Holy Music Man! He's the Busiest
Church Musician on the Island
By Marybeth Hagan
When wedding bells ring on our island, they often accompany the divine sounds of multitalented church musician David Joseph Condo and his singer associates.
Condo’s talents include organ recitalist, accompanist and chorister.
The classically trained instrumentalist and singer has worked as a professional church musician for more than 20 years. Among the many musical hats he wears, Condo serves as the music director, or “choir master,” to borrow an Episcopalian term, at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Stone Harbor. He has been there since 2013. Plus, Condo works as St. Brendan the Navigator Parish’s director of liturgical music, a position he accepted in 2016.
“David is an incredible musician,” says the St. Mary’s rector, the Rev. Canon Dr. Peter Stube. “He’s so good that the congregation actually listens to preludes and postludes. And, they applaud when David is finished, which is unusual.”
Moreover, the St. Mary’s music director has raised the quality of the choir’s music to a higher level, Stube says: “David arranges music,” adding variety to classic compositions while retaining their original character. His repertoire is remarkable. When Condo accompanies flutist Cheryl Barton during church services, the music is “so beautiful,” the rector muses. “It’s rather amazing to find such a talented musician in such a small church.”
His gifted friend can be “hard on himself,” Stube says. “David has that drive which brings excellence. He is a very gentle, kind person who also demands excellence.” In keeping with this commitment to excellence, “David’s music is transcendent,” the priest adds.
The St. Mary’s music director earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in organ performance, music theory and composition at Rowan University.
As a student in association with the Rowan University Chamber Choir, Condo sang or accompanied the choir on the organ or piano during performances in the United States and around the world. Seven Mile Beach’s busiest church musician has performed in Carnegie Hall and the Mormon Tabernacle, as well as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Condo first assisted with music at Avalon’s Maris Stella Church during the busy summer season of 2016. Maris Stella Church is one of three Roman Catholic worship sites under the umbrella of St. Brendan the Navigator Parish. The other sites are St. Paul Church in Stone Harbor and Sacred Heart Church, formerly Maris Stella Chapel, in Avalon.
Within three months, the people and pastor at St. Brendan the Navigator Parish offered Condo a job as its director of liturgical music. “So, I actually direct music at four churches,” Condo says of his harmonious leadership roles at St. Mary’s and St. Brendan’s three worship sites.
Two professional singers, Ryan McAteer and Cheyanne Shaud, work closely with him.
Condo spends a lot of time researching organ music and songs for choirs, he says. When not in research mode, he buzzes from church to church for rehearsals with choirs or cantors McAteer and Shaud, and others. All of these training efforts focus on creating better choirs as well as self-improvement as an organist. “It’s a very busy adventure!” Condo says.
Shore nuptials keep him on the move, too.
“There’s more volume at the Catholic churches,” Condo says.
While two or three weddings are held during a year at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, there are sometimes two or three weddings a week at the Catholic churches included in St. Brendan’s Parish.
“The scale is vastly different at St. Mary’s and St. Brendan’s,” Condo notes. Thus, “the natures of the two jobs are very different. I enjoy them both. Each provides me with a different kind of stimulation.”
St. Mary’s is a small church with a predominantly stable resident community year-round. Thanks to its smaller population, “there’s intimacy” at St. Mary’s, Condo says. “Working in this environment is like being a court musician, a Handel or a Bach. I’m not comparing myself with the greats, but every major composer worth noting throughout history worked in a smaller setting within a small community.”
Like St. Mary’s, St. Brendan’s has a stable resident community year-round. But its population swells during the summer. Many of St. Brendan’s summer residents and visitors choose to be married at one of the parish’s worship sites. “Weddings have been a wonderful way for me to get to know the parish community at St. Brendan’s,” Condo says.
Marriage ceremonies at St. Mary’s and St. Brendan’s are happy occasions. “Hopefully, this will be the only time a couple marries,” Condo says. “So, I’m heavily invested in making sure that the bride, groom and the people there have a wonderful experience.”
Condo is also invested in increasing musical programs, like the recent Lenten organ recitals series at St. Mary’s Church as a means of community outreach. “We’re trying to reach out to the wider community so that they know we’re here,” St. Mary’s choir master says. There will be other musical programs open to the public during the summer season and in the fall.
While pondering the path that led him here, Condo recalls sound advice from an influential mentor, John Bertalot. Bertalot is a British composer and author who was the music director for 16 years at historic Trinity Church in Princeton. The renowned choir director and organist told his student to “approach every church service as if it was a recital.”
As many a local churchgoer knows, Condo’s music is a testament to those words.