After two decades, Arthur Zorn has retired from his position as minister of music at Bethany Church in Montpelier. A celebration was held Nov. 24 to mark the occasion.
Reverend Amy Pitton praised Zorn’s “appreciation of the full range of our pipe organ,” and his unique ability to “respond musically to what is happening in the Sunday service, which adds to the beauty and meaning of the service as a whole.” Zorn’s musical fearlessness and talent for improvisation “takes his listeners along for a spiritual ride,” Pitton said.
Highlights from his years at the church include working with flutist Denise Ricker and lead actor Justin Murray in a church production of Amahl and the Night Visitors eight years ago, Zorn said.
“Both the visual and musical aspects were artistically rewarding to experience,” Zorn recalled of the show’s costumes, scenery, and musical performances.
Other fond memories include a Christmas performance of Saint-Saëns’ ten-movement Christmas Oratorio and Pergolesi’s Magnificat (“Song of Mary”), which Zorn and the choir performed in place of a more traditional service.
Zorn said he hopes his successor will appreciate the role’s creative freedoms, emphasizing that the church is “open to what you have to offer, and there are no preconceived ideas.”
“Arthur is a man of many talents, Pitton said. “He is willing to take risks, not just with music, but with art and flower arranging, as well.”
Pitton recalled a Thanksgiving Sunday when Zorn filled the chancel with “cornstalks, cornucopias, pumpkins, and an old shopping cart,” to incorporate food donations for the Montpelier Food Pantry. “It was a spectacular display,” Pitton said.
There were also moments of unexpected levity. One year at the annual church variety show, Zorn recalled longtime parishioner Anne Devaughn made a scale in F major by collecting glasses of various sizes and weights.
“When I played the last note, I hit the glass and it broke!” Zorn said. A minor calamity considering Devaughn’s labor in constructing the scale, he added.
Zorn’s passion for music is long-lived. Born in 1954, and raised in the South Bronx where his parents worked at a small grocery store, his artistic sensibilities were awakened at the school assemblies he attended as a young student at P.S. 26.
“Music was performed, [and] there were discussions of familiar paintings,” Zorn said. His interest in visual arts was further piqued by a seventh-grade class trip to Jackson Pollock’s studio, where Zorn was awed by “the giant canvasses!”
He attended the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan and took Saturday classes at the Manhattan School of Music. In 1969, his junior year, the family moved to Vermont. As he adjusted to his new, rural surroundings, Zorn found solace in listening to WQXR, the all-classical New York radio station. “It was so quiet at night I could not sleep, and I found the station very comforting,” he said.
Zorn graduated from Lyndon State College in 1976, and a year later began teaching at Spaulding High School, in Barre. He was chair of the fine arts department at Spaulding for three decades before retiring seven years ago.
To invoke a well-known idiom derived from his beloved pipe organ, Zorn plans to “pull out all the stops,” and travel, paint, and practice piano in retirement. He recently purchased 50 blank canvases with a goal to “paint, paint, paint—and practice” the piano lessons he takes with instructor Diane Huling of Cabot.
When asked what advice he might give his younger self, Zorn kept it simple: “Be present. Don’t look back, look forward. Enjoy—don’t worry.” Reflecting on a life spent pursuing artistic passions, Zorn said he feels “lucky to be able to make money from art and music.”
Zorn will return to Bethany Church for a Valentine’s Day concert with flutist Denise Ricker and vocalist Jesse Collins. His visual art will next appear in Stockbridge, Mass., where he was commissioned to paint a mural for a private client.