Choirmaster celebrates 30 years

Published 5:37 pm Saturday, May 7, 2016

Dean Kershaw practices at the organ at West End Baptist Church prior to a recent choir practice.

Dean Kershaw practices at the organ at West End Baptist Church prior to a recent choir practice.

Next Sunday, West End Baptist Church will celebrate 30 years of dedication from its longest-serving paid employee since the church formed in 1929.

Dean Kershaw is the choirmaster at the church and also an accomplished organist and pianist.

Many pastors have come and gone since Kershaw was hired in May 1986. He worked with Dr. Robert Marr briefly, followed by the Rev. T. Floyd Irby, who was the pastor of West End Baptist for nearly 25 years, followed by Dr. Chester Brown. The current pastor, Dr. Robert Pipkin, began in 2013.

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Kershaw’s musical journey began at the age of 7, and he says he thinks it really began at an earlier age. He used to enjoy the feeling of the pews at church vibrating when the organ was played. Kershaw and two of his cousins started piano lessons about the same time, but he was the only one to continue them.

When Kershaw was 11 or 12, the church organist saw potential in him and encouraged him to take organ lessons. He played the organ in church for the first time at the age of 13. With the help of his organ teacher and the church organist, Lucille Searle, his musical journey had begun.

His formal organ studies began around the age of 15 with the Rev. James Fedosuk at Trinity Episcopal Church in Rock Island, Ill., near where Kershaw grew up.

Kershaw began college at Northeast Missouri State College, now Truman University, in Kirksville, Mo., where he was the organist at First United Methodist Church. He transferred to California Baptist College, now University, in Riverside, Calif., where he became the organist for the chapel services.

During this time, he was the organist for a short time at Palm Baptist Church and then, First Southern Baptist Church in Anaheim. Dorothy Hester was the instructor who guided him the most while in Riverside.

From Riverside, he went to Kansas City, Mo., to study at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was the seminary organist. While in Kansas City, he studied with the concert organist, Carlene Neihart, and Lydia Lovan, who was the retired organist at William Jewell College and the long-time organist of Second Baptist Church. It was there he received his Master of Religious Education degree.

Upon graduation, Kershaw arrived in Virginia to be the interim minister of music at Hampton Baptist Church. From there, he went to Blackstone to be the director of music and education at Crenshaw United Methodist Church.

After leaving Crenshaw, he served as the program director and music director of Trinity United Methodist Church in Jensen Beach, Fla.

Later, Kershaw returned to Virginia and began working at S & K Famous Brands, where he worked for almost 27 years until they closed. Since that time, he has worked at Dillard’s in MacArthur Center. Also, he was the organist and choir director at the historic Grace Episcopal Church in Yorktown for three years.

As the choirmaster at West End, Kershaw does more than just sing on Sunday mornings. Beyond the Sunday morning worship service and the Thursday night choir practices, there are many facets to being a choirmaster.

Each week, Kershaw chooses the style of music and songs that will be played; researches, selects and purchases the music; coordinates programs for holidays such as Christmas and Easter; is responsible for the upkeep of the musical instruments; arranges for guest musicians; and more.

Through the years, Kershaw has played for many weddings, funerals, Eagle Scout ceremonies, youth events, children’s plays, revivals and more .

At the special service on May 15, special viola music will be provided by Karey Sitzler, of Portsmouth.