“Music is edifying, for from time to time it sets the soul in operation.”

– John Cage


When one thinks of the new music community, religion is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. However, when the New Music Gathering announced that the theme for their 2016 Baltimore conference would be “Communities,” Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church was the first thing I thought of. Brown (where I sang in the Chancel Choir for almost three years) plays a vital role in the Bolton Hill community, working with the No Boundaries coalition and BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) towards the betterment of the city. Places of worship engage with the community in ways that musicians usually cannot, and many musicians cite church jobs as a primary source of income – yet there seems to be a disparity between churches and musicians, particularly when it comes to new music.


Maryland has a significant religious history – as the first colony that allowed Catholics to practice, it is regarded as the “birthplace of American religious freedom.” Baltimore hosts the nation’s first cathedral, as well as a plethora of other houses of worship in a wide variety of denominations. Combined with its robust local music community, there is a possibility for closer relationships between religious institutions and musicians, through the conduit of new music. In this panel discussion, I hope to achieve a better understanding of these relationships and how to encourage them.


Some topics of discussion will include:

  • How can places of worship generate support for musicians and new creative projects?

  • What goes into running a successful church concert series? 

  • How to commission compositions for special occasions 

  • How can the musical community improve/enhance the musical ministry of a place of worship?

  • How do we improve knowledge of and accessibility to new music for religious institutions?

  • How can a professional musician engage with the church community without being a member of the church?



Michael Britt, Minister of Music
Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church – Baltimore, Maryland

Michael T. Britt was appointed Minister of Music at Brown Memorial in June 2012. A native Baltimorean, Michael received his bachelor’s degree in Organ Performance from the Peabody Conservatory of Music in 1984. He is a recipient of numerous awards from Peabody, including the Richard Ross award and the Richard L. Phelps award for organ. He was also a finalist in the Arthur Poister Competition in Syracuse, NY. During his career as a church musician, Michael has commissioned and premiered numerous works for choir, organ and congregation. In May 2009, Michael was invited to perform on the great Cavaille-Coll organ at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris France.


In his other life, Michael is in demand throughout the country as a theatre organist and silent film accompanist and is currently the house organist at the Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick, MD. Michael is the Assistant Organist at Beth El Congregation and on the music faculty at the Community College of Baltimore County. He also serves as co-dean of the Baltimore Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.


Dr. Douglas A. Buchanan, Director of Music Ministries
St. David’s Episcopal Church – Baltimore, Maryland

Douglas Buchanan (DMA, Peabody Conservatory ‘13) serves as Organist and Choirmaster of St. David’s Episcopal Church, Composition Faculty at Dickinson College, and Music Theory and Musicology Faculty at the Peabody Conservatory. His compositions have been praised for their “sense of creative imperative” (The Philadelphia Inquirer) and for being “filled with terrific orchestral color and weight, not to mention feeling,” (The Baltimore Sun), leading to awards from the Presser Foundation, ASCAP, and the Symphony in C. An active scholar noted for the “ability to get under the skin of [the music’s] core material” (The Scotsman), Buchanan presents regularly at conferences, and in 2013 was granted the American Musicology Association Capital Chapter Lowens Award for outstanding research. In addition to serving as Artistic Director of the Maryland Choral Society, he enjoys microtonal interspecies improvisation with his black lab, Grover. You are invited to visit his website,, to learn more.


Dr. Buchanan’s personal statement for the New Music Gathering panel:


“As a performer, composer, and teacher who spends a great deal of time making music in religious settings, I see the repertoire for such ritual purposes as points on a continuum that continues to unfold. The programs I direct therefore feature works from throughout history, but with special attention given to new music. At Old St. Paul’s, I developed the New Music at Old St. Paul’s series, which featured music by the LUNAR and Sonar ensembles, both ensembles featured at this concert, as well as violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved (we were fortunate to host his performance of the American premier of Hans Werner Henze’s Für Manfred). I also developed a new music reading session which mentored local choral composers, culminating in performances of their works at worship services. At St. David’s, I have begun a commissioning program that will feature a series of composers-in-residence. This year, we have commissioned Tariq Al-Sabir to write a new setting of the Preces and Responses (prayers used particularly in the Anglican Communion) to be premiered at our Evensong for the Celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior shortly after this conference. Advocating and supporting new music keeps our ears, minds, and hearts receptive to new ideas and fresh points of view, and widens the horizon of our musical community.”


David E. Chávez, Music Minister
Lutheran Church of the Abiding Presence – Burke, Virginia

David E. Chávez is a composer, musician, and music director.


In 2014, Loudoun Lyric Opera premiered Dave’s first full-length opera, Norton: A Civil War Story (story and libretto by Meredith Bean McMath, based on the letters of Oliver Willcox Norton, the first bugler to ever sound “Taps”), followed by a lecture and partial performance at the Chautauqua Institution that summer. Other recent and upcoming premieres include Canopy (rock band/strings/natural objects), Pikachu Shot First (narrator/guitar/trumpet/flute/drums), October Loops (clarinet/electronics), OCD1 (marimbas/vibraphone), Cast Your Cares (clarinet/double bass), Let Us Thank Our God (choir), Let Us Go Up to the Mountain (soprano/piano), a multi-composer collaboration on live music for the classic silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and various arrangements for rock band, church choir, and other ensembles. David’s works, including the one-act operas The Wolf and the Lamb and Overtones, have been premiered and performed in Europe and the USA, by artists and performing groups including Elisabeth Stimpert of Alarm Will Sound, New Sound Collective, Marijke, HAPPENING, Crittenden Opera, National Opera Association, ArtScape, BYU Opera, Penn State University Opera Theater, and Shenandoah University Opera Theater.


You can hear Dave regularly playing piano and electronic noises in an eclectic variety of groups and settings, including Marijke, Happening, Opera on Tap DC Metro, and more. Dave serves as Music and Worship Minister at Lutheran Church of the Abiding Presence in Burke, VA, and teaches music theory at Shenandoah Conservatory and George Mason University. David served as a collaborative pianist at the 2013 Castleton Festival directed by the late Lorin Maazel. David received degrees in music composition at Penn State, with doctoral-level work in music composition at George Mason University. Residencies include Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities where David composed his first opera, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts where he began work on Norton. Visit for more information.


Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, Senior Pastor
Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church –  Baltimore, Maryland

Andrew has been the senior pastor of Brown Memorial since 2004. He is passionate about leading a church with a commitment to welcoming all God’s children into the life of faith, particularly people who have been frustrated by the insular, exclusionary tendencies of church communities. Andrew is happy to be in a church that welcomes a prophetic witness from the pulpit to the streets. He has been married to his partner for life, Kate, for close to two decades. Kate and Andrew have two children, Anna and Aidan.


Dr. Jason Kissel, Minister of Music & Organist
First & Franklin Presbyterian Church – Baltimore, Maryland

Jason Kissel is Minister of Music & Organist at First & Franklin Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland where he conducts the Sanctuary Choir (the church's Sunday choir comprised of amateur and professional singers) and works closely with The Spire Series Committee in creating and presenting high quality arts programming for the community. Dr. Kissel has led the church to commission new choral music by Robert Sirota and Lois Hopkins; in addition, he has introduced a significant amount of multi-cultural choral literature and global music to the congregation at First & Franklin.


Dr. Kissel maintains a private teaching studio in Baltimore, in addition to serving as Instructor of Music Theory at Baltimore School for the Arts. He has held teaching positions at The Pennsylvania State University (State College, PA), Chatham College, Pittsburgh, PA, and Westminster College, New Wilmington, PA. His students have won top prizes in performance competitions of the American Guild of Organists, and have gained acceptance into leading American music schools. Dr. Kissel has performed throughout the mid-Atlantic region, and in 2007 served as faculty organist and recitalist for the Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Westminster Conference on worship and music.  He has also accompanied seven European tours by American and British choirs, performing on the organs at Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, Wells Cathedral and St. Mary's Church, Warwick. In 2004, he toured South Korea and the United States as organist with the choir of the Young Nak Presbyterian Church in Seoul, Korea, the largest Presbyterian congregation in the world.

Dr. Kissel has served in musical leadership positions at Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA and New Wilmington Presbyterian Church, New Wilmington, PA. He received degrees in sacred music and organ performance from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University (DMA), Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA (MM) and Westminster College, New Wilmington, PA (BM).  An active member of the American Guild of Organists (AGO), he served a four-year term as elected Dean of the Baltimore Chapter of the AGO and is a past member of the Board of Directors of Young Audiences/Arts for Learning of Maryland.  He is the recipient of the James Winship Lewis Memorial Award, given by the faculty and deans of the Peabody Conservatory, for his musical leadership within the Peabody community, and is also the 2004 recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumni Award, given by Westminster College.