Choir director uses music to benefit community

| Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 10:51 a.m.

Under Sandy Rubright's direction, members of the choir of the Western Pennsylvania Music and Arts Academy make beautiful music together.

But that's not all they do.

The group also gives back by holding benefit concerts and workshops in addition to the classes relating to music and theory that Rubright leads.

“It's my vision for trying to help the community and help others through the gift of music, because it's the gift I've been given,” she said. “For years I have wanted to do something in the community.”

She started the academy in 2010, but, for the Murrysville resident, making music and serving the community have long gone hand in hand.

Rubright, 55, has been involved with both since she was a child growing up in Allegheny Township.

An accomplished musician, she began taking piano lessons at the age of 7. Just four years later, she got her first job — playing the organ at First Lutheran Church of Apollo.

She has worked as an organist in churches in and around the A-K Valley ever since. Currently, she is director of music at the United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington.

In addition to a bachelor's degree from Indiana University, she earned a master's degree in music education with a concentration in choral conducting from Duquesne.

Love of her community gives the group direction, but Rubright credits the academy's success to members, who hail from all around the Valley and range in age from 28 to 88.

“They just love singing, and we inspire one another,” she said.

Among upcoming concerts is one in February to raise money to help a New Kensington church purchase a new organ. A May concert will help the Freeport Renaissance Association raise money to secure a boat dock for the borough. The proceeds of another May concert will help offset the costs of new seats in Vandergrift's Casino Theatre.

A special concert, set for April, is called “A World of Hope” and, according to Rubright, aims to demonstrate that despite the pain and suffering in the world, there is hope to be found in the form of “friendship, honesty, kindness and prayers.”

Each concert features other local performers and a variety of expressive and inclusive forms, like visual arts, liturgical dance and sign language. The diversity is intentional.

“It's just very exciting to try and work across the board and involve other people,” Rubright said. “There is room for everybody. Together, we can be better than any of us can be separate because we're all creative.”

And the academy encourages the creative spark. The group has held free workshops on artistic and musical topics ranging from acting to playing hand bells.

The opportunity to learn about music and theory extends to members of Rubright's own choirs, according to Nate Manges. The Leechburg resident is a member of both the academy's community choir and United Presbyterian of New Kensington's church choir.

“She teaches in a way that can be very universally applied. I'm always learning something new,” he said. “Really (participating in the

choirs) is a way to serve your community and learn at the same time.”

The academy's choir is available to perform at private events; a donation is asked. Songs for private events are tailored to the special day. For example, at a birthday party, Rubright will seek out music that highlights some of the birthday boy's or girl's favorite things.

Whatever the occasion, Rubright finds her efforts with the academy coming full circle.

“I love people. I love music and I love to encourage people to be their best,” she said. “In helping others, we help ourselves.”

Julie E. Martin is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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