Musical Talent at UU

Dan Kerr 

Dan comes to the UUCOB from the Washington, D.C. area where he was involved in musical theater and the choral arts for over 40 years before moving to Florida with his wife, Rosemary, all while serving as a police officer and later a commander in the D.C. police department.  He has continued his involvement in music and theater since retiring and moving here in 1996.  Adding such cultural endeavors as Seaside Music Theater, St. Augustine Community Chorus, Daytona Beach Choral Society, Daytona Playhouse, Little theater of New Smyrna Beach, the Limelight Theater, and First Coast Opera Society to his resume. He presently sings with the Bel Canto Chorale, where he has performed for the last three years.

Dan has been involved in church choirs his whole like, starting as a boy soprano in a catholic school in Maryland.  During his long tenure there, he helped develop and lead the liturgical music program that enhanced the choir and took the congregation from spectators to active participants.  Eventually he became the choir director for a five year period until a promotion and additional duties in the police department forced him to vacate the position.  However, he still continued to sing in the choir and lead the congregation in responses and hymns.
After 43 years at the same parish, Dan returned and he and Rosemary moved to Florida, while eventually acquiring a home in Delaware.  Moving to Florida resulted in a rather extensive search for the two of them to find the right church choir, and music program having tried several Catholic churches, as well as Methodist, Presbyterian and a United Church of Christ.  Nothing seemed to fit or provided the fulfillment they were looking for.  Then in March of 2012, having purchased a beachside home in Ormond Beach they walked through the doors of the UUCOB at Rosemary's insistence and an immediate bond was formed.

 What our choir director brings to the UU is education and experience.  Dan has a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Education with minors in Choral Conducting and Vocal Performance  He combines his academic credentials with over 50 years of theater and choral performance.  He brings to our Sunday services and special celebrations a rich and diverse reservoir of choral music that is combined with a flare for the dramatic, but it is even more than that.  Dan has often repeated to all of us that the message in the lyrics is the first consideration he applies in selection a choral anthem.  When you attend a service at the UUCOB be prepared to hear anthems with a gospel, spiritual, African, country, Broadway or contemporary pop flavor to them.  One things for sure:  you will always find a message in the music that fits with the sermon and the theme of the service and underscores our Unitarian Universalist principles.

Janet Stroumpis

Janet, originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania comes from a musical family. At an early age she was introduced to vocal music through her father’s vocal career. Her mother played the piano. Janet’s sister, Peggy, has pursued a career in choral conducting. Growing up, there was always music and singing in the house. The family was very supportive of their father’s musical career which consisted among other things of singing professionally for numerous churches throughout the Pittsburgh area. Janet’s formal training in piano began at the age of six. As her proficiency improved, she began to accompany her father. At the age of fourteen, in addition to piano lessons, she began studying the organ.  This paved the way for her to become church organist at the age of sixteen for the church her father served as the choir director.  She was also introduced to other musical instruments throughout her formative years, such as violin, bassoon and trombone. The genre of instrumental music provided the experience of playing with ensembles, bands and orchestras throughout her high school career. However, the piano was always her favorite. Her teacher was adamant about practicing and prepared her students for the performance world by holding piano recitals on a regular basis. As one of her teacher’s advanced students, Janet competed in numerous piano competitions.

Upon graduation from high school, Janet became a piano/organ major at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio.  A year later she transferred to Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory of Music in Berea, Ohio where she continued her music studies. Even though her career path changed during her junior year, music was always close to her heart and a lifetime passion. She continued playing by accompanying voice majors at the conservatory.

After graduating from Baldwin-Wallace, Janet explored the business world by becoming an assistant buyer for a large retail store in Ohio.  However, a year later, 1970, upon visiting family in Atlanta, Georgia and inspired by the energy of the area, she made the decision to move south. She met her husband, Panos, in 1971. They married the same year. At that time she was a school teacher in Atlanta. Within a couple years, she left teaching and joined her husband, a master cosmetologist, in opening and managing numerous hair salons in Atlanta and Sarasota, Florida. She maintained her role in the salons for more than twenty years, assisting her husband and also learning the skill of cutting hair.  During those twenty years, Janet and Panos raised their three children, Evan, Christopher and Melina. However, in 1993, Janet enrolled in continuing education to obtain teacher recertification which enabled her to return to her teaching career. In 2004 Janet’s family welcomed the first grandson, Nicholas. He was followed by a second grandson, Grayson, in 2006.  

After retiring from teaching in 2008 and selling the family business, the Stroumpis couple moved to Daytona Beach Shores where Janet has been able to reconnect with her music. Retirement from teaching presented an opportunity to rekindle her musical passion in a most profound way. Aside from being the pianist at UU, she is an accompanist in the Daytona Beach area for students in numerous middle and high schools. Janet was a member of the FOURTE piano Quartet for four years which was a delightful musical experience. The quartet performed in both Palm Coast and Ormond Beach.  She is also a member of the Bel Canto Singers of Daytona Beach.


Martha Sanders Brandt

Thirty years ago, on a favorite record, produced by Quincy Jones, I listened over and over to celebrated pianist Chick Corea, renowned flutist Hubert Laws, and composer Harold Blanchard. Harold Blanchard - an extraordinary jazz musician, who lived a half hour south of my home in Daytona Beach Shores.

When he performed at Angell & Phelps six years ago, I was entranced by his rendering of Debussy's "Jardins sous la pluie" (Gardens in the Rain). Then I heard him several months later with his jazz trio and again felt swept away in the lyrical flow of his music. The evening of February 2, 2008, I drove up to Beach Street to listen to Mr. Blanchard once more. As the evening drew to a close, I gathered all my courage, approached this piano genius, and asked if he would consider giving me lessons. He inquired as to the music I was playing at the time, then gave me a card with his address, and asked me to contact him when I was ready.

Monday morning, one month later, my music world changed course, and for three years, I learned as much about playing from the heart as about the piano.  "There are no wrong notes. The secret is how you resolve it," Harold advised me. "And remember you're rarely more than a half-step away from where you need to be."  He was speaking of jazz. I was learning about life.

Sometimes I still can't believe I did this. But mostly I wonder why I waited so long. It's as though I had been going to the ocean for years with a set of buckets to fill with water. At last I left my buckets on the sand, ran towards the waves, and dived right in. 

At first Harold and I focused on jazz improvisation, his specialty. But our lessons expanded into music I've discovered in Florida: Spaniard Enrique Granados and his protégé, Fédérico Mompou, a gentle, supremely creative composer and pianist who became a mystic in later life.

Mompou lived during the 20th-century, and I consider him my music mentor. Harold Blanchard, my beloved teacher, died four years ago, and he will always be my guide. 

So I'm blessed with two masters: one from Barcelona and another from Harlem ... a mystic who plays these days somewhere in Paradise and a soul man whose family I still visit at 914 Oleander Street in New Smyrna Beach. Each one has taken me on a journey within. They have taught me to listen - not just to sound but to a voice inside. Through my time with them, I have learned to let go and trust the creative spirit that flows in all of us. While many believe we must work diligently to acquire a skill, I also consider that discipline enables us to express what we already know. Rather than struggling to control an instrument, I try playing with it as a partner, entering into the flow, and letting music open in the heart.

What Federico Mompou and Harold Blanchard have given me is becoming my own. And my creativity arises not from manipulating music, but from experiencing its beauty. It is my joy to share this music with Unitarian friends on Sunday mornings in Ormond Beach.   

Jon Sandburg

Jon had the chance to play an instrument in elementary school.  Since his father had a violin belonging to his grandfather, that seemed a natural choice.  Practice was not natural, and it was through imposed discipline from his mother Bergetta that Jon learned to play classical pieces.  An hour a day was quite a sacrifice to the young man, but over the next 6-7 years his skills allowed him to become concertmaster of his school orchestra as well as the county youth orchestra in Bethesda, Md.  Eventually schoolwork and sports took him away from the violin and he sold his prized violin to raise money to stay in college.

Music was still part of his life, though, and several years later, inspired by Elvis and Pete Seeger, he found time to play the guitar and sing.  It seemed like everyone played guitar, so Jon picked up another instrument for variety.  His musical taste had evolved from classical to folk, then to country and bluegrass.
     The mandolin fit into the music he was playing and more long hours went into learning chords for this new instrument.  This went on for years with some friends, and the band had skills that progressed from playing in local parades and parties, to being the opening act for singer Lee Greenwood (God Bless the USA) at a concert in the Washington, D. C. area.
    When he retired to Ormond Beach he gave up playing his music for golf and tennis until Cliff Jackson and Dan Gribbin started hosting an open mike night at the UU.  Learning new music for Jon was always fun, but when the open mikes sessions ended, Jon put away his instruments. 

However, Martha Brandt heard that Jon played the violin and graciously (Martha is always gracious) invited him to play a piece of classical music with her.  "She coached me patiently", said Jon, who knew she supplied more of the imposed discipline mentioned earlier and pressured him to always play slightly more than he felt he was ready for.  Pressure is good (without pressure there are no diamonds, wife Barbara tells us).   Jon feels music is fun and a great socializer, so this has become a pleasant story of practice and performance for him over the past few months. Jon is grateful for the support of the congregation, while Barbara, his wife, is grateful that Martha helped bring Jon back to his classical roots.