Let the music play

The Houston Chronicle has a piece on the phenomenon of professional musicians who serve multiple houses of worship–even if the houses of worship are of different faiths.

At Congregation Emanu El and Congregation Beth Israel, the city’s two large Reform synagogues, an unexpected combination has proved successful and nurturing for decades. At both, the organist and most of the paid singers are Christians, some of whom also work at big churches.

The same situation sometimes occurs in reverse at churches. A paid Beth Israel singer who is Jewish also sings at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church. More generally, as an acquaintance noted, “Check the orchestras playing in churches at Christmas and Easter, and half may be Jews.” They’re the musicians who are available at that time.

Ann Frohbieter became organist at Emanu El in 1967. She also plays at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church and previously worked at Grace Presbyterian Church and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.

Tom Crow eased into the position at Beth Israel in 1978 with a strong background in Jewish worship, having attended a temple with his best friend in high school and then playing there during college. He also works at Bethany Christian Church and previously was at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and Memorial Drive Lutheran Church.

Both Crow and Frohbieter have had minimal reactions from acquaintances and friends about their crossover jobs.

“I’ve never really had anybody mention it except some who know me tease me about getting mixed up and playing Avinu Malkeinu (the High Holy Days prayer) during communion some Sunday — that kind of thing,” Crow said.

Frohbieter gets the same kind of reaction: “Often the person will say, ‘How do you know what to play at each place? Don’t you get confused and play the wrong music at the wrong place?’ ”

It hasn’t been a problem, she said.

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