Originally created 12/15/01

Lunchtime serenade



Mona Clayton's love of music and food has kept her in the kitchen during 11 years of Tuesday Music Live, the concert-and-lunch series at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Reynolds Street.

Sometimes she and other volunteers finish in time to stand in the back of the sanctuary to hear the artists, but they never expect to taste the catered lunch they offer to patrons.

Volunteers fortify themselves with homemade chili or soup instead. Their work is physical, and if they didn't eat, they would run out of energy before they could set up all the plates needed for concertgoers, Mrs. Clayton said.

For the next concert in the series, at noon Jan. 8, Cafe Du Teau will prepare lunch and the concert will feature soprano Charis Fliermans and pianist Cynthia Wilkinson. Reservations are required for the $7-per-plate lunch. There is no charge and no reservations are required for the concert itself.

The format gives working people a chance to enjoy a 30-minute concert and, if they choose, a catered meal on their lunch hour.

Some 10,000 people annually attend the concerts, making St. Paul's series the largest of its kind in the country, according to Keith Shafer, minister of music at the church.

Part of his job is to strengthen relations between the church and the community at large, Mr. Shafer said. "This is another piece of the puzzle."

St. Paul's is a natural home for an artistic enterprise such as Tuesday Music Live, which is organized as a nonprofit event under the Internal Revenue Service code, Mr. Shafer said.

His approach has changed little over 14 seasons, except for including artists' pictures on promotional brochures and relying on restaurants instead of parishioners for meals. "Our goal is to have the finest, the best chefs in town fixing the food," he said.

Mr. Shafer credits the series' popularity to the restaurants' participation and piggy-backing school concerts onto noon-time performances.

Some 1,700 school children heard The Accidentals in concert Dec. 4 before the singers performed for some 600 lunch-time patrons.

By noon, people were in the aisles, the balcony and the narthex, Mrs. Clayton said. "They had to be turned away."

On concert days, she and a team of 10 to 12 volunteers start work around 9 a.m. "If we have any more (helpers), we would get in each other's way," she said.

While water boils for tea, servers spread white, vinyl tablecloths over tables in the church hall. One worker arranges yard flowers in bud vases to set on each table.

Servers prepare for an average of 150 patrons, although lunches can range from 120 to 235 plates. "It depends on the artists and the interest people have," she said. On spring days, people can take box lunches to the Riverwalk Augusta levee.

Meals are served room temperature or cold. Restaurants provide a sample plate to guide workers. They must carefully judge portions as they dish out entrees and other items from the large restaurant containers or they will run out, she said. "We make the presentation like they would like to have it."

Occasionally, volunteers bake or reheat bread or pick up extra lettuce at the grocery. Once a restaurant backed out the morning of a concert, and Mrs. Clayton had to run to the store for sandwich makings and desserts.

Despite the challenges, serving concert lunches "is much easier than singing for St. Paul's choir," she said.

For more information or to reserve a lunch, call 722-3463.

CONCERT SERIES

Tuesday Music Live will present soprano Charis Fliermans and pianist Cynthia Wilkinson at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 605 Reynolds St., at noon Jan. 8. Reservations are required for the $7-per-plate lunch from Cafe Du Teau. There is no charge and no reservations are required for the concert itself. Call 722-3463.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.