From Graveyard to Concert Halls,
Sherwood's Music Fills the Air
Almost daily, recorded funeral hymns were broadcast over the grounds of Monte Vista, a 100-acre cemetery in the Smoky Mountains foothills town of Johnson City, Tennessee. As a four-year-old with his childhood home situated in the middle of Monte Vista, young Will Sherwood, whose father was the manager of the memorial park, began playing those funeral hymns he heard day in and day out on his family's upright piano.
"All black keys" (the key of F# Major, typically one of the most difficult keys to read from scores) fit his tiny hands just right to form the basic hymn chords and melodies. At the age of eight, his Aunt Mabel, organist at a local Presbyterian church began taking him to her church on Sunday afternoons to learn to play the pipe organ-- his feet could barely reach the pedalboard of the organ console. After a few lessons from a Baptist church's organist, as a fifth grader, he became organist at another Baptist church in 1964, and subsequently another church where his brother-in-law was minister.
Sherwood recounts the rather ecumenical tour of churches in his career: Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Methodist, Trinitarian, and now for the past twenty years, Unitarian. He has learned all styles of music, from Gospel to Baroque, from A Mighty Fortress to Godspell, and has learned to work with all styles of people and environments.
and Downs, Stories to Tell
He recalls one such concert at Southwestern Baptist Church, where he was organist for 4 years while he was a high school student. To put in practice his coursework in composition and arranging, he had arranged and written orchestra parts for a variety of instrumental combinations, but had failed to allow enough rehearsal time for the amateur instrumentalists. "In front of a packed house, the result was grueling, as you might imagine," he grimaces. But he learned from this to ensure that instrumentalists were competent, knew their music, and that there was sufficient group rehearsal time.
After preparing for weeks for an organ recital at Tufts University, he arrived for the concert and warmed up as usual, and then waited for the concert's start time, which for him is the worst part of performing. At about 15 minutes past the appointed time, the administrator arrived and admitted that she had "forgotten" to publicize the concert and would need to re-schedule it. Ever since, Sherwood has been a stickler for early and thorough publicity.
Introduction to Choral Music
Don't Throw Away Those Pipes
Distractions from Music
Form follows Form
The "First U" Years
brought organization to the music program and has expanded the palette
of First U's musical repertoire to include not only Renaissance music, but
also Gospel and Jazz; not only the Old Masters and Gregorian Chant but also
New Age and Earth-centric; not only Original Versions, but also thrilling
Improvisations. He was charged with the seemingly insurmountable task of
taking a low-energy music program and breathing new life into it to put
it on the (Worcester music) map, as a way of ministering to the congregation
and the community and attracting new members. He has been a fundraiser, advocate,
and curator for the church's instruments: acquiring two Steinway "B" Grand
pianos, housing a two-manual harpsichord, and incremental improvements
to the pipe organ prior to the steeple and roof fire of 2000. The complete
rebuilding of the pipe organ has allowed the opportunity for significant
and enhancements: the console was relocated back to its pre-1964 center-balcony
position along with the choir pews; the façade opening was widened
for clearer sound egress; major chamber revisions were made as well as the
new ranks of pipes and extensive refurbishing of the re-used pipes. The Æolian-Skinner
really is a new instrument to last the millennium and beyond.
Will Sherwood directing a choir rehearsal from the piano
Sherwood accompanies and directs the First U choir from the keyboard at a Christmas Eve service at Worcester's Mechanics Hall while the church sanctuary was being restored after the June, 2000 fire.