First Moravian celebrates music director's 50 years
At the age of 80, George Kiorpes plays water volleyball three times a week, tends over 50 rose bushes and a large fruit and vegetable garden and teaches piano students in his home. He also plays the organ and directs the choir every week at First Moravian Church in Greensboro, N.C.—and has for over 50 years. That is almost half of the church's 103 year history!
On June 3, his 50th anniversary as Director of Music, Dr. Kiorpes was honored during a worship service that featured several of his musical compositions and arrangements. He sat in the audience, for once, as others took his place playing the organ and directing the choir and the handbells. A pianist played two of his compositions, and the congregation sang one hymn composed by him and another with a verse added, by Morgan Owen, that paid tribute to him.
Taking as his text Ephesians 5:19-20, Rev. John Rainey, the eleventh pastor to serve with George at First Moravian, urged us to worship and praise God by "singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart." Noting that not just the musically talented but all of us are directed to sing, he thanked George for "allowing people of varying musical ability to use their talents in giving praise and glory to God." To commemorate the occasion, the congregation presented George with a specially engraved set of wind chimes to hang in his garden. The celebration continued after the service at a covered dish luncheon, one of George's favorite First Moravian traditions.
George Kiorpes and his wife Sue joined First Moravian in 1960, after visiting the church the previous year, when he was asked to substitute occasionally for the regular organist. He was hired as Director of Music in 1962, and the church was fortunate enough to get a second fine musician as well. Sue Kiorpes started and continues to direct the church's band, while also singing in the choir, playing handbells, accompanying the Morning Star Singers on the piano and organizing all the music for the annual Candle Tea.
he Kiorpeses are active in all phases of the church's ministry. Sue, a former member of the Board of Elders and Chair of the Board of Trustees, is in charge of contacting visitors to the church. George's expertise in the kitchen is almost as legendary as his skill at the keyboard. His spaghetti sauce always draws a crowd to Wednesday night suppers, and he once cooked a seven-course Greek dinner for 100 people at the church. Had he simply been a musician employed by the church, George says, he would not have kept playing for 50 years. But this is his church, and he is staying.
Trained as a classical pianist, George holds undergraduate and master's degrees, plus an artist's diploma, from Peabody Conservatory and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Boston University. He first came to North Carolina to teach at Greensboro College, and then taught piano-related courses at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for 45 years before retiring in 2010. During that time he served for 20 years as chair of the piano division and was an active performer, known especially for his performances of Chopin. He also published piano compositions with three different publishers.
Fifty years ago, George, whose background was in the Greek Orthodox church, had little knowledge of Moravian music. But he soon came to respect the hymns, chorales and anthems that make up our rich musical heritage.
"For me," he says, "it was really a treat to find such good American church music." He enjoys having the choir at First Moravian sing such classics as "It is a Precious Thing" or "Hearken, Stay Close to Jesus Christ," but he also admires some of the more recent additions to the Moravian canon. And in fact, he has added to that canon with his own compositions, most notably the "Anniversary Anthem" that he wrote for the 100th anniversary of First Moravian Church in October 2008.
George has taken pride in having the choir at First Moravian sing challenging music over the years. One especially memorable challenge occurred in 1983, when they were giving a special performance of the historic "Psalm of Joy," which was compiled by Johann Friedrich Peter for the country's first 4th of July celebration in Salem in 1783. In the midst of the choir's performance at First Moravian, the power went out. But the choir kept singing, the strings kept playing, soon the power was restored, and George Kiorpes kept on playing the organ—right up to the present day.Karen Meyers serves on the Board of Elders and the Worship and Music Committee at First Moravian Church in Greensboro, N.C. Photos by Karen and James Piedad.