The music of cellos, harpsichords, flutes and clarinets will soon fill Good Shepherd Church as the Homecrest house of worship gets ready to hold its annual concert series.
Every Sunday, from October 7 through December 16, New Yorkers are invited to enjoy recitals by some of the best classical musicians in the world – for free.
This year’s series features clarinetist Tom Piercy, mandolin player Joe Brent, classical guitarist Dan Lippel and acclaimed ensembles like Brooklyn Baroque and Duo Cantabile, among others.
“I wanted to give conservatoire musicians a place to play in beautiful acoustics like these,” said Michael Fontana, the church’s music director for the past 20 years. “It’s really a great venue.”
What began as a small event in the summer of 1995 is now an 11-concert music festival.
“I wanted to start something because there is precisely nothing culturally happening in this part of Brooklyn,” said Fontana. “The first summer didn’t go over too well. I didn’t realize that this community disappears during the summer, so we moved it to the fall and it has been growing ever since.”
Music From Good Shepherd draws a total of 7,500 people during the season, a number that Fontana would love to see increase.
“It’s hard to get people to come to this part of Brooklyn because it’s so remote,” he said.
Performers, however, have no trouble finding Good Shepherd. The impressive acoustics inside the Spanish mission church and appreciative audiences keep the musicians coming back.
“It’s been a great series,” said clarinetist Piercy, who will open this year’s series. “The audience is very enthusiastic, and for me it’s always interesting to work on something that I think would sound great in this stage.
“It’s also great that Michael allows you to perform any type of music that you want,” added Piercy, who has performed an eclectic set at Good Shepherd, including Japanese popular songs and contemporary classical music.
As always, this year’s series will close with a production of Handel’s Messiah, performed by a full baroque orchestra and the church’s chorus on December 16. The concerts start at 6:00 p.m. and last for an hour without intermissions. After performances, the musicians meet the concertgoers.
“It’s a much more intimate environment than just going to a standard concert,” said Fontana. “And we like to keep it that way.”
The audience is made-up of people from all walks of life. Fontana said he’s developed enduring relationships with people from outside the Catholic congregation, like Lester Ghelman.
“Every concert he comes with his yarmulke on and says, ‘So what, so what, we’re here to listen to music not to pray,’” said Fontana. “Now, every week he goes to temple, comes to mass, sits in church, and brings me old records.”
For Fontana and Good Shepherd, bringing music to the neighborhood is a mission – and a challenge.
“God forbid anyone from Manhattan would want to come,” he said, “That doesn’t happen.”
The community, though, has grown attached to the series.
“It’s delightful to have something like this in the neighborhood,” said Ed Jaworski, a longtime resident a president of the Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association. “It means you don’t have to travel to the city, you can just walk there.”
“If people knew about the quality of musicians we’re bringing here and in this beautiful space and that it’s for free. I just want to get more people in the seats to listen to these great musicians,” said Fontana.
Good Shepherd Church is located on Avenue S between Brown Street and Batchelder Street. The entire schedule and contact information for the series can be found here.
– Dominique Lemoine