Dover teen takes the musical baton

Music intern Grady O’Connor joins music director Becky Davis at Wesley United Methodist Church in Dover. Grady, a Dover High School student, will conduct the church’s choir on Oct. 28 during a performance of “Open Our Eyes Lord.” (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Fifteen-year-old Grady O’Connor is well on his way to becoming an accomplished musician. He is preparing to take the lead of Wesley United Methodist Church’s choir, directing a piece under the tutelage of Becky Davis.

Grady started playing alto saxophone five years ago and has since been on a mission to learn everything he can about music, joining the Wesley United Methodist Church Orchestra at age 12.

“He was so focused and so willing to learn,” said Ms. Davis, music director at Wesley United Methodist. “There was one evening when no one but Grady showed up to orchestra rehearsal so we went through the music just the two of us and he was like a sponge. And what teacher doesn’t love a student like that?”

Grady showed an extreme proficiency in music early on, keeping up with the orchestra just fine.

“It’s a mix of players of all skill levels,” Ms. Davis said.

“We only get one rehearsal before a performance so it’s important that we make the most of the rehearsal time and that I lead it in a way that allows the newer players to catch on, but doesn’t leave the more advanced players bored. And Grady has always kept up, even since the beginning.”

Grady, 15, goes over the music with Ms. Davis at Wesley United Methodist Church. He started playing alto saxophone five years ago and has since been on a mission to learn everything he can about music.

Ms. Davis is now in her third year directing at the church, having been a professional French horn player for 30 years before teaching music in public school for a decade thereafter.

Last spring Ms. Davis had the idea for an internship for a young person interested in pursuing music and she knew Grady would be the perfect guy for the job.

“I talked to him about it and he said he was interested and so far it’s been great,” Ms. Davis said. “I’ve taught so many kids during my career in music and you just don’t see kids like Grady with such an interest and willingness to learn very often.”

During his internship, Grady will learn not only how to conduct the choir, but how to perform nearly all the duties of a music director, giving him practical experience in his area of excellence.

Grady has worked by Ms. Davis’ side in rehearsal for weeks now, gearing up to direct the church’s choir on Oct. 28.

The choir has a membership of 30 to 35 members ranging in age from 30 to 90, which performs at every Sunday’s 9:45 a.m. service at the Dover church. The choir sings a different anthem every week that coincides with the message of the sermon.

“We practice the song three times before performing it and I meet with the pastor once a week to catch up and I’m able to get some insight about the upcoming sermons and which songs might fit well,” Ms. Davis said.

Although Grady won’t be publicly conducting for another six weeks, he’s already chosen the piece he will conduct, “Open Our Eyes Lord.”

“The song’s lyrics speak to everyone and it has a very rich melody,” Grady said. “There’s a lot of potential to change it to the way I want it to sound.”

As a student of music theory at Dover High School and a member of the school’s jazz band that loves to improvise, Grady is looking forward to working on his own arrangement of the song.

“I have a lot of different things in mind but I’ve already noticed that just because something sounds great in your head, that doesn’t mean it’s going to sound great in practice,” he said. “So I plan on bringing some of these changes to rehearsal and seeing what comes out well and what doesn’t.”

And Ms. Davis emphasized the importance of any choir’s songs in church.

Grady O’Connor works with music director Becky Davis at Wesley United Methodist Church. In addition to his music studies, Grady takes all honors and AP classes and placed 12th in his class of more than 500 students last school year at Dover High.

“Songs speak to people in a way that words can’t,” she said. “When we do our job well as conductors, we allow the congregation to open their hearts and minds and we prepare them to hear the word of God.”

Although the church’s orchestra and choir focus on classical music, Grady said his real joy comes from jazz music.

“I love jazz and I’m in the jazz band at school,” he said. “I like to improv and I’m always listening to the greats, paying attention to how they play and trying to learn from them as much as I can from recordings.”

Grady isn’t just a band member though. He’s taken the lead in the past, heading up his section at band camp and even writing some of his own music in his spare time. He’s also a member of the Delaware All-State Band.

Grady, with the support of his family, is already looking at music schools for college and plans to make a career out of music.

“There are lots of different opportunities in the music field and you can never learn enough,” he said. “I try to take advantage of every opportunity I have to learn and this internship is one of those opportunities you can’t pass up.”

Although primarily a musician, Grady recently joined the Wesley United Methodist Choir when he started the internship, marking his first time singing in a group.

“I started practicing singing a few months before joining the choir and it’s been a great experience so far and it will be helpful practicing instruments too,” he said. “Instead of needing my saxophone to demonstrate a melody, hopefully I’ll get good enough at singing that I can just vocalize the notes instead of having to play them.”

In addition to his music studies, Grady takes all honors and AP classes and placed 12th in his class of more than 500 students last school year.

Grady will conduct “Open Our Eyes Lord” at the Oct. 28 9:45 a.m. service at Wesley United Methodist Church, 209 S. State St., Dover.

Ashton Brown is a freelance writer living in Dover.

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