- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2007

A first glance at the program for this year’s Rock Creek Festival at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish, might lead you to think that the array of performers is, well, a bit out of the ordinary. After all, not too many festivals in the area juxtapose bluegrass, sacred music and jazz — and set it all in Washington’s oldest church.

“We thought it important to try to get St. Paul’s back in the consciousness of Washington,” says Graham Elliott, a native of Wales who became music director here in 1999 and founded and staged the first Rock Creek Festival just two years later.

Opening Saturday with a concert by the local bluegrass sextet Dead Men’s Hollow, over its seven-day stretch the musical frolic will present chamber music and jazz along with an art exhibition and daily lunchtime concerts.

Monday brings the internationally renowned organist Marvin Mills on the church’s new Dobson organ. On Tuesday, look for legendary British composer and conductor John Rutter, who will direct his 2003 “Mass of the Children” with full chorus and orchestra.

And Wednesday sees the debut of the chamber-sized a cappella group Orpheus, singing music of 16th- and 17th-century England and Spain. Orpheus is directed by the celebrated Philip Cave, a founding member of the Tallis Scholars who is now director of music at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria and artistic director of the Alexandria Choral Society.

“This music festival is the church’s gift to the community,” Mr. Elliott says.

A well-kept secret

Tucked away in the rolling hills of Northwest near the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is one of the best-kept secrets in Washington.

Start with the setting: a parish founded in 1712 (in the reign of Queen Anne) that built its first brick church in 1721, surrounded by a historic churchyard — the fabled Rock Creek Cemetery — whose tall trees provide a bit of shade on even the hottest summer afternoon.

Then come the acoustics: warm, resonant, and present in either the 18th-century church building or the newly renovated Great Hall nearby.

Finally, there’s the animating spirit, open and inviting, whether you are a longtime church member, a resident of the neighborhood, or just someone stopping by to hear some good music.

“It’s a beautiful secret,” says Esther Williams, the celebrated vocalist and co-founder with husband Davey Yarborough of the Washington Jazz Arts Institute. Mr. Yarborough and Miss Williams will team up for the closing concert on June 22.

“The community here is so awesome. They just embraced us,” Miss Williams says.

It’s an embrace that reaches far beyond the music you would expect to hear in church on any given Sunday.

“This is not a religious festival,” Mr. Elliott says. “We’ve got a choral Evensong, yes, but we’ve also got jazz and bluegrass.”

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