Teen leaders bring new life to Arkansas church choir

By Amy Forbus, Special Contributor…

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.—Maryssa Barron is a busy teen. She plays oboe in the Arkansas Symphony Youth Orchestra, and she’s an honor student at Little Rock Central High. She works typical teenage part-time jobs—babysitting and mowing lawns. Oh, and she’s a music minister.

Earlier this year, Maryssa’s mother, the Rev. Dr. Candace Barron, learned that the choir director at one of the churches she pastors, Geyer Springs UMC Little Rock, would be retiring after more than a decade of service.

After a few evenings of hearing her mom fret over the challenge of finding a replacement, Maryssa had an idea.

“I really wanted to [apply] because, hey, I work, and I have to pay my own car insurance and all that, and I know music,” she said. “And this is an excellent way to build on my musical skills, and to share them.”

Rees Roberts (in back) and Maryssa Barron lead choir rehearsal on a recent Wednesday night at Geyer Springs United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Ark. ARKANSAS UNITED METHODIST PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

But she doesn’t play keyboard. So she approached a fellow high school band member, Rees Roberts, who has eight years of experience playing piano. She pitched the idea that they apply for the part-time job as a team.

“I knew he was an excellent musician and someone I could work with,” Maryssa said. “I think the church absolutely loves him.” Thanks to four years of lessons from Craig Chotard, the organist and choirmaster at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Rees can play the organ, which had gone unused in Geyer Springs’ worship for about a decade because no one in the church had the necessary training.

Candace Barron says her daughter surprised her with the idea.

“I told her, ‘I’m not going to pull any strings for you!’” she said. But when Maryssa and Rees met with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, they had no trouble landing the job on their own merits.

Maryssa admits that at the beginning, she was concerned about their age.

“Two 17-year-olds going in in front of an over-50 crowd—that was very intimidating,” she said. “I tried very hard [to be professional]. I called my mom ‘pastor’. . . . [But] they’ve been very receptive and welcoming and excited, and it’s been amazing.”

“I’m very proud of them,” Dr. Barron says of Rees and Maryssa. “They do a professional job, and they have started leading new music for the congregation. You’re just hearing a whole bunch of energy come out of here now.”

The choir has grown since the pair began, now including two younger teens among its members. They have had to add chairs to the choir loft.

“I think the church is an excellent community where people can be supported and have outlets for things like music or whatever they feel called to do,” Maryssa said. “I enjoy helping in that ministry.”

And Rees enjoys accompanying the Geyer Springs choir, which is a change of pace from his training. “Naturally, we never sang any Fanny Crosby or played in D-flat [in the high Anglican tradition],” he said. “It’s a good learning experience.”

Choir members say they did not see the teens’ age as a negative factor. They give the pair rave reviews.

“We welcome what I call the ‘new blood,’ the new direction,” said Jim Washburn. “I think they have a positive impact on the congregation, that’s for sure.”

“We love their enthusiasm,” said Ann Howell. “They’re here to motivate us.”

Lillian Shelton agrees with Ms. Howell. “I think the angels sent them to us,” she added.

Ms. Forbus is editor of the Arkansas United Methodist, the newspaper of the Arkansas Conference.

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