By Maggie FitzRoy

In the darkest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, singing was restricted at most churches, including Christ Church. Only a few mask-wearing professional-level singers were permitted to rehearse together and lead the music during services.

But from something bad, came something good.

As the weeks and months went by the ensemble “bonded together,” Rachel Root, Christ Church Director of Music said. And by March of this year, “really started jelling.”

As such, the tightknit group needed a new name. Informally known as the “nine o’clock choir,” since the 9 a.m. Sunday service was, and still is, live-streamed on YouTube, they became “Common Ground.”

The name was inspired by the fact that “a lot of us are in different places with our faith and personalities,” Root said. “So the music we saw unified us.”

Common Ground members are Jen Schlechte, Stephanie Bennie, Vickie Dell, Joseph Murray, Joseph Smith, Gavin Andrews, Ian Bula, Hannah Woods, and Boston Woods. They include professional section leaders from our Chancel Choir, and college students on church-sponsored music scholarships.

The music they perform is extremely challenging, contemporary, and done “with a lot of choral integrity,” Root said. Rhythmically challenging, it features multiple independent voice parts, and to Root’s knowledge, is not typical of most Episcopalian churches. Performed in a liturgical context, Common Ground’s choral sound is distinctive.

The group rehearses Wednesday evenings at 8:30, directly after Chancel Choir, which has returned to singing at the 11:15 traditional service on Sundays.

During a recent rehearsal, Common Ground members practiced a contemporary arrangement of “Praise to the Lord,” a piece with 14 voice parts that will include some special guest singers. Some members will sing more than one voice part. “I’m singing soprano and baritone,” Schlechte said. “It’s very intricate.”

“I think it’s great for us to get the experience with this type of music,” said Smith, a recent University of North Florida graduate who plans to pursue a master’s degree in music therapy.

“It’s very special that we have this group of people who can do this,” Root said. Schlechte also sings with the Jacksonville Symphony and directs the First Coast Youth Show Choir. Murray performs throughout the First Coast and has participated in the music ministry at Christ Church since 2007. Dell has been singing since age two and has been a member of Christ Church since 1994. Bula is a graduate of the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico. Boston Woods started singing when he was eight and has been singing in Christ Church choirs for ten years. Bennie, who serves as pastoral care coordinator and assistant to the clergy,  has been teaching piano and voice for many years. Hannah Woods directs our young Voices of Praise children’s choir.

“I really believe God pulled this together” Root said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Common Ground sings at 9 a.m. Sunday services, which are live-streamed on YouTube. Visit the church’s YouTube channel to see and hear them.

If a strong and vibrant music ministry is important to you, please consider making a gift or pledge to Christ Church.