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COLUMBUS native Cathy Morris, a sometimes hyperkinetic performer who frequently labels her music “party jazz,” also is nurturing enough to present music-and-healing workshops at area churches.
“I’m just trying to leave an impression, to leave a legacy of hope,” said the 51-year-old Morris, an electric violinist known for her electric stage presence.
The veteran musician, who started performing as a youth with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra under late father, conductor Dale Spurlock, will kick off the latest installment of the Music at First Presbyterian Church series with a free concert at 7:30 p.m. today at 512 Seventh St. in Columbus.
Morris’ mix will feature a bit of everything she’s done the past 20 years or so — her original, energetic tunes, Diana Krall covers featuring Morris’ vocals, jazz standards, you name it.
“I think of music as a full buffet,” she said. “So I am being a glutton.”
Morris, who has regularly performed alongside national acts, serves as a good example of the multifaceted manner of today’s local church music series, free offerings highlighting the sacred to the secular with as many different genres and styles as there are members.
Classical, Broadway, steel drum and other styles have been presented on budgets as tight as the sound of the ensembles.
Series leaders say they believe houses of worship should feature excellence in song, be it for worship or uplifting entertainment.
Ron McMillin helps organize First Presbyterian’s series that has featured such notables as jazz artist Dominic Spera.
“In a real sense, this is just one way to reach out into the community,” McMillin said.
Morris will appear with a trio of backing, veteran musicians who have worked with her off and on over the past 20 years.
Until her recent “Music For Wellness” disc, she has never written with an eye toward the spiritual. But fans have long told her that her songs reached them or helped them on a level well beyond entertainment.
One told her she couldn’t have an MRI test without listening to one of her eight CDs through headphones. Others have mentioned her work has gotten them through a divorce or similar pain.
“This is about serving others,” she said.
The Banister Family Bluegrass Band, set to open the newest season of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church’s Music Series at 7 p.m. today, expects to serve its audience a generous helping of gospel. That will range from “I’ll Fly Away” to “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”
Yet even if the Columbus quartet were playing basic bluegrass, which it has done before during the music series, tunes still would connect with elements of faith, guitarist Jan Banister said.
“There’s a serious gospel root to bluegrass,” Banister said. “Whether we’re at the Farmer’s Market or at a church, many of the tunes we play are so familiar and so much a part of people’s childhood memories that we always get a reaction from listeners. Sometimes, you’ll see them close their eyes, and the music takes them somewhere.”
Bogdan Minut, the St. Bartholomew director of music who birthed the series seven years ago, has seen attendance range from
50 to 200 people.
“We’re still working on growing our audience,” Minut said. “And we’re covering a very wide range of the musical spectrum.”
Columbus’ Chuck VanNatta launched the Music At Asbury (United Methodist Church) series several years ago to share his love and curiosity for a broad variety of music. He keeps costs to a minimum with modest performance payments by catching acts traveling to gigs between Louisville and Chicago, for example. He also usually offers lodging at his home and simple, home-cooked soup-and-sandwiches meals.
“The things I like to hear,” said Chuck VanNatta, “are things you usually are not going to hear anyplace else.”
Such as a Hungarian folk guitar trio a few years ago. Or a harp quartet from Indiana University. Or even a teen boys choir from Illinois.
His biggest crowd, an overflow of 550 people, came to see the Purdue Glee Club.
Morris, who has played for as many as 150,000 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is uncertain how many people to expect today at First Presbyterian.
“My mantra these days is, ‘I want to do all of the above,’” she said. “I want to live my life like a bucket list.”
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