Stewart Peebles is the new music ministries director for First Presbyterian Church.
Photo by Jessica Garcia.
Already in an effort to preserve its historic and architectural footprint in the city as the oldest church in Nevada, FPC wants to encourage music-loving members to join its choir under the direction of Peebles. Peebles was contacted by phone to interview for the job, and he said he was interested.
“It wasn’t too difficult,” he said. “They haven’t had a choir program since COVID happened. It was almost like starting over. Normally they don’t have a choir in the summer, but I said they needed to have a choir in the summer to get fit.
The pandemic has changed traditional ways of worship in recent years, with some churches changing or adding service times or others livestreaming or recording services for those who preferred to watch from home or through mobile apps. Music programs were often reduced or eliminated altogether, with First Presbyterian among those who saw their choir temporarily discontinued. Now the congregation has hired Peebles to re-expand its program.
“I get them to really focus on singing and I was really proud of them,” he said of their early efforts throughout the summer. “They work really hard. I think if you like something, you’re doing well.
The choir will alternate singing with the praise team on Sunday as the two groups prepare for the cantata, titled “Let There Be Christmas”, which focuses on a message of faith, hope and unity, a said Peebles. Joseph Martin’s production will be approximately 47 minutes long and is a blend of contemporary music and traditional Christmas hymns simple enough for anyone at any musical level to learn. The praise team rehearses on Wednesday evenings and the choir practices on Thursday evenings, with occasional overlapping for the two groups to meet and for the FPC and TLC groups to do the same.
Peebles, a devotee of collaborative efforts, said the show will combine efforts with Trinity Lutheran Church in Gardnerville. Narrations will be provided by Pastor Bob Davis of FPC and Pastor John Scheuermann of TLC between the moves, he said. After the Christmas presentation is over, the FPC choir will start learning a new cantata for Lent.
He said it is important to establish music ministry with the mix of worship team and choir to help members gain confidence in their own abilities and worship ministry.
“Anyone can apply to be on the worship team,” he said.
Everyone is also welcome to join the choir.
“Last year when the choir disbanded it never came back while the praise team could pick up and they would do stuff on YouTube,” he said.
Part of this long-standing reluctance could be because church or school music programs struggle to find leaders with the training or patience to work at the salary offered. Few full-time positions are more available for choir directors in the post-COVID era or they are already engaged in something else, he said.
Peebles, who retired as a choir teacher at Carson High School, previously led seven choirs at the school. Its classes ranged from approximately 40 to 110 students per class. He organized one musical a year and got his students to participate in state musicals and he was the president. He often also taught private lessons in the evenings as time allowed.
Among his memorable accomplishments with the Carson High program, Peebles said he remained particularly satisfied with taking the nine-student program when he first moved to Carson in 1985 to a fully expanded program. It became a program attracting the interest and talent of several hundred students a year and sent choirs to national competitions. Carson’s choirs also became among the top 5% in the nation, and Peebles had 24 students who went on to Broadway roles or careers. In addition, two of his students currently work as teachers in Carson City today: Christina Bourne, music teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School, and Briana Valley, music teacher at Carson Middle School.
“It was something to be proud of being part of the kids’ program, and it gave a different feel to supporting or being in the arts,” Peebles said. “It’s partly because they felt like they weren’t ostracized for being on the program.”
But ultimately, he decided to leave CHS in 2006 before becoming dissatisfied with his position. He earned his securities license and worked at Thrivent Financial before fully retiring about six years ago before applying for the position of FPC director last May.
“You come out when you’re on top,” he said. “I could have stayed in the post (CHS) for another five or six years, but I wouldn’t have been happy, and neither would the students.
The ministry of First Presbyterian is now another chance to help others enjoy music and find their confidence, he said, and while closer to a full-time job than members church staff initially thought so, he loves his job and hopes the community will come to see the cantata on December 18.
“There’s a good story behind it,” he said.