When I was in graduate school (1978-81) at Westminster Choir College, Princeton, NJ, I met Michael Johnston, a graduate church music major. We were both enrolled in a course on choral literature. One day, there was a class discussion on the motet O sacrum Convivium by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), a noted French composer. One student questioned why our class should be discussing this piece because he did not believe that a church choir would ever do this piece. In his mind, this piece was too difficult for most church choirs, and most congregations would be hostile toward such a piece as this (it was in Latin and was harmonically dissonant). Michael stated to the class that he had done this piece as a high school student in the Covenant Presbyterian adult choir. Thus began my introduction to Richard and Betty Peek and Covenant Presbyterian.
Shortly after moving to Charlotte in September 1982, I learned how great an influence that the Peeks were on musical culture in the church and community. Many of the seeds sown through the graded choir program and Sunday services bore fruit in their being asked to serve on the committees for two hymnals of the Presbyterian Church: The Worshipbook (1972) and The Presbyterian Hymnal (1990). They helped begin the Presbyterian Association of Musicians, whose office was at Covenant for a number of years. This is one of the important music organizations that serves Presbyterian, as well as church musicians from other denominations, through its publications and yearly music and worship conference at Montreat. Since their arrival in 1952, there has been a music concert series that occurs almost every month at Covenant. Through these programs (many in co-sponsorship with the Charlotte Chapter AGO), many of the great organists and choral groups from America and Europe have been heard, as well as other local musicians. Some of the organists who performed were Andre Marchal, Marie-Claire Alain (French), Heinz Wunderlich (German), Piet Kee (Dutch), Guy Bovet (Swiss), Robert Noehren, David Craighead, Gerre and Judith Hancock , and Michael Murray (Americans). Choral groups that performed were St. Paul’s Cathedral (London), King’s College (Cambridge), Westminster Abbey, St. Thomas Church (New York City), and Trinity College (Cambridge). Members of this church had their first musical experiences through the choral program, involvement in performances of many of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and madrigal dinners at Christmas. In a day when teenage choirs have dwindled, those at Covenant have set a standard for music excellence and education (especially in the SMART trips). Dr. Peek has guided the installation of the three organs of Covenant and has served as consultant on several organ projects in the region. He is Vice-Chair of the Carolinas Organ Society for the organ at the NC Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. He has served as our AGO chapter Dean more than any other in our 50 year history (1954-55, 1965-66, 1981-83), as well as being the Region IV Chair for the AGO. In honor of Richard and Betty’s contribution to the Charlotte Chapter, the chapter board voted earlier this year to sponsor an annual concert.
When the Search Committee recommended that Covenant hire the Peeks, both congregation and clergy were willing to support the vision and education that they would being. In a day when Christian tradition is being traded for trendy pop culture and mega-churches, this church has continued to pass this tradition to its children, through its theology, hymns, music, and visual art. Through its concert series, the Charlotte community has had the opportunity to experience this musical culture, which otherwise would have been neglected. It can be stated that because of the vision and guidance of Richard and Betty Peek, no other church in Charlotte has supported the arts in such a broad and continuing fashion. May their legacy be continued through these programs and education through Covenant Presbyterian Church.
His piece, A Festive March (Marche en Rondeau) is available here.