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Leaving a musical legacy

Martin Hain, longtime music director at Williston Federated Church, stands with his cello. PHOTO BY KARSON PETTY

By Karson Petty

Community News Service

The melodic sounds of a choir with cello and piano accompaniments fill the Williston Federated Church on a Sunday morning. They are performing an anthem called “Think on These Things,” selected by church Music Director Martin Hain, who is also the cellist. 

Hain knows as he draws his bow across the strings that this April 24 service marks the start of his last month as music director. He is ready to pass the torch after almost 30 years of curating music for Sunday service and other church functions, conducting the choir and leading choir practice every Thursday night. 

From an early age, Hain always had the urge to conduct and lead music.   

“When I was young I would listen to recordings on the record player and conduct the recordings,” he said. 

Music was a very strong element in Hain’s upbringing, as both of his parents were music teachers, and he participated in choir and concert band through his junior and senior years of high school. 

He couldn’t decide which of his strong suits — music, math or science — to pursue when he left his home in Saugerties, N.Y., in 1975 to attend the University of Iowa. 

“It gave me a chance to postpone that decision, essentially,” he said. 

He started pursuing an undergraduate degree in music, but he eventually settled on engineering when he realized that he couldn’t dedicate as much of his time to practicing as others who study to become professional musicians.  

He joined the Army after graduating college and moved to Kentucky for four years, where he met his wife, Donna Sue. 

Hain then earned a master’s degree in structural engineering from Cornell University before he and his wife moved near Boston in 1985. 

Spending three hours a day commuting in Boston traffic for two-and-a-half years convinced the Hains that they needed to find a new place to raise a family. 

In 1988, Hain moved his family to Williston, where he secured a job at Knight Consulting Engineers. But he never lost his affinity for music in the decade after deciding against it as a career. 

“(Engineering) is what I’ve done as a professional, but music has always been a very strong part of my life,” he said. 

Hain said he stopped going to church in college, but after having his first son in Vermont, he committed to keeping a faithful family. The first service he and his family attended at Williston Federated Church was for Good Friday. 

“We brought in our infant son, who immediately started to cry, but they still welcomed us,” he said, “so we came back and we’ve been going ever since.” 

By 1996, Hain had been a member of the choir for three years under the conductorship of Terry Carpenter. And when Carpenter announced her plans to retire, Hain jumped at the opportunity to become music director. 

“It was something that I was interested in doing,” he said. 

The congregation size was at its peak when he started, due to the increase in Baby Boomers bringing their families to church in the 1990s. Congregation size doesn’t necessarily determine the rate of choir membership, however. 

“Our choir was probably at its largest about 10 years ago,” he said. 

Over the years, Hain has maintained high musical standards when leading choir practices and performances. 

Hain returns his cello to its case in the Williston Federated Church music room after a Sunday service. PHOTO BY KARSON PETTY

“I think I’m a little bit more demanding of a choir director than you would find in most churches,” he said. “But the result of that is ending up with a higher quality choir, and people tend to feel rewarded for that.” 

Choir members expressed admiration for Hain despite his meticulousness.

Gale Goodwin, who has been in the choir since Hain began, has gotten comments praising the small choir’s full sound, which she attributes to Hain’s guidance. 

“So many of us have become good singers and choir members because of Martin,” Goodwin said. 

Nancy Stone, an alto in the choir, said that Hain has taught her more about singing correctly than she learned in her prior 60 years of singing. 

“Choir practice includes laughter and ends in prayer,” she said. “The anthems he chooses are so meaningful that they enrich my faith.” 

Pastor Paul Eyer, who brought his spiritual leadership to the church in October 2017, has nothing but good things to say about Hain. 

“I have been privileged to serve alongside Martin (for five years),” Eyer said. “The beauty of the music that Martin chose for the choir each Sunday — and the level of excellence with which it was performed — was uplifting. I (see) first-hand how Martin has a way of bringing out the best in our choir.”

Eyer also expressed gratitude to Hain and his wife for their active membership in the church.

“Martin and Donna Sue’s contributions to our worship services, and to the life of the church, have been enormous. I offer thanks to God for what they have done for our church,” Eyer said. 

Hain returned Eyer’s kind sentiment, explaining how the pastor dealt with the Covid pandemic admirably by staying positive and uplifting. 

“It’s been a pleasure to work with Paul,” Hain said. 

In anticipation of the end of his musical career, Hain thought, what better way to celebrate his many years with the church than with a concert. 

“I had a desire to do a concert with a number of compositions I really like and pieces that have been important to me over the years,” he said. 

When a member of the church’s Vitality Team suggested making the event a joint benefit concert for international refugees, Hain heartily agreed. 

“It started off as a farewell concert for me and my wife, and now it’s expanded as a benefit for Ukraine and for other worldwide refugee relief,” he said.

The concert will be held at the church this Sunday, May 1, at 3 p.m. 

Masks are required for in-person attendees, but the concert will also be live-streamed on the Williston Federated Church Facebook Page.  

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