Have you heard some new sounds coming from the Edmonds United Methodist Church at Ninth and Caspers? Perhaps some African drumming, a few jazz licks and a measure or two of pop interspersed with traditional hymns and songs?
Your ears are not deceiving you. EUMC has a new music director, and he is working hard to add diversity, interest and depth to the church's musical offerings.
Last year the EUMC launched a nationwide search for a new director of music and arts. The job announcement specified a person with "a strong sense of spiritual calling in the area of music and arts" who would actively "engage a diverse congregation in the worship experience using a wide range of music genres."
The successful candidate, Dr. Raymond Egan, is all this and more. I caught Egan in between rehearsals. The man is always in motion and very hard to catch ... it was like trying to interview a hummingbird. I spoke with him about his professional and personal background, his approach to music, and how he's settling into the Edmonds community.
Egan grew up in Connecticut, singing and playing keyboards. "Music has always been part of my life," he says. "My grandfather, Raymond Egan Sr., was an early influence. He collaborated with Tin Pan Alley great Richard Whiting, writing lyrics for a number of Great American Songbook standards including 'Ain't We Got Fun' and 'Till We Meet Again'."
Egan went on to earn his bachelor's degree from the Eastman School of Music, continued his education at the National College of Church Musicians at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and went on earn his doctorate at the University of Southern California.
A brilliant composer, arranger, choirmaster and organist, Egan has directed music programs on both coasts and several places in between. Along the way he has come into contact with many notable persons from the music world and beyond who have influenced his music, his life and his world view.
One of these was Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
"I was extremely privileged to be the music director during several church services presided over by Archbishop Tutu," he says. Spanning the years from when Tutu could not even return to his own country due to the policies of the then apartheid government through the eventual abolishment of apartheid, their relationship grew into one of mutual respect and friendship.
"I always knew the vital role of music in African spiritual life," Egan said, "but Archbishop Tutu helped deepen my conviction that music is worship." This conviction continues to be central to Egan's work and is clearly evident in his current efforts at EUMC.
As a gift to Tutu, Egan composed a piece which was performed at the cathedral in Capetown. "It was a great privilege to meet, work with, and be influenced by such a person," he says.
When I asked Egan about why he chose to come to Edmonds, he smiled. "First of all, it's the chance to be part of EUMC's effort to provide a comprehensive music program that complements its mission, and reflects the diversity and shared values of the community it serves," he said.
"But it's more than this. When I came to interview for the job and saw the mountains, the beautiful Puget Sound teeming with marine life, the eagles, the way the land meets the water,and how the Edmonds community is intrinsically interwoven with this setting ... well, I was hooked.
"But again, it's more than outward beauty. Edmonds has a natural and spiritual energy about it, a sense of community, shared values and beliefs that compel me to join in and contribute what I can to the greater good of this very special place."
I have sat in on several services since Dr. Egan joined the EUMC, and I was truly uplifted by his music. If you're of the mind, drop by EUMC on Sunday hear what this amazing man is bringing to our community.
I think you'll be glad you did.
Raymond Egan has released a CD of original environmental and spiritual music. Ancient Partners features some top studio musicians and vocalists. Learn more at raymondegan.com. Samples and MP3 downloads are available from Amazon here.