Franklin and Dennis were interviewed by Charan Devereaux.
Franklin Wright and Dennis Wright, two brothers, are leaders of the music ministry at Mission Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ on Highland Avenue, Franklin serves as Music Director and Dennis is Choir Director. Mission Church, a Pentecostal congregation, was founded by Bishop Henry A. Moultrie, II and Church Mother DyAnne E. Moultrie. The congregation was founded in 1974 and has worshipped in Somerville since 1976.
What got you involved in doing what you do? Is there someone or something that was important in getting you on your way?
Dennis Wright (Choir Director): I was born and grew up in [Mission Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ], and music is ingrained in the ministry and the culture. Once you are a child, you start singing, so I’ve always been involved in the music ministry, beginning with the children’s choir. There is also an all-men’s choir, an all-women’s choir, a young people’s choir [and a choir for seniors], along with the general choir. In terms of instruments, I started with the bass guitar. I think I can speak for all of the church musicians when I say that because we are such good friends, it makes playing together even more enjoyable. There is Craig Ramsey Jr., Tony Brunson, Ja’Nya Brunson, Preston Carmichael, Daniel Carmichael, Craig Ramsey Sr. and Richard Dorman (who also serves as Music Minister). When I am directing, I have a feel for what they are going to do, how they are going to play, which makes it easier to function as a team.
I can look to a number of members of the church who helped me along the way including Mother Moultrie and my brother [Franklin]. Mother Moultrie used to be the church organist.
Franklin Wright (Music Director): I found out early in life, at age 7, that I love playing the piano. My parents were very supportive with getting me teachers. There were many influential people at the church including Preston Carmichael, Ian Antoine, Bishop and Mother Moultrie, and others who were very involved in helping me. When I was young, they would have us play with the [adult] church musicians during church services, even though we didn’t know what we were doing. They just wanted me to keep playing. Now, after several years, it has opened up doors for me to help serve at a more administrative level at the church as well.
How would you describe what you do?
Franklin Wright (Music Director): My job is to try to represent our church’s spirit of worship and praise through music, making sure our songs are consistent with the environment we are trying to create and the things we believe. This includes communicating and having a vision for the music ministry as a whole.
Dennis Wright (Choir Director): I prepare for different elements of the church service. For the choir, there is preparation during rehearsal. We also have other opportunities to minister during the service, some that are spontaneous.
Why do you do what you do? What’s something you get out of it?
Franklin: I believe that ministry is the highest calling we can have as people. It gives purpose to your life. From my experience, the blessing is in giving and sharing and loving.
Dennis: I know this sounds cliché, but I do this because I love worshipping and praising the Lord. It is not for me or about me. I love music and singing, but it is what can I do to be of service to the Lord.
Tell us about the life of a church music director or choir director? What’s your daily routine?
Franklin: We have our rehearsal about three times a month. We communicate the songs in advance through email to the choir and the musicians. We work to find the right songs to fill a program for every Sunday, and we take suggestions. We also make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to uniforms. In addition to the church services, we have smaller events and we do things in the community. [In December, the Mission Church Choir participated in the Somerville Museum’s “Faith in a City” interdenominational concert at the Armory.] We also work with people to do more in the music department, and teach young singers and musicians. Our church has multiple choirs—they don’t all sing regularly, but say on Father’s Day, the men’s choir will sing.
Dennis: I work in the Boston Public Schools [Dennis started as a music teacher, and now teaches fourth grade]. On choir rehearsal days, after the bus picks up [the children], I go from work to church. Rehearsal starts at 7 pm, but I get there at 3 pm to prepare. It gives me time to get ready, think about what we are going to do, and look ahead to the next couple Sundays. We have a congregation that is multigenerational, so we do music that can reach the millennials and also the boomers in terms of traditions and styles, and bring people together. It is a process just figuring out what works and what doesn’t, because trust me, not everything works.
I also like to think about what is new and innovative in gospel music. I listen all the time on Spotify on my way to work. You can listen to ten different renditions of a song, and think about different ways they innovate. I try to stay fresh and listen to different artists.
What brought you to Somerville / the Somerville area?
Franklin: My mother has been bringing me to church since I was born. When I became an adult and went to college, I loved being there so much I came back from Springfield a couple times a month to come to church. Then when I finished college and could choose where I wanted to live and work, I knew I wanted to be close to my church. [Like Dennis, Franklin is an elementary school teacher in Boston].
Dennis: Our mother has been going [to Mission Church] since 1975, so it is a family church for us.
Are there some past projects you’d like to mention in more detail?
Franklin: Our main focus is our worship services. We have also participated in [Somerville Arts Council] Somerstreets events, and different high school and college concerts—we try to involve ourselves in community events. Our choir will be singing at Mayor Curtatone’s inauguration on Monday, January 6th.
Is there anything new you’re working on? Or an event that’s coming up?
Franklin: We are preparing for the New Year. We have a service that starts at 10 pm that will usher us into the New Year. It is a praise and worship service, so we will celebrate the past year and usher in the new year. Our new pastor-to-be will be speaking that night.
Dennis: We are middle of a transition; our founding pastor [who led the church for 45 years] has retired and we are merging with another church. It is the first time our congregations will be fellowshipping together as a new church.
I will also add that Easter service is a good opportunity for people from the community to come in and enjoy some good music and hear the Word.
Any thoughts on the local Somerville, or Boston-area creative scene?
Dennis: I’ve noticed a lot of great visual art and music in Somerville. There are many religious groups, denominational groups performing every week—that is happening all over the city.
Franklin: Somerville is very inclusive and rich when it comes to the arts. I have seen a lot of diversity in music, many community events, and a great appreciation for the arts. I think that distinguishes Somerville. From Porchfest to the parades and festivals, Somerville has a strong community that appreciates the arts and creativity.
It has been a pleasure getting to know Mayor Curtatone, and different community members from Somerville – some through our Shepherd’s Kitchen food pantry once a month. It has been great to learn more about the people of the city of Somerville.