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Arts: Church music director promises to slow down

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Sylvia Warr has found her way home for the holidays.

After 17 years in the Denver area, she loaded up a Penske truck and returned to her roots in South Carolina.

“It’s the first time I’ve had Thanksgiving dinner with family in over 20 years,” Warr said.

But it was more than family that beckoned her. A job awaited.

Warr, 52, is the director of music at the Pawleys Island Presbyterian Church. Although she began the position in January, she is still getting used to her new lifestyle. She said her goal is to slow down the pace since the busy nonstop days she spent in Denver where she raised four children, taught elementary school music and directed the adult choir at St. James Presbyterian Church in Littleton.

It appears she hasn’t slowed much.

She’s immersed in melodic activity.

As music director she is responsible for all church musical selections and oversees the sanctuary choir, the flute and recorder ensembles, the bell ringers, and the mixed and women’s choirs. She rehearses almost daily. In off hours, she teaches piano and voice and is the paid accompanist of the Indigo Choral Society. And she sings. Several of her choir members described her as a talented soprano who can perform anything from opera to gospel.

In addition to her regular duties, Warr is in charge of all musically-themed extracurricular church activities, particularly prominent at holiday time. She initiated the church’s upcoming Figgy Pudding event, an idea patterned after a similar event back at her church in Littleton. The $10-per-person evening features a mix of lighthearted to serious Christmas music, readings and dessert. The choral singers and musicians host the event and provide the desserts.

And they said it couldn’t be done.

“We’re sold out,” said a delighted Warr. “No one thought we could sell two nights and we did quickly, It’s a beautiful, festive event which we hope to have annually and reach out into the community.”

But don’t expect any figgy pudding (an English cake featured in the carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”) to be included in the array of fancy sweets served at candlelit tables.

“They served it at St. James when they first started Figgy Pudding 32 years ago, but never again. They said it tasted disgusting. The name is just a symbol,” Warr said.

Raised in Darlington, Warr’s mother, a Baptist church organist, introduced her to music. She began piano lessons in third grade. As a child she recalls meeting Thom Martin, director of music at the First Presbyterian Church in Georgetown, at music summer camps in the Darlington area. Martin was among those who recommended Warr for the position at Pawleys Island Presbyterian.

“I was always singing in churches all around and went out for the church talent contests,” she said. “I’ve always been involved with churches.”

She attended Emmanuel College in Georgia and won a full scholarship to the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, where she earned a master’s degree in music.

She shared her musical passion with her children. She’s very proud of her brood.

“My oldest son is a music producer in Hong Kong,” she said. “And I have a daughter who is an economist in Geneva, Switzerland, another studying medicine in Charleston and my youngest son is studying engineering at Clemson.”

Warr, who lives alone with her cat Jack, said that her church work fills so much of her day, she rarely has time to walk the beach, a favorite outing. “I’m still adjusting to my life here,” she said.

She describes her music as a form of prayer. “It’s an expression of your deepest faith. When you sing from that deeper place, it all comes together. There’s a thing that happens that, frankly, we can’t do alone. It’s the God factor. Like nothing else. It’s so powerful”

Her favorite hymn is “Be Thou My Vision.”

“I tell my choir to bring their heart to the music and they will bring the message of joy and peace and the promise of hope to the people. We want them to leave with a smile and feel blessed.”

Warr didn’t seek out her new role as music director.

“I didn’t pursue the position. I just got a call out of the blue and was asked if I might be interested. I know it was a God thing. It was beyond me. And now I’m back home.”

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