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All musicians want to grow in their art
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Everyone who has ever tried to rehab a home or business in Savannah knows that renovation and restoration costs have a way of skyrocketing out of control.

However, when the building in question is an historically significant architectural marvel in the downtown’s landmark district, things can quickly get way out of hand. Especially when the owners are determined to do things up right.

Pastor Enoch Hendry and his wife Ann Curry know all about such things, as do the approximately 350 members of their congregation.

For over a decade, Trinity United Methodist Church on West President Street has been scrimping, saving and planning for a massive restoration project designed not only to preserve what remained of their house of worship after a devastating 1991 fire – but to hopefully insure that the 157-year-old structure would stand as a vital, functioning church for another century and a half.

Unfortunately, now that the repairs are nearing completion, the final cost for the complete overhaul is much more than they anyone ever anticipated.

“This has been very hard for everyone in the sense that the cost essentially doubled,” says Curry. “The Trinity Church community had been saving money for several years and they thought there was enough money to pay for the whole thing.”

This tiny congregation pledged almost $400,000 over three years to

the restoration,” continues Hendry. “Yet, the final cost is just short of a million dollars! They wound up having to repoint the entire Savannah grey brick facade beneath the stucco. We had still hoped to make our July deadline, until the summer rains set in.

“A serious consideration of our place in the community led these folk determined to remain – rather than selling out and moving to the suburbs, merging with another congregation, or simply closing the doors,” he says. “Of course, they have been intimidated by the escalating costs, but are clear and committed to the goal of remaining.”

To that end, this congregation is holding a “Restoration Gala” this weekend in nearby Telfair Square, which they hope will not only help allay some of their unexpected expenses, but will also signal to the community at large their resolution to cement their place in Savannah’s downtown landscape for a great while to come.

“From the beginning, and even before I arrived as pastor we knew that this was a tough row to hoe,” Hendry continues. “As the congregation has grown over these last few years we have been encouraged, but obviously we need help. And, again, obviously, we feel ‘deserving’ of that help. We have what I have been told is the oldest intact house of worship in the city. There are churches and worship centers, congregations older than ours. But in terms of original construction, from our pine flooring to our pews and facade, not much has changed since 1848. We feel we are one of the city’s architectural ‘jewels,’ and just as deserving of historic preservation as any other building from that period.

“Plus, we are not a museum, but rather an increasingly vital presence in the historic district for faith and community – perhaps uniquely so. We are part of a larger designated shrine for United Methodism, which includes various sites around the city where John Wesley lived and served.”

Wesley – the Anglican priest assigned the duties as rector of the Church of England community in Savannah in 1735 – was later the founder of the Methodist Movement in Great Britain which led, ultimately to the founding of United Methodism.

Curry says that despite the mounting costs and the unforeseen delays, she and many in the congregation have been heartened by the journey.

“It’s been quite an adventure. More and more, I’ve realized what a unique and often quirky living situation we have. I mean, Telfair Square is our yard.”

Saturday night, that yard will be filled with the sounds of music, theatre, eating and rejoicing.

The Gala is a multifaceted affair that includes Southern hors d’oeuvres, an auction of art, gifts and services (including Trinity the Kitty, a five-week-old cat that was recently discovered under a baseboard by the church’s staircase), a performance of the Christian musical Godspell by the Savanna Children’s Theater, and live music by John Bell’s Little Big Band – an octet specializing in swing, rhumbas, tangos and other types of dance-oriented jazz.

In what is sure to be a noteworthy event, local thespian and vocalist Trae Gurley (who has come to prominence with his Sinatra-based nightclub act) will front the group for one of his first-ever performances of Sinatra material with a live band.

Still, Pastor Hendry stresses that while fundraising is the primary goal, there’s a great deal more to this event.

“The idea is to celebrate our commitment to be on Telfair Square for another 157 years! We are a part of this community, have been for a long time, and want to be into the future. That is why it is so important for our entire church community -- from the Southside, from Tybee, from the Westside and from the suburbs, to be here and to help host this. We want folk to know that we are a vital, thriving, faithful, committed, progressive, and welcoming congregation that will ‘payoff’ in the longterm as much as anything else.”

We also spoke to Trae Gurley about his love for ‘Ol Blue Eyes, and his future plans:+

Connect Savannah: This whole Sinatra thing seems to be doing well. Has your act been received as you’d hoped?

Trae Gurley: Yes and no. I wanted to remind people of those beautiful arrangements created for Sinatra throughout his career and the wonderful phrasing he used. The orchestrated tracks I use to showcase both of these – for the most part – get a good response, but there is still an audience out there that wants to see a live band behind a vocalist. I played The Mansion on Forsyth Park a few weeks ago, with Peter Tavalin, David Keller and Billy Hoffman. They were a pleasure to share the stage with. We did some Sinatra tunes and other various standards. Don Hite, a musical producer and close friend, sat in on piano for a set of musical theater tunes. Both went over well. I want to be known as “Trae,” not “that Sinatra kid.”

Connect Savannah: If you could change one thing about your Swoonatra show, what would it be and why?

Trae Gurley: Live music. I’d love to have that energy behind me every time I sing. It forces people into the song, and they become involved. At the time I wanted to start this “Sinatra” thing, all the pianists I knew either didn’t want or didn’t need a vocalist. A big band was out of the question! But there was a niche to be filled, and the tracks allow me to do that.

Connect Savannah: Your website calendar shows you as traveling as far away as Los Angeles to play shows.

Trae Gurley: It happens once every couple of months. I never thought I’d travel any farther than a state or two doing this, But the connection people have to this music is still alive and well. It keep me busy.

Connect Savannah: Do you worry about being pigeonholed as a Sinatra tribute?

Trae Gurley: Absolutely. That’s why I want to play more venues where I can use a live band and change the format a bit. The tracks limit me creatively and all singers and musicians want to grow in their art.

Connect Savannah: What’s the biggest challenge in fronting a live band?

Trae Gurley: Rehearsal time, for one. Meshing with the musicians I’m working with is another. They are all professionals, so I’m in good hands. My game better be on, because I know theirs will be.

Connect Savannah: How closely do you try to approximate Frank’s stage show?

Trae Gurley: The mannerisms I don’t even try. Most people think of the older Frank and that is not what I want to portray. I like the vocals of the Sinatra of the ‘40s through the ‘60s, the “Columbia and Capitol years.” His prime. That’s what I wanted to capture and pass on to others, the elegance of his emotion and phrasing.

Connect Savannah: Are you comfortable enough in the role now to just relax and do it naturally?

Trae Gurley: I’m always striving to improve. I’m never satisfied and constantly push to make my performance better. Singing is natural to me, but I don’t take that gift lightly. I respect and nurture it.

Connect Savannah: What’s next for you?

Trae Gurley: I don’t know. I’ve been talking to Allen Jacobi with Pyramid & Titan Records – he’s the former manager of The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Crosby Stills & Nash, and others – and we are negotiating a deal as we speak... Based on that, I am scheduled to record a few songs in Miami in the coming months. Who knows? This deal may give me the ability to break out from the “Sinatra” spotlight and make my music my own. I’m ready to take it to the next level, and showcase some amazing songs that need to be heard.

Connect Savannah: I saw a recent film about Sinatra, and he was played by Dennis Hopper in a bad wig. If you were casting a film on Frank in his later years, who would you choose to play him?

Trae Gurley: I have not seen that. I love Dennis Hopper as an actor, he’s great to watch, but that sounds strange to me. I’d rather see a movie about a younger Sinatra. When he was just coming on the scene. Who would I cast to play him? Well... I’m available.

Trinity United Methodist Church’s Restoration Gala takes place from 6 pm to 10 pm in Telfair Square. Advance tickets are $35 each and are available from SCAD’s Trustees Theater Box Office (525.5050). Any remaining tickets will be available at the event itself for $40.