SPRING HILL — Noting the church's promising future, a renowned conductor accepted the position of minister of music at First United Methodist Church of Spring Hill in July.
"The church, I believe, is poised for great growth," Robert McBain said. "My whole career, I've always been a growth person. I have not been much on maintenance."
Before coming to Florida, McBain served as minister of music at the 4,700-member St. Timothy United Methodist Church in Mandeville, La., conducting its 125-member choir and serving as an administrator with a staff of 26.
"I knew it was time for me to think about moving because the choir loft was full even in the summer," McBain said about leaving St. Timothy. "I was also responsible for seven different worship services each weekend. That's a big situation. I was looking for one that wasn't as demanding and where I could spend more time with people rather than doing administrative things. We just clicked them off one by one and then we found this church."
McBain, 66, has a long and distinguished career that includes conducting Verdi's Requiem, with the Manhattan Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 2005, and Mozart's Requiem at Lincoln Center, also in New York, earlier this year.
His repertoire of large choral works also includes Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Haydn's Creation.
In 2009, the maestro was invited to conduct Mendelssohn's Elijah in Athens, Greece, at the invitation of the Greek government. In 2007 he was asked to conduct "Prepare the Way Concert" for a world television audience from Manger Square, Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. He also conducted the 50th anniversary performances of Amahl and the Night Visitors in consultation with its composer, Gian Carlo Menotti.
He has conducted choirs with over 300 voices and orchestras with more than 90 musicians, including the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Carmel Symphony Orchestra, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra, the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the Manhattan Philharmonic Orchestra, the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, the Mozarteum Orchestra, the Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra, the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, the Southern Mississippi Chamber Orchestra and the Texas Chamber Orchestra. He has served as minister of music, fine arts and worship at several large churches, has garnered numerous awards in his field and is ordained in the Evangelical Free Alliance Church.
"I've been very fortunate through my career in being invited to do things like that," McBain said.
Though he earned a doctor of musical arts degree in 1981, he prefers to be called Bob to "doctor."
The Rev. Mike Oliver, of First United Methodist, thinks the church is fortunate to have McBain.
"He not only brings the gift of being a talented, well-educated and experienced church musician, but I especially appreciate the heart that he has for engaging in passionate worship," the senior pastor said.
"He understands that it is not just about the performance of the choir, the hand bells, the praise teams, the instrumentalists or the soloists. It really is about praising God and being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ."
Growth wasn't the only attraction for McBain and his wife, Ann, to First United Methodist Church of Spring Hill.
"This congregation is very generous," McBain said. "Some people don't realize that until you look at what they're doing."
McBain noted that the church feeds about 150 families each week.
"That's a substantial amount of generosity, and they do that every Wednesday," he said. "And on Tuesdays they serve a hot meal."
McBain's own "spirit of giving" fits right in. On Dec. 16, at his request, the church will host two free holiday concerts as a gift to the community. Soprano Ebony Preston, who toured Europe as the lead in Porgy and Bess, and keyboard artist Sean Pollock will be the featured guests. Pianists Sean and Ashley McCall will provide "dueling" keyboards. McBain will conduct the choir and the Florida Symphony Brass.
"I am very pleased Ebony will able to be here," McBain said. "I worked with her many times over the years. She is very impressive."
The concerts are a gift McBain hopes to repeat each Christmas.
"I've done gift to the community concerts before," he said. "We know there are families that would like to go to something like this but there is no way they can afford it. We think it will be well received. It will be an exciting program."
On the church website, McBain states: "The purpose of our music ministry is to provide the gospel of Christ through music. We want our music to glorify Christ, minister and encourage our fellow believers and reach out to those who do not know Him."
Several of its members confirm that McBain brings that emphasis to the choir.
"Dr. McBain, in his words, puts God first, music second," said Linda Jaglois, who sings as a second alto in the choir. "This devotion has filtered through the choir these past months to the extent that there is expressed heart and soul in singing [God's] praises."
First soprano Betty Wilson is blessed by McBain's ministry.
"[His] love of God is evident in the way in which he lives his daily life and in the inspiration he brings to the choir to transmit the love of God through the anthems," she said. "We are so blessed to have such a consecrated choir director."
Not surprisingly, the choir at First United Methodist Church has grown recently and now has more than 80 members.
"This church wanted me to be here," McBain said. "They wanted to keep growing their program. My predecessor did a marvelous job in building a program and they just wanted to take it up another click. There's nothing like working for a church that really wants you to be there, and it's really exciting stuff to watch the choir grow."