More than 550 people were treated to an evening of musical fireworks Sunday, with a “Celebrating America” concert that awed and inspired the audience.

Each of the masterful performances at this interfaith occasion were enriched by the sparkling acoustics of Culpeper Baptist Church’s beautiful sanctuary. A hundred-plus musicians from 13 area church choirs, the Blue Ridge Chorale, Windmore’s Piedmont Community Band and Culpeper Baptist Church’s Hand Bell Choir took part.

The patriotic celebration was the fifth of seven free concerts offered to the Culpeper-area community by the church’s 2019 Concert Series. Randall Sheets (on organ), Louisa Loe (on piccolo and flute) and Chuck Seipp (on trumpet) accompanied the choir and also gave spectacular solo performances.

Culpeper Baptist Church Pastor Dan Carlton and Randall Sheets, the church’s organist and choir director, started the series last year. It already has been a huge success and benefit to the community, offering enriching cultural performances free of charge.

“Randy Sheets initiated the patriotic concert and the entire series” Carlton said. “We are fortunate to have him on our staff. He is an amazing musician who has an incredible network of talented friends.

“All of the concerts have been great, but we had the U.S. Army Chorus earlier this year, and they were just stunning,” the pastor said. “We really want to lift up the arts in Culpeper, and our sanctuary is a great venue for music.”

“I have always felt that if a church has a good space, with a good organ and piano, that musical concert series are a wonderful way to reach out to the community who may not be involved in Sunday worship with us,” Sheets said. “It’s also a way to incorporate musical styles and ensembles that may not be heard in worship and share them in a wider way.”

Inviting other churches to participate in the community choir was a part of the series’ inception, he said.

“Culpeper seemed to me to be a very patriotic community that would support a patriotic event, as I work at Arlington National Cemetery supporting military funerals,” he said. “And since my trumpet partner, Chuck Seipp, retired from the U.S. Army Band (aka Pershing’s Own), it is only natural for us to want to continue recognizing veterans in other ways as well.”

The concert’s stated program is to celebrate “our nation’s heritage, a melting pot of many ethnicities and ideals, dedicated to: freedom, equality, justice, opportunity, innovation, generosity, religious freedom.”

Of “Celebrating America,” Carlton said: “I like the patriotic concert because it kicks off the July 4th week in Culpeper and it brings choirs together. Most of the choirs that are participating do not have the opportunity to sing with a mass choir, so it is quite a treat for them and the audience.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Culpeper congregation was invited to participate in the celebration, and 17 of the 70 choir participants came from that congregation. Deborah Suche, who directed last year’s group of eight church members in preparation to participate in the 2018 interfaith choir, saw that participation more than double this year.

Two of the performers were Brody Caras and Isaiah Patterson, missionaries from Utah and Nevada who are serving in the Culpeper area. Both young men appreciated the invitation to participate in a diverse interfaith choir, something neither had experienced before.

For Patterson, the opportunity was especially significant because the concert was his first time being in a Baptist church. Uniting with people of other faiths in a celebration of their country and their freedoms was a profound experience, the two men said.

One of the choir’s youngest performers, 12-year-old Abigail Cruzan, a member of Culpeper’s Latter-day Saints congregation, said she “loved hearing the trumpet and flute being played with the organ.”

Abby’s 17-year-old brother, Jake Cruzan, also a Latter-day Saint and a performer in the 2019 and 2018 interfaith choirs, said his favorite part of the performance was singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

“It is my favorite religious song ... [you] can’t go wrong with it,” Cruzan said. “I love singing it and listening to it, probably my favorite song out of the hymnbook.”

Both of the young musicians said they hope the celebration will continue and that they can return to perform with others in the community next year.

Of the concert’s future, Carlton said, “We would love to increase the numbers and diversity of the people participating in Celebrating America. This has been a ‘word of mouth’ thing so far, and we need to get more intentional about reaching out to other community groups that enjoy singing/music.”

Sheets commented on the experience working with churches and community members outside of Culpeper Baptist Church’s choir:

The concert is a means of education and professional growth that engages musicians from other churches, Sheets said.

“It also develops a support system with those who are trying to accomplish ministry in a similar way,” he said. “Bringing all our resources together allows us to attempt musical works none of us could do as well, or at all, with our individual musical ensembles. The sum is definitely greater than the individual parts.”

The Baptist Church’s musicians have always been open to incorporating all who are interested to join them, regardless of their affiliation, Sheets said.

The complete concert was live-streamed. A recording can be viewed on Culpeper Baptist Church’s YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0cJ8i9Vc9s.

This fall, everyone is invited to the Culpeper 2019 Concert Series’ two remaining performances: Todd Fickley on Sept. 22 and Chuck Seipp/Randall Sheets Duo on Oct. 27, both at 4 p.m. in the Culpeper Baptist Church Sanctuary at 318 S. West St.

Nicole Empie is a public affairs representative for the Fredericksburg Virginia Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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