First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin's choral director keeps traditional and religious music alive

Stephen Allen

DUNEDIN — Music has always played a big part in Stephen Allen’s life. Not just any type tunes, but rather the specialized harmonies of the pipe organ and voice choir.

For 30 years, Allen has served as director of music and organist at the First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin, and for the last four years he has led the voices of the 49-year-old Dunedin Community Chorus.

Allen felt his affinity for pipe organ music early, when his skills were tuned for its distinct sound while growing up. During his college years at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina, near Ashville, he studied organ performance. He followed studying pipe organ performance at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

He said he is a methodical person. When performing, he likes to see the patterns of notes come off a page and come to life to create a piece of music.

Allen proudly notes Dunedin Presbyterian Church has a majestic-sounding 19-rank Reuter pipe organ.

Individual pipes on an organ produce a single sound and pitch, so pipes are arranged in groups called ranks, each with its own distinct sound and intensity. It takes a master musician to coordinate playing keyboards and pedal boards to blend the perfect sounds into a composition. In its website, the church notes its quality music ministry has become an integral part of its spiritual tradition.

Just out of college, Allen’s life took an interesting turn when he became music director of a church in Iceland for a few years. While he enjoyed the experience and saw how music is a universal language, he said, thoughts of escaping the cold brought him back to the states.

That eventually led him to his 30-year career in at First Presbyterian Church at 455 Scotland Street. The church traces its Dunedin roots back to 1868.

Hearing pipe organ music live, with all its majesty and harmonious sounds, is much different that hearing a recording, he said.

Four years ago he was proud to take over the baton at the Dunedin Community Chorus, a city Parks and Recreation program, from longtime director Jan O’Connor-Sharkey. The chorus has a long history of performing holiday music concerts with its 80 members.

The Community Chorus, which practices on Tuesdays at the Dunedin Community Center, holds three recitals a year in February, December and April. The chorus performs holiday music in December, sings Broadway show tunes in February and patriotic songs at its April concert. It brings together many voices from the community who love to sing.

Choral music remains popular, Allen said. The group has a waiting list of singers interested in performing. The chorus could include up to 100 singers, but it’s limited to 80 by the size of the Dunedin Community Center stage.

From 2007 to 2011 Allen served as Clearwater chapter dean of the American Guild of Organists where, according to the chapter newsletter, he helped present organ recitals, handbell workshops, choral workshops and a Messiah sing with orchestra.

Allen said he loves Dunedin, a city that has been able to preserve its small-town friendly atmosphere. He said he likes how the city and its residents support the arts.

His wish is to someday add separate men’s and a women’s choruses to the mixed Community Chorus.