Dear Beloved Community,
I came of age as a singer under the direction of musicians who were themselves students and supporters of the famed conductor, Robert Shaw. The longtime conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Robert Shaw Chorale, Robert Shaw raised a generation with his uncompromising commitments to discipline, excellence, and beauty. In my experience, the most limited of Shaw’s disciples obsessed over musical precision at the expense of music-making at its earthy, human best. They were rather ornery with us imperfect singers; our notes, chords, vowels, dynamics, tones were never as perfect as they wished. But the very best of his students and my conductors married Shaw’s rigor with their beating hearts, folding harmonies of love into the exquisite alchemy we created together.
David Pegg was the latter.
I met David in my brief dalliance with the Methodists while in seminary. Here I was, a student at Wake Forest pursuing a Master of Divinity degree but fresh off completing my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in voice performance. I needed a place to layer a full, open, searching heart on top of a long-practiced commitment to musical excellence. So when I sought out an internship, several wise professors encouraged me to reach out to Centenary United Methodist Church and their Director of Music and the Arts, David Pegg. Though I didn’t fit into the mold of his other interns or choral scholars (all the rest were from UNCSA), he didn’t seem to mind a bit and welcomed me right on in. For two years, I interned with David, sang in the choir, taught classes on the arts, and felt stirrings of a calling emerge along the way.
To David Pegg – as, of course, in our David Williamson! – the beauty of music-making was incomplete without its heart and humanity. That was evident in the choirs he led, knit together under his nurturing eye as a family and a flock. That was clear in the worship he cultivated, transcendent and holy not because of its style but rather its spirit. That was unmistakable in the relationships he cherished, all of whom met his death last month with sadness seasoned by years of such meaningful life together.
Gloriously, majestically, with heart and harmony, joy and grief dancing together, the congregation that filled St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Friday morning sang David Pegg to heaven. In worship, we prayed to God with gratitude “for giving our brother David to us, his family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage.” We read the familiar promise of Revelation that God is making all things new. We gathered at the table, receiving gifts of bread and cup together with friend and stranger alike. We worshiped in word and action, but – appropriately – mostly in song.
And perhaps best of all, over sixty of us who sang with David in this life formed the funeral choir, our reach spanning multiple states, ages, life stages, and expertise, all united in our love for David. We turned to Brahms (“How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place” from A German Requiem) and a lush arrangement of “Peace Like a River” as the ground of our grief and gratitude. Not one of us left with dry eyes.
“David was an exquisite musician,” his pastor and colleague, Dr. Michael Brown, told the congregation, “but he was an even better minister.” You might say that he was preaching to the actual choir there! Oh how we knew it. Because, like Jesus, David understood that true disciples do not trade perfection for presence, correctness for community, rigor for relationship. We need his truth and his grace.
“Some truths are too deep to be spoken,” Dr. Brown said, “rather, they must be sung.” So fitting, then, were the words we sang together and carried into the rafters.
When in our music God is glorified,
and adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried Alleluia!
How often, making music, we have found
a new dimension in the world of sound,
as worship moved us to a more profound Alleluia!
So has the Church, in liturgy and song,
in faith and love, through centuries of wrong,
Borne witness to the truth in every tongue, Alleluia!
And did not Jesus sing a psalm that night
when utmost evil strove against the Light?
Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight, Alleluia!
Let every instrument be tuned for praise!
Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!
And may God give us faith to sing always, Alleluia!
Together in God’s work of Love,