April 5, 2012 | by WBadmin
Differing directions

Darius Smith, one of the new choir directors at MCC-DC. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

By MALI KRANTZ

The two Sunday morning services held each week at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington have always had slightly different styles, but the distinction has become more pronounced as each has its own choir director now.

In December, Shirli Hughes resigned from her position as minister of music there. After a decade of service at the District’s largest predominantly LGBT church, the lesbian music minister left big shoes to be filled in the church’s music department.

“She had a big job,” says Jeff Herrell who sang in her choir for about 10 years.

Hughes led both Sunday services at 9 and 11 a.m. as well as occasional performances for holidays and special events. She was also a full-time employee.

Her succession came in the form of two interim music ministers, Justin Ritchie, who leads the 9 a.m. Sunday service, and Darius Smith, who leads a more contemporary service at 11. They’ll both be on board for this Sunday’s Easter services, the highest holy day in Christendom. A Good Friday service is tonight at 7. Visit mccdc.com for details.

“It has worked out well to have two of us,” Ritchie says. “Because each service is very different and they play to each of our strengths … the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. service have always had their own personality.”

Ritchie, whose service is more traditional, came from the MCC choir. In addition to his musical success at MCC, he’s also a featured vocalist with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington and a member its 14-person a cappella group, Potomac Fever.

Smith, a graduate of Howard University’s Music Department and New York University’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program is an assistant professor of musical theater at Howard. He has also written original music for a number of plays in the D.C. area including “U.G.L.Y.,” a new musical.

Smith’s service leans toward pop and contemporary styles.

“It’s interesting. It’s fun,” says Herrell of the new musical content.

Both Herrell and Ritchie estimate that the choruses have grown over the past few months.

“I think people are really receptive to Justin’s style of music … and new people want to be a part of Darius’ ministry,” Herrell says. “Yeah it’s cool. It’s different.”

While Rev. Dwayne Johnson, the church’s senior pastor, recognizes that Hughes brought an extraordinary talent to MCC’s music ministry, he’s enthusiastic about the church’s new direction.

“We have a long tradition of excellent music,” Johnson says. “And Justin and Darius are continuing that tradition. It’s an exciting time to see what gifts they have to bring to the table.”

While much of the music is changing, a few traditions remain such as having drums and bass accompany services. Each choir director does his own accompanying.

During the transition period after Hughes left, Acoustic Praise, a subgroup of MCC’s music ministry, stepped up to fill in while they looked for new staff members. Though the church has an organ, it’s rarely used.

“They’ve really worked hard during this transition filling in on Sundays,” says Tommie Adams, Herrell’s partner and an Acoustic Praise member. “It’s still a transitional period. Both people have great musical backgrounds and Darius brings kind of a youthful mood to music too, so it’s a nice variety.”

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