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Latin-style mass infused with a touch of bluegrass

Chuck Nation, pastor of First Baptist Church of Flowery Branch, joined the ensemble with his fiddle

POSTED: October 12, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Although attending church services is an important tradition in North Georgia, worship is usually to the tune of a lone piano or organ, not the sounds of an all-acoustic bluegrass band.

That is what made last Sunday morning’s service at First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville so intriguing to the congregation who attended “Come Away to the Skies: A High Lonesome Mass.” The musical event was performed by the church choir’s adult ensemble and the Chuck Nation Trio.

“It was an unusual blend of the ancient Latin Mass with some bluegrass music and old, shapenote Southern gospel music — kind of a combination of all of it,” said Nation, who is also the pastor of First Baptist Church of Flowery Branch. “I’d never done anything like that before.”

Nation said the arrangement was difficult and required extensive practice for his trio. Nation played the fiddle while his wife Susan and daughter Libby joined him on the bass and mandolin, respectively.

“It was one of the hardest things ... that I had ever done because it’s unique,” he said. “I’ve never heard anything like it.”

As different as a Latin, liturgical, bluegrass combination may be to perform, Nation said he enjoyed the experience. He said the selection he appreciated the most was “We Believe,” also called “Credo” in the original Latin.

“I liked the tempo and the music of it, but then I also liked the message of it,” he said. “It was just a declaration of what we believe as Christians, so it was my favorite.”

While the unusual style of music was a different experience, Nation said he was not the only one who is “absolutely” looking forward to another performance.

“I’m ready to do it again,” he said. “Everybody just seemed to have a really upbeat, positive spirit that morning, and I think the music and the style and the arrangement had a lot to do with it.”

Composed in part by Tim Sharp, the selection was chosen by the request of Michael Henry, director of music at the church. Upon learning about a previous concert featuring these selections, Henry said he quickly pursued the effort of organizing a service in Gainesville.

“I had heard about a performance of this work that was done at Berry College in Rome, Ga., last school year,” he said. “So I started investigating it.”

The concert featured familiar hymns such as “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal” and “Softly and Tenderly,” combined with new selections to fit the unique musical style and create a relevant experience for the audience.

Since the musical arrangement is very new and not yet published, sheet music can only be obtained by special request. It is not only new to the church, but also to Northeast Georgia, Henry said.

“This was the first performance of this work in our area,” he said. “In fact, it hasn’t been performed in Atlanta either up until now.”

Henry worked with the ensemble singers in rehearsals for nine months, he added. In the end, he said he knows the church was pleased with the hard work he and the music program put into it.

“Everybody just loved it,” he said. “I guess the thing that I heard the most was, ‘Boy, that was a lot of fun!’”

No plans for another program are in the works, but he is hopeful for another opportunity to work with the material again, he said.

“I’m sure that there’s going to be some more performances in probably the very near future,” he said. “Nothing for certain yet.”


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