I was very saddened to learn that Neil Weston, our music director and organist at St. Stephen Martyr parish here in the Nation’s Capital, is going to be leaving us shortly. Neil and his family are moving out to Ohio, which would obviously make the commute to St. Yuppie’s, as those of us in the know often call it, rather too difficult. I wanted to mention his departure to encourage those of you who will be in the D.C. area this weekend to come along this Sunday, August 17th, to the 11:00 am Mass, so that you can hear why he will be sorely missed.
To get a sense of why we are going to miss him so much, you can visit my Chirbit site, which features surreptitiously made audio recordings of Neil and our choir at Mass over the past couple of years. While the audio may not be fantastic, Neil and his singers and musicians most certainly are. Several of the audio files manage to impart that, even in these less-than-stellar recordings. And below this post you’ll find an embedded video, properly recorded by someone else, of Neil in action at St. Stephen’s.
When Neil first arrived at the parish, I realized immediately how very lucky we would be to have this educated, extremely gifted Englishman among us. I was absolutely blown away by his abilities as a musician, his extraordinarily good taste, and his skills in directing our already very good choir to sound even more amazing. He balanced out the tried-and-true with pieces both ancient and modern that were unfamiliar, but which quickly became new favorites, as I would note the name of the piece for future reference. For a parish which is not very large, and a choir which is not very large either, the level of musicianship which I would hear on a weekly basis was simply extraordinary.
And of course what is even better, for those of us who are Catholics, is that the music has done its job beautifully. It inspires us in moments of rejoicing, penitence, and contemplation, rather than simply being an add-on or an afterthought. Unlike at a concert, the goal of the church musician is not to entertain, but to cause hearts and minds to be lifted up to matters Divine, as an aid to transcending the affairs of this world and focusing on the next. In this, over the last several years, Neil has managed to bring me, and I daresay many others, into deeper prayer and a closer relationship with God, as we worship together.
In any case, Catholic or not, please do come along this Sunday at 11:00 am for Mass, and you will get to hear what I am rather poorly attempting to write in this post St. Stephen’s is very easy to get to from anywhere in the D.C. area. The Foggy Bottom Metro station is a 3-minute walk away, many Metrobus routes pass in front of the church itself, and there are a number of places to park in the surrounding neighborhood. For more information on how to arrive, visit the “Directions” page on the parish website.
As of right now I haven’t heard who will be replacing Neil on the organ bench and in front of the podium up in the choir loft. Hopefully it will be someone who appreciates the taste of the parish for the 11am on Sunday (no “City of God” or “And the Father Will Dance”, please.) Whoever they are we’ll do our best to support them, I’m sure, but they will have very, very big organ shoes to fill, because Neil has been absolutely matchless. Godspeed and God bless, my friend.