‘Rock’ing the music: Geologist-turned-music director celebrates one year at CSUMC

Published 8:28 pm Saturday, April 6, 2024

Armed with a degree in geology and a minor in anthropology, MaryKate Cote left Louisiana State University prepared for a career in rocks and minerals. But the music kept calling her, and she returned to school, earning a second degree in vocal performance from McNeese State University.

Now, May will mark the one-year anniversary of Cote moving to Vicksburg and assuming administration of the music program at Crawford Street United Methodist Church (CSUMC). The program includes not only an adult choir that performs every Sunday morning during the church service, but also an accomplished hand bell ensemble and children’s music ministry.

Cote took over the program from former music minister Kathy Mahloch, whose long and distinguished career came to a close with her retirement in 2022. Cote credited the strong music program to her predecessor and said, “they were big shoes to fill, but I couldn’t be happier to step into such a wonderful program. I walked in, and it was home.”

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Choosing hymns for congregational singing during regular services is central to her job in music ministry, and at times can be challenging, Cote said. Pastor Tom Potter provides her with an outline of his planned messages and scripture references, which Cote reads and researches. 

“We work really hard to make sure we are aligned and I make sure that we are telling a story from the beginning of the service to the end of the service that is cohesive. That’s really important to me. It’s an important part of my ministry.” 

Balancing congregational singing between the more familiar songs in the hymnal and introducing newer music can be difficult, but Cote said she understands the need for music as a means to grow spiritually. 

“For some people, music is the hook that brings them in.”

Under Cote’s leadership, the adult choir presents multiple feature songs during Sunday morning worship services. This requires much practice and dedication for the members, as well as time Cote devotes to selecting music and directing choral members in rehearsal and performance. The choir is a cohesive and friendly group, with a long-standing reputation for excellence that Cote is happy to lead, she said.

The handbell ensemble at CSUMC is a popular feature appearing regularly during Sunday morning services. Cote recently relocated the bell choir’s performance area from the main floor of the sanctuary to the balcony of the church, where the sounds of the bells resonate from an elevated position. 

“The bells presenting music during the service should add to the glory of God,” she said. 

She previously directed the handbell choir at University United Methodist in Baton Rouge and attended the national seminar of the Handbell Musicians of America last summer. She said it was an amazing experience to see “dedication, commitment and exemplary level of musicianship that handbell ringers have.”

Another large part of the music ministry involves children. The church recently began a program for children called Terrific Tuesdays. The church van picks up the children from area schools and brings them back to CSUMC, where they participate in a variety of musical applications. 

“We do a little lesson with them, based on scripture, and we do some music foundation work, like keeping a steady beat, some melodic exercises, bells and handchimes and we sing some songs,” Cote said.

Other than children’s Bible songs, Cote includes some of the music found in Sunday morning worship, “so they can recognize that and participate more fully in the service. We’re not only teaching children about the Bible and the Scripture and the theology of the church. We’re training them to be the next generation of worship volunteers and leaders.”

Cote is currently working on a master’s degree in musicology from LSU. When it comes to music styles, Cote’s favorite is early choral music. 

“I find it the most fun to perform,” she said. “I like Spanish and Italian music from the 1400s, 1500s.” 

Her focus in musical study centers on early music, specifically Spanish music. 

“Spanish music, in particular, because I feel like it doesn’t get a lot of attention in the academic circles. The focus is mostly on Italian, followed by German and French. (Spanish) was a niche I could explore academically.”

In addition to her role as the music director at CSUMC, Cote is part of an acapella choral group called BonaVox. The name was inspired by the Latin phrase for “beautiful voice.” BonaVox is a group of South Louisiana vocal musicians committed to offering high-quality music performance for the enrichment of Louisiana and beyond. The group is an incorporated non-profit consisting of twelve men and women with extensive choral experience. 

“We have a wide range of music, we’re good at folk-inspired music, Dolly Parton’s ‘Light of Clear Blue Morning’ that we’ve done, and some other folk songs. We’ve done everything from medieval renaissance to current living composers.” 

This summer, the group will be presenting a series of concerts throughout Louisiana and Mississippi, and Vicksburg is on the list of appearances for July 11-13.

About her ministry with the United Methodist Church, Cote said, “I feel I could go anywhere in the world to a United Methodist Church and be welcomed and feel at home and feel like I have a place there.” 

She said she encourages anyone who loves to sing to consider joining the music program at CSUMC. 

“Anybody is welcome to join us anytime, even if it’s a short time.” 

Cote can be contacted through the church office at 601-636-5612 or by email at music.ministry@crawfordstreetumc.org.