ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ – Carols, traditional sounds, new arrangements and the ever popular Choral Director G. Thomas Elliott, together with director Courtney Grogan and a new director and organist all be featured Sunday at the 22nd annual Christmas Concert at St. Agnes Church.
The concert, scheduled to begin at 3 p.m., will feature all the choirs of the parish, with the St. Agnes Choir under Elliott’s direction and the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Choir under Courtney Grogan.
This will be Director and Organist Daniel T. Neff’s first concert at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help/St. Agnes parish, coming here last month from an impressive background of musical presentations in the New York and New Jersey area, including almost five years as a cantor at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
A native of Keyport, Neff has participated in music, both vocal and instrumental, since he was six years old. “Music has always been a vital part of our family life,” the former theology student at St. Peter’s I College in Jersey City pointed out, “my mother sang, my father played the drums, and all my cousins and myself were brought up recognizing how life changing music can be.” Neff recalls he was particularly drawn to the organ after sitting behind the organist at St. Joseph’s Church in Keyport and being mesmerized by the tones and varieties possible only on an organ. He went on to study music through private tutors, as well as at Brookdale Community College, before becoming music director at Blessed Sacrament Church in Martinsville and a weekday cantor at the New York cathedral. In the Bayshore parish, Neff joins Corina Pauta who alternates with him at weekend masses, and Grogan and Barbara Guba, who present the musical offerings at Our Lady of Perpetual Help each weekend.
The Christmas Concert this year at St. Agnes will be both inspirational and festive; Neff pointed out, with some arrangements by award winning composer and arranger, Victor C. Johnson, and arranger and music editor Andy Beck. It will also feature two original compositions by Elliott, a retired instructor at Henry Hudson Regional School who constantly draws crowds to hear his music. Two of Sunday’s presentations by Elliott, Magic of Christmas and Things at Christmas, feature the lyrics written by his wife, Tricia Elliott.
The choirs of St Agnes and Our Lady of Perpetual Help churches will be conducted by Elliott and Grogan. The resounding Alleluia Chorus from Handel’s Messiah promises to be a highlight of the presentation, the musicians agree.
Neff added he is particularly looking forward to Sunday’s concert because it represents a variety of talent, composers, arrangements, and musical direction, a change from his former Christmas concerts which generally focused specifically on the birth and early life of Christ, “Of course, the birth of Christ is still the focal point of this and every Christmas concert,” the musician noted, “but Sunday’s arrangements and coordination among such talented musical directors enables us to carry the story even further in music.”
Admission to the concert is free to all, and all are invited to bring a donation for the local food pantry.