Keane Southard
Keane Southard

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church names new music director

Keane Southard, a committed music educator, believes that music can engender compassion and caring in any setting

BRATTLEBORO — After a several-month search, St. Michael's Episcopal Church has called Keane Southard, Ph.D., as its next music director beginning Aug. 13.

"The Music Director Search Committee was impressed by his creativity, depth of musical knowledge, international experience, devotion to social justice, and personal integrity," said the Rev. Mary Lindquist, rector. "We look forward to many years of ministry together."

Responsible for music - instrumental and vocal - at weekly services, for directing both adult and children's choirs, and for developing music as both an outreach and a church community development vehicle, Southard, 36, brings experience, expertise, and vision to the position.

A musician who "believes deeply in the power of music to inspire positive change in the world," Southard produces work that reflects diverse musical tastes from "medieval chant to '70s rock, Bach to the Blues, and 19th-century romanticism to Latin dances," according to his professional website.

His range spans "traditional to experimental, systematic to free, and sacred to secular." Such eclecticism has been heard for decades at St. Michael's where his predecessor, Susan Dedell (who retired in January), drew not only from the Episcopal hymnal, but also from Lift Every Voice and Sing: An African American Hymnal and well as from ancient to modern traditions including chant, gospel, Sacred Harp, Appalachian, and classical works.

Moreover, Southard wrote in an open letter to the St. Michael's congregation: "I deeply resonate with St. Michael's commitment to social justice." Having recently earned his doctorate in composition from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, he explains that his dissertation research focused on "ways that music education programs can enhance their social justice outcomes by integrating Dr. Martin Luther King's teachings [and philosophy] on nonviolence into their curricula and organizational structures."

Southard's range of compositions - a sampling of which can be heard on his website - includes those manifesting his stance for environmental conservation, for nonviolent conflict resolution, for climate change amelioration, and for creating positive social change.

Winner of numerous awards and competitions, Southard has been granted multiple residencies and fellowships.

Southard has taught theory and composition at Bennington College and Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, has conducted and recorded his own works, and has served as musician and music director for churches in Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio.

Prior to undertaking studies at Eastman, he directed the adult, children's, and handbell choirs and played organ and piano for the First Congregational Church of Walpole, New Hampshire.

A native of central Massachusetts, Southard camped throughout New Hampshire and Vermont in his youth and has hiked both the Appalachian and Long Trails. On a 2016 hike, he kept a journal and took music notes with an audio recorder, ultimately creating "An Appalachian Trail Symphony: New England," commissioned by a consortium of New England orchestras.

With his parents now living in New Hampshire and other family in Boston, and having had church, academic, and community chorale positions in the region, Southard, a self-professed lover of nature, says he's happy to be back in New England.

Southard's part-time post at St. Michael's will allow him time to carry on with his teaching and composing while his wife Diane, a social worker for the past 12 years, pursues a divinity degree aiming to become a chaplain with a honed interest in hospice and end-of-life work. The couple are parents to a toddler son.

Music for social change

Southard speaks enthusiastically about coming to Brattleboro and to St. Michael's. Most exciting, he says, is working with a "decent-sized choir" and "to all the things we can do and sing" - including new works he expects to compose for the ensemble.

A committed music educator, Southard's belief that music can engender compassion and caring in any setting led to an interest in El Sistema, a music-education program, founded in Venezuela in 1975 by educator, musician, and activist José Antonio Abreu, who believed that, in the words of author and music educator Tricia Tunstall, "music has to be recognized as an agent of social development in the highest sense because it transmits the highest values - solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion," crediting it with the ability to "unite an entire community."

With its motto "music for social change," El Sistema has since become a worldwide movement, with an active network in the U.S. and, as a Fulbright Scholar in Brazil, Southard studied the program before researching and writing his dissertation.

He hopes, once he has settled in and has gleaned more of the area's music offerings and needs, to realize what he theorized in his dissertation - to create, through St. Michael's, "a new iteration of El Sistema" for area students who otherwise would not have access to music's benefits.

"We all look forward to meeting you all," Southard says, "and to becoming active members of the St. Michael's community!"

Southard's first Sunday at St. Michael's will be Aug. 13 at 10:15 a.m. As always, the public is welcome to attend the service.

St. Michael's Episcopal Church is at 16 Bradley Ave. in Brattleboro. For more information on the church and its work, visit

This News item by Annie Landenberger was written for The Commons.

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