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John Kuzma, His “small part” for the community

Montview Christmas Concert - John Kuzma, Conductor

Montview Christmas Concert - John Kuzma, Conductor

Published in The Denver Musician, Summer 2008
By Pete Vriesenga

Religious Organizations are the nation’s second-largest employer of professional musicians – second only to Performing Arts Companies (Bureau of Labor Statistics). I have been a beneficiary of these work opportunities over my career, as have professional musicians around the world who are impacted by the remarkable history and musical influence of the Church.

I thank our local community of churches for the enormity of great music they produce, and also take this opportunity to highlight one very fine example: Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Denver, and music director John Kuzma.

John learned early on that the church was a place for fine music when he joined the boychoir at St. Lawrence Church in Cincinnati. They sang every day except Saturday, drawing on the repertoire of the likes of Mozart, Franck, Haydn and Palestrina. They also premiered original compositions by St. Lawrence Music Director J. Alfred Schehl.

By the sixth grade, the sum of this musical experience had John convinced he would become a church musician. He went on to study at the Cincinnati Conservatory, the Eastman School of Music, University of Illinois, and in Copenhagen as a Fulbright Scholar. He has been Montview’s Minister of Music since 1987.

“Throughout history, churches have supported music, and in some cases the finest musicians of their day were in the church’s full time service,” says John. “Without thinking very long, I can name Bach, Buxtehude, Palestrina (who had an apartment inside the Vatican walls), Vivaldi, the Gabrielis, Mozart (for a time), Franck, Messiaen, Distler, Langlais, etc. And then, there is the enormous body of chant, by any standard the most remarkable collection of single voice music ever conceived, written by fine musicians inside monastery walls, whose names are lost in antiquity.”

Montivew Boulevard Presbyterian Church, with its rich acoustics and fine pipe organ, is a beautiful space to present great music. But Montview is much more than a beautiful building. John points out how the Montview congregation has long supported fine music “We have been blessed by excellent leaders who preceded me: Ernest Remley, Lucille Holm, Austin Lovelace, David McCormick, and Jerrald McCollum. Barbara Hulac, our extraordinary organist, remains one of the best anywhere, and we are sincerely thankful for the work and dedication of musician’s contractor Marsha Whitcomb. This remarkable support for music reflects years of high vision in deciding to build a sanctuary of high musical ambition, building fine pipe organs, hiring talented staff, encouraging programming of high quality, and raising enough money to pay for all this.”

Montview’s 100-member Westminster Choir is a mainstay in music programming, as are approximately 75 children and youth from Montview’s varied choirs and music programs. Choir members include a wide range of professionals, many medical doctors, a few PhD’s, and one congresswoman. Diana DeGette, most Thursdays, comes directly to choir rehearsal from the airport (after serving in Congress), and finds time to host a brunch now and than for her friends in the Alto II section. Selfishly, and for the political interests of the AFM, I found myself lobbying Ms. DeGette for the entirety of the rehearsal break in April. DeGette is Vice-Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee that will be hearing arguments for the Performance Rights Act (H.R. 4789).

How fitting that our representative in Congress just happens to be a member of the choir. Montview’s music program is a product of personal gifts and contributions that have great community purpose. This is a genuine grassroots effort that has fostered community gatherings for a century. Accessibility to our government that seeds genuine outreach to the community is certainly consistent with Montview’s music program, as I expect it is with the broader mission of of their church.

It’s no small coincidence that anyone can simply walk into this beautiful setting to enjoy great and inspiring music. For that, the DMA and our community at large owe our gratitude.

Marc Shulgold of the Rocky Mountain News said it best: “I’ve always felt comfortable when I visit Montview, up the street from my Park Hill home. The lure, to be honest, is usually a favorite musical work: a Bach cantata or full-length concert pieces by Orff or Dvorak, all led expertly by music director John Kuzma.

Come Christmastime, there’s an added pleasure for this “non-believer” in hearing melodies of the season within such an inviting venue. As I listened to Montview’s three choirs – encompassing pre-teens to senior citizens – I felt close to the spirit of the season.

A suggestion: Set aside your shopping lists. Forget all the fuss over “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays.” Take a breath, and listen to the music – really listen. That’s what I did.” when I visited Montview last Sunday.”

John Kuzma

John Kuzma

“While art has a toughness over centuries, it can be fragile in the short term. Art which aims at the highest standard has always been supported by relatively few people of high vision, who experience life changing power and transcendent insight through music. I believe we are doing our small part in this effort at Montview Church.”

.John Kuzma

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