Saint Paul’s Church has enjoyed a distinguished history of fine music, beginning with the church’s first music director and organist, James Hewitt, one of America’s celebrated 19th century composers, who moved to Augusta from Boston. He was acquainted with Augusta after years of visits during which he performed with a touring group. Hewitt’s reasons for taking up an extended residence in Augusta included the city’s enthusiasm for good music, an enthusiasm that continues today. The modern city of Augusta boasts a fine symphony orchestra, opera, ballet, theatre, and the country’s largest luncheon concert series, Tuesday’s Music Live, which celebrated its 20th season in 2007 and was established at Saint Paul’s Church. James Hewitt would probably not be surprised to see celebrated musicians from around the world performing in Saint Paul’s Church. The Christmas season includes two concerts by the Augusta Opera and the Star Spangled Concert on July 4th preceding the city’s fireworks display over the Savannah River draws sell-out crowds annually.
The present music program took its shape after the arrival of Keith Shafer to be the parish’s first full-time musician in 1983. During his tenure, the church’s music program was significantly expanded. The choral library, now numbering more than 100,000 copies of music, was computerized. The Choir Room and Music Office were outfitted with audio & visual equipment along with the cabinetry to house it. A new mechanical-action pipe organ was acquired for the Chapel and the Casavant organ in the nave was rebuilt and modernized in 1996. The rear gallery was restored in 2006 and designed to accommodate music. In 1986, the 11-bell McNeely chime in the tower was computerized and 3 new bells were added. Two 501-c-3 arts organizations were born at Saint Paul’s: Tuesday’s Music Live and the Riverwalk Series. A music mailing list of more than 5,000 names was developed, and more than 150,000 people have attended musical events held at the church since 1983. In 2007, the Porter Fleming Foundation gave a grant to Tuesday’s Music Live that resulted in the acquisition of a Baldwin grand piano for the nave. In 1990 the 1904 Sohmer grand piano in the Choir Room was restored and several other pianos were acquired.
Evensong in the cathedral tradition began early in Mr. Shafer’s tenure and the services typically attract more than a hundred people, many from other churches. The tradition of Anglican and Plainchant psalm-singing was begun under Mr. Shafer and he would eventually edit three complete settings of the Book of Psalms, including Common Lectionary texts from both the 1928 and 1979 Prayer Books as well as the Revised Common Lectionary in 2007. Churches around the country are now using these settings, with their easily managed musical layout. In 1984 the first “Rose Sunday Concert,” was held on the 4th Sunday in Lent and has continued annually, often featuring Keith Shafer performing with guest musicians. Numerous recordings of the choirs and organ were made and the Saint Paul’s Choir has sung in cathedrals in both America and Europe. In order to finance the tours the choir operated a thrift store for more than ten years. “Paulmart” produced more than $200,000 in income and these monies were invested and grew. In 2000, the choir closed the store and invested the remaining funds. The income from these investments continues to fund choir tours.
The influence of the church extended beyond Augusta through the involvement of Keith Shafer in the Liturgical Commission of the Diocese of Georgia and the Sewanee Church Music Conference held annually at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, which Mr. Shafer directs on a regular basis.
Music at Saint Paul’s Church continues to inspire and comfort more than 250 years after the first worshipers gathered on the banks of the Savannah.