By Brooke Geery
At Grace Congregational Church in Rutland, music is an important part of the program, but it’s not just church hymns that echo through the tabernacle. The music ministry includes jazz, gospel, folk, music theatre and classical, and at the helm of it all is Alastair Stout. Born and bred in Scotland’s Shetland Islands, the organist, director and composer joined the church in 2017, ably filling the boisterous shoes of long-time music minister Rip Jackson.
Stout’s interest in music began at a young age. His paternal grandmother was the local church organist on Fair Isle (a tiny island 25 miles south of Shetland.) His cousin is a very accomplished folk musician. He was also inspired by his environment.
“Shetland is very wild and rugged (a bit like Vermont), and a very exciting place for a young boy to grow up! The sea, landscapes and turbulent weather all inspired me to write music,” Stout said.
At age 10, his talent was recognized and he was chosen to be a chorister at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, UK. At age 15, he published his first solo organ composition.
Stout graduated from the Royal College of Music with First Class Honors in 1997. He was awarded an MMus in composition from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1998, and a PhD in composition from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2002. With no more degrees to earn, Stout visited the U.S. at the urging of a friend who was working in Ohio. From there, he found a job at the Coraopolis United Methodist Church in southwest Pennsylvania, where he spent 15 years as the director of music, and also served as the director of the Pittsburgh Compline Choir. His music has been performed by ensembles and soloists throughout Europe, Australasia, North America and Mexico, broadcast on BBC radio, and is available on CD and iTunes.
After all his world travels, Stout was excited to move to Vermont with his partner, Krista Johnston. (Full disclosure: Krista is the lead graphic designer at the Mountain Times.)
“I often vacationed through New England, and jumped at the opportunity to work up here when the job became available at Grace Church.”
At Grace Church, Stout is involved all elements of the music program from leading the 80-plus Rutland Area Chorus to working with the children’s choir program, to running the inaugural composition competition, in which Michael Sitton’s “O Emmanuel” won top honors. On Dec. 19 at 2 p.m., Stout will accompany cellist Marina Smakhtina on piano, as the duo performs holiday favorites in the beautifully decorated Grace Church Sanctuary. On Dec. 22, he will lead the choir in a service of “Lessons and Carols” during Sunday morning worship at 10 a.m.
After the holidays, the music will continue.
“Some upcoming highlights are the Folk Weekend (Feb 22-23) where we celebrate not just music, but food and dance. In May (May 2-3) the Rutland Area Chorus will collaborate with Castleton University in a performance of Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana!’” Stout said.
Stout encourages everyone to come and enjoy the music, no matter their faith. “A really important aspect of Grace Church is its inclusivity. That’s what attracted me to the job. Everyone is welcome at Grace, whatever you believe. I think music is a wonderful way to bring the community together; a piece of music is open to endless individual interpretation. Not everything you hear at Grace will be sacred. But everything you hear will be offered with spirit! You take from it what you want. Grace Church is also a wonderful venue in which to hear music. It has great acoustics, a very colorful pipe organ, and is, of course, a beautiful space!”