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First Presbyterian Church's new music director an experienced conductor
Sam Marley spend 19 years as musical leader at Gainesville First United Methodist Church
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Sam Marley speaks about his new part-time job as director of choirs at the First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville. Marley’s role at First Presbyterian has him directing the adult choir called The Chancel Singers and the Primetime Singers, a choir for older adults. - photo by Erin O. Smith

While Sam Marley may be relatively new to First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville, he’s not new to the choral music scene.

Marley, who started working as the director of choirs at First Presbyterian in December, is a familiar face to churchgoers. Marley served as the director of music ministries at Gainesville First United Methodist Church for 19 years. He retired from that position in April 2013.

After his retirement, Marley served as interim music director for churches in Dalton, Lawrenceville and Tucker while they looked for a full-time replacements. Eventually when the job — which is not full-time — at First Presbyterian became available, Marley decided to continue doing what he loves: working with choirs.

“It was an opportunity to do what I really like to do and not have to drive 50 miles to do it,” he said.

One reason Marley said he loves choral music is because it’s the opportunity to take a group of enthusiastic people, find the best music for their purposes and make something beautiful. And since he spent 48 years working for the United Methodist Church, Marley said he’s noticed the traditional services between the Methodists and the Presbyterians are similar.

“Music is the one art that’s not made until it’s remade,” he said, adding music written by Johann Bach 300 years ago isn’t anything but paper until it’s played. “It’s academic until you open it up and play it.”

The Rev. Lee Koontz, senior pastor at First Presbyterian, said Marley is an excellent addition to the church and is very capable, knowledgeable and experienced.

“He has a really good rapport and relationship with all of those in the church who offer their musical gifts to our worship services,” Koontz said. “He does a good job harnessing those gifts and pulling them together so we can glorify God in wonderful ways through music.”

Marley’s role at First Presbyterian has him directing the adult choir called The Chancel Singers and the Primetime Singers, a choir for older adults.

“That involves planning the repertoire that they sing from Sunday to Sunday, choosing hymns and making everything fit into the traditional service,” he said.

Marley works mainly with adults and with the traditional service. He noted he has very little to do with the more contemporary service.

“I can’t do what I do without volunteers and this is a volunteer choir at First Presbyterian,” Marley said. “They’re very enthusiastic and dedicated to what they do.”

In addition, Marley attends weekly and biweekly meetings with various church leaders to plan upcoming services.

“He’s great. He’s really a team player and those meetings are intended to be times when we can collaborate together with all of the worship leaders at the church,” Koontz said, adding Marley is not territorial about the music program and is open to working with other staffers. “He is a respected voice at the table and I’m very thankful that he’s here.”

Marley is no stranger to singing. His love of music dates back to his teens.

“That’s where I got interested in music, as a teenager, singing in the youth choir in the First Baptist Church in Bristol, Va.,” he said.

Marley went to Westminster Choir College where he received a bachelor’s degree in music and Lamar University where he received a master’s degree in music. Since 1965, he has directed choirs in United Methodist Churches in Griffin, Ga., Bryan, Texas, and Beaumont, Texas, before coming back to Gainesville in 1993.

After moving back to Georgia, Marley sang with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus for 21 seasons.

“When I first moved back to Gainesville, I had the opportunity to audition and got accepted into the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra chorus,” Marley said. “Robert Shaw was still living at the time — one of the giants in music, choral music especially — and I had the great, great privilege of singing with him for 21 seasons.”

Sam and his wife Judy have been married for 48 years. The couple have two adult children, Jason, who lives in Atlanta, and Ginger, who lives in New York.

Now, after retiring from full-time music direction, Sam Marley said he still gets to do what he loves.

“I do the things that I really enjoy doing, like conducting rehearsals,” he said.