Get Me to the Church on Time.” That’s one way to send a message!

Music Director Clinton Thatch took a creative approach to recruiting new members with his message published in the Light on Peachtree church newsletter.

Peachtree Road United Methodist Church History 1953-1978: Madrigal Chorus
Madrigal Choir organized by Jerry Black
Peachtree Road United Methodist Church History 1953-1978: Music Reception
Light on Peachtree message by Clinton Thatch