Music at First Unitarian Church
The music at First Unitarian has our affirming hymns performed with gusto; a lively band called the Early Morning Risers, and an outstanding choir. This is the foundation of our musical strength, complimented with guest musicians with visits from Omaha symphony members, Celtic singers, and marachi bands. We are proud of our diverse and fun music!
William Miller, Sanctuary Singers Director
William, a native of Valley, NE, has a long history in liturgical music having served as Choir Director at First Presbyterian in Council Bluffs from 1992-1995 and then at Benson Presbyterian from 1995 to 2015. Aside from choral conducting, he directed and participated in both organizations’ hand bell choirs. His undergraduate degree is in Voice Performance from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. A member of the Opera Omaha chorus since 1991, William has performed in over 40 productions with the company. A skilled keyboardist, he has accompanied vocal soloists and choirs as well as performed in instrumental ensembles.
When not pursuing his love of music, he has held several positions at local companies including Vice President of Procurement at First Data, Senior Director of Strategic Sourcing at West Corporation and is currently employed at Union Pacific Railroad as a Director of Strategic Sourcing.
J. Gawf, Sanctuary Singers Accompanist
J. Gawf is an accomplished pianist, collaborative pianist and a highly trained vocal coach in musical theater and opera. He earned his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in Piano Performance from the University of Central Oklahoma and a Master of Music degree in Opera Coaching/Piano Accompaniment from Temple University in Philadelphia. J. has collaborated with Opera Saratoga, Michigan Opera Theater, Augusta Opera, New Jersey Opera Theater, Center City Opera and numerous international musical theater and opera singers. He continues to work regularly with the Omaha Symphony and was previously the Music Director at Opera Omaha.
Pat Will, Organist
Pat is a member of the American Liszt Society and the American Matthay Association. She holds both bachelor and masters degrees from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. She has taught at the Eastman School, the Longy School of Music (Cambridge, MA), Duchesne College (Omaha), the University of Nebraska Omaha and College of Saint Mary (Omaha), from which she retired in 2000.
Patricia began playing the organ for church at age 13 in her father's Presbyterian church in Superior, NE and continued during the time he was minister at Miller Park Presbyterian Church in Omaha. Patricia Will became the organist at First Unitarian Church in 1975. She maintains a private piano studio in Omaha.
Stan Harper, Early Morning Risers Director
Stan has played saxophone and taught music in the Omaha metro for over 28 years. He received his Bachelors degree in music education in 1996 from UNO. Currently he teaches from his private studio, is a music director/accompanist for First Unitarian Church of Omaha, and also teaches vocal music for the Omaha Public Schools.
As a musician, Stan is currently a member of Finest Hour, Bluehouse with the Rent to Own Horns, and the Omaha Big Band. He and his wife Rene’, a vocalist, have a small acoustic group-Kettle of Hawks and Stan also leads The Little Harper Big Band. He has shared the stage with Connor Oberst of Bright Eyes, Steve Allen, Lou Rawls, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Jim Widner Big Band, The Marcus Lewis Big Band, The Nebraska Jazz Orchestra, , Bob Mintzer, Dave Pietro, Chip McNeal, Kim Richmond, Dave Scott, Tom Kubis, Scott Whitfield, Claudio Roditi, Wayne Bergeron, Billy McGuigan, Luigi Waites, Steve Raybine and many others. Also keeping a busy freelance schedule, he has recently played for shows, Elf and Fun Home, and “grew up” touring the country with the Broadway show “Anything Goes”.
Two groups Stan has performed with for years were recently inducted into The Nebraska Music Hall of Fame, Beehive and Bluehouse with the Rent to Own Horns.
Most importantly, Stan is a proud papa of two amazing, beautiful girls, and two hip little grandchildren
The Sanctuary Singers
The First Unitarian Sanctuary Singers is an all-volunteer SATB ensemble of approximately 30 voices. Our mission is to provide each singer an opportunity to grow musically and spiritually and to have fun doing it. Guest instrumentalists often accompany the group on designated pieces. Under the direction of William Miller and accompanied by J Gawf, the Sanctuary Singers serve the First Unitarian Church community with a diversity of music to lift the spirits and enhance the worship experience.
We welcome new singers and invite you to try us out. If you choose to join, the commitment is modest:
The choir rehearses 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesdays from late August through early June.
We sing two, occasionally three, services each month with a larger concert in May.
Sanctuary Singers members are invited to lead the congregation in traditional carols during our Christmas Eve candlelight services.
We are a very sociable group. Many members have sung in the choir for 10, 15 or 20 plus years but always offer a warm welcome and a helping hand to new singers.
Our growing repertoire embraces the full diversity of the human experience:
Contemporary choral arrangements, including those by local and national Unitarian-Universalist composers
Sacred choral classics from the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods, including anthems, chorales, masses, motets and opera choruses
Gospel favorites, both classic and contemporary arrangements
Folk music, including popular tunes and sacred hymns
World music from Africa, Asia and Latin America embracing a variety of religious and cultural traditions
Our singers’ artistic versatility allows us to perform everything from ancient church chant to Fauré to spirituals to South African, jazz, and gospel songs.
Early Morning Risers
Modern musicals, old showtunes, pop music and so much more. The Early Morning Risers perform their energectic compositions during Sunday service, but also lead concerts for church events. Comprised of church members who love to perform power ballads and songs everybody knows, this band gives an energectic voice to our congregation.