POUND RIDGE, N.Y. – “Music to me is the voice of God,” said Peter Malinverni sitting at the piano in the nave of the Pound Ridge Community Church.
Malinverni, a Pound Ridge resident, is a renowned jazz pianist with 15 albums to his credit. He is also director of jazz studies at Purchase College’s Conservatory of Music and, for the past year and half, the musical director of the Pound Ridge Community Church.
Being part of the church has helped him during the most difficult time in his life – his wife’s death.
Malinverni said that he and his wife, Jodi Sandhaus, moved to Pound Ridge in 1995 and they were immediately enamored with the town.
“I have found that the Pound Ridge community is more than a group of people who have a location in common,” he said. “The friendship and support that I have found here has really astounded me. Everywhere I look there are good people.”
Malinverni said that Pastor Lori Miller and the congregation have been instrumental in easing his grief when his wife died of breast cancer in July.
“They've been a blessing in the wake of Jody’s passing,” he said. “[Jodi] sang in the choir for a year and the people got to know her. Then they embraced me [after she died] and held me up and their love makes me strong.”
Sandhaus was an accomplished musician in her own right. A jazz vocalist, she recorded five solo CDs.
“I was the producer and arranger for all of them,” Malinverni said. “She was a real important part of my personal life and my musical life. She was a real singer. She worked very hard and you could feel the humanity show through everything [she performed].”
While at first it may seem incongruous that a jazz musician would be the director of music for a church, Malinverni quickly points out that he grew up studying classical music and he had been the minister of music at an African-American Baptist church in Brooklyn for 18 years.
“Sure, we play Brahms and all the traditional hymns,” he said. “But Lori Miller encourages me to be as creative as I can be in leading the music program. The congregation is not afraid of change. They understand the intention. Sometimes people can be suspicious of change – but this [change] is only the result of me being myself.
“This is not a far reach for me," he continued. "I can improvise when the spirit moves me and the congregation can move with it. When I was playing in the clubs I would feel the same thing. I learned to be a vessel for the music and just get out of the way.”
After studying classical music as a youth, Malinverni said he discovered Motown and soul music, such as James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone. His muse led him to New York City, where he began playing the club circuit. Networking eventually got him his post as a teacher at Purchase.
Malinveri said that he tries to gain his students’ trust by not using a cookie-cutter approach and letting them develop their own voices.
“I like to say that these are not my students, but young, future colleagues,” he said.
For the holidays, Malinverni has written a Christmas cantata entitled, “Fear Not, For Behold,” which he will perform at the church on Dec. 9, at 10 a.m. Mass. He’ll be accompanied by the Pound Ridge Community Church Choir and guest trumpeter Joe Magnarelli.
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