To Every Season

Music director’s approach diversifies “modern” church music

“We try to avoid the contemporary-versus-traditional divide that can sometimes happen in [church music programs],” says Blaine Russell, music director at
Fletcher United Methodist Church.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

Blaine Russell and his wife Christina joined the staff of Fletcher United Methodist Church in 2013. Blaine — who enjoys bluegrass and RC Cola — is music director, and Christina, a fan of Cheerwine and car shows, directs programs for children (both have Bachelor’s degrees in voice and Master’s degrees in church music). Blaine’s approach to the music program at Fletcher UMC balances respect for tradition with a wide-encompassing, eclectic approach, one that offers an enriching experience for congregants. A concert series hosted by the church stages music from outside the religious sphere, sharing it with the larger community. 

Do you see your role as helping to bring the church — and church music — into the 21st century?

Absolutely. A lot of people, when they think of “modern church,” they think of guitars and drums, and worship being centered around those types of things. We really try to avoid the contemporary-versus-traditional divide that can sometimes happen. Because church music of the 21st century is just as varied as it has always been. It can mean having a very strong choral program or a really wonderful new organ. But ultimately, what it means is: doing the best with the talents that you have within your congregation. 

Your “Anticipate” service — scheduled on Wednesdays during certain times of the year — is unusual. What kind of music does it feature?

“Anticipate” is our “ancient/modern service,” and it truly runs the gamut of all eras of church music. We’ll do an ancient Gregorian chant, and then we’ll sing a song out of the hymnal. We’ll do an African American spiritual, and I’ll give percussion instruments to the congregation. And we’ll do a praise-and-worship song by a modern, secular music artist. “Anticipate” is our service where we really experiment — we see how many different types of things we can throw at the wall and see what sticks.

Fletcher UMC also hosts a series of secular artist performances. Tell us about those. 

It’s certainly not a situation where the music has to be sacred because we’re a church. We’re treating these as community events, so it really can be “something for everyone.” I co-coordinate the series with our teaching pastor, Randy Sherrill. We started the artist series when Randy started here in 2018. We decided to make that a regular part of our church, to have community events with various artists. Last year [because of the pandemic] we were only able to have one event when COVID-19 case rates went down. That featured [Swiss bluegrass group] the Krüger Brothers, and they were amazing. We just hosted The Astralis Chamber Ensemble in February, and we’re in the process of rescheduling twice-postponed shows by [singer-songwriters] David Wilcox and Carrie Newcomer. 

What plans do you have for the future or Fletcher UMC’s music program?

My biggest goals moving forward are to continue to bolster our chancel choir and our handbell choir. I want to continue to increase the interest level in the artist series and the other programs that we can bring in. I want to find ways to continue doing what we do well as a church.

Fletcher United Methodist Church, 50 Library Road, Fletcher, 828-684-7155, fletcherumc.org. An Easter sunrise service on Sunday, April 17, in the historic cemetery on Patty’s Chapel Road will be accompanied by music from a member of the Montreat-Scottish Pipes and Drums. Services at 8:30 and 11am will feature the church’s Chancel Choir, handbells, organist Jan Kelly, and a brass quintet. For more information, contact Blaine Russell at blaine@fletcherumc.org. 

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