Ready, set, go and sing. And sing they did at the recent “Star-Spangled Sing-Along” at the United Church of Marco Island to honor our nation’s birthday. They sang of love, love of country and love of hard work.
Approximately 60 people of all ages gathered on the evening of July 1 for a time of patriotic and traditional American folk music. Songfest attendee Don Mills said, “[It was] a wonderful evening of great American music — Dr. Pursley is one of a kind. The evening was ‘cool’ on a warm July night.”
“Group singing of our national folk songs may be a dying pleasure due to the invasive nature of television in our lives,” said Dr. Betty Pursley, Minister of Sacred Arts at the United Church.
“Unfortunately, most people look for electronic media to give them musical satisfaction rather than actively participating in natural music-making.” She joked that she is a one-woman national crusader to keep our tradition of folk song alive. Doris Pells, agreed and said, “We need more of this in our culture.”
Attendees sang with gusto favorites such as “America” and “You’re a Grand old Flag.” Pursley played the keyboard and audience volunteers enthusiastically improvised on drums, bells, and whistles that were provided by the church. Old-time songs such as “Billy Boy” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” were also sung. “[It was] so much fun. I could have sung all night,” said Anne Troemner.
Between the songs, slapstick jokes made the audience groan with delight. Pursley played the “straight-man” while Rob Schimek provided the laughs. Here’s a sample joke: “Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?” Answer: “At the bottom.” Senior minister, the Rev. Richard Adair said, “Betty was at her best. We saw her fun side. The side we don’t see during worship.”
Pursley’s husband, the church choir’s bass section leader, J.T. Clark gave a moving rendition of composer Gene Scheer’s “American Anthem.” His rich baritone voice was almost as rich as the ice cream that everyone enjoyed later in the evening. A rousing chorus of “God Bless America” concluded the sing-along. The audience next enjoyed an old-fashioned ice cream social complete with mounds of chocolate or vanilla ice cream with a variety of toppings, from whipped cream to nuts.
This fall Pursley will begin her 15th year on the staff of the United Church. She has a lifetime of experience in church music ministry with churches in New Jersey, Kansas and Michigan. Her undergraduate and graduate degrees are in music. She earned her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Kansas. Pursley enjoys performing, especially with other musicians, such as the Naples Bach Ensemble. She also teaches piano and organ.
During her years at the church, Pursley has worked with five senior ministers, and she is enthusiastic about working with Rev. Richard Adair, who joined the staff in March. She directs the Chancel Choir, the Chancel Handbell Choir and Ensembles and a Thursday morning adult chime group.
“We share a lot of laughs and have fun learning about music together in a non-stress atmosphere,” said Pursley. Everyone is invited to participate in the church’s music program. This coming season, she plans to offer a beginning handbell class, a short-term men’s choir experience, and more community sing-along opportunities.
Pursley also coordinates the church’s concert series, which is now entering its twelfth season. Highlights of previous seasons included national touring artists such as pianist Paul Bisaccia and a jazz trio from New York — the Brass Roots Trio. Concerts have also featured local musicians such as The Philharmonic Brass Quintet, the Philharmonic Youth String Orchestra, and soprano Steffanie Pearce.
This season she will give a January organ pops concert entitled “Never on Sunday.” In February the church will host the Barbary Coast Dixieland Jazz Band and in March they plan a gala evening of opera favorites. Watch for news of these events in upcoming events.