So long as Danny English is Director of Music Ministries at Aspinwall Presbyterian Church, worshippers can expect something special.

From original scores at Sunday services to his efforts to maintain a choir despite changing demographics at the Center Avenue church, English has poured his heart into the job since 2016.

“I believe singing is an important part of worship, and our church considers it to be important as well,” English said.

In the works are plans for the eighth annual Worship by the Water, a unique event that features jazz musicians performing upbeat songs for an outdoor service at Allegheny RiverTrail Park, also in Aspinwall.

The informal event welcomes the community to enjoy the beauty of the park, a cup of coffee under the trees and social time with neighbors. For the first time, it is being held in conjunction with Hoboken Presbyterian Church in Blawnox.

“We put up a tent, and people seem to really enjoy it,” English said. “Some people who just happen to be walking through the park often stop and listen to some good music.”

Danny English, Music Director as Aspinwall Presbyterian Church, at Allegheny RiverTrail Park. He is coordinating a special service called Worship by the Water for Sept. 24.

Worship by the Water is 11 a.m. Sept. 24.

It will be led by Rev. Scott Hill of Aspinwall Presbyterian and Rev. Amy Newell of Hoboken Presbyterian.

For the third year, Mark Jackovic and his group the Jazz Influence will perform.

“Playing for the congregation outside, right by the river, is something special I look forward to each year,” said Jackovic, a saxophonist.

English and Jackovic have known each other since their teenage years at Duquesne University’s pre-college music courses provided by City Music Center.

Jazz Influence also features pianist Jeff Kunkle, bassist Chris McGraw and drummer Steve Ippolito.

“Everyone is so nice and welcoming and incredibly grateful for the musicians’ talents,” Jackovic said.

The children are especially excited by the upright bass and drums, and Jackovic said most band members are educators, so they love interacting and answering questions.

Hill said English is an asset at the church because of his musical gifts and also the guest musicians he brings in and works so well with.

The open-air service is a chance to enjoy the community and offer something back, Hill said.

“Some years we focus more on the river, sometimes on bridges and the spiritual significance of them,” he said. “The music is a real highlight, and a joyful, relaxed flavor at the park.

“We love it when people wander over to hear the music and hope people feel free to come enjoy it even if they don’t worship with us.”

The annual service is highly anticipated by the congregation, Hill said, partly because it’s relaxed, informal and offers a beautiful setting. But English said people are welcome to Aspinwall Presbyterian, where he works all year on regular programs that offer exposure to music.

For years, he has brought in alumni bands, starting with classmates from Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned his graduate degree.

“I accompany the musicians from the piano or organ in playing classical selections, arrangements of familiar hymn tunes, and as of late, some of my own original music I wrote for the church,” he said. “We highly enjoy these Sundays.”

On several recent weeks, the church featured flutist Akari Ogawa from Duquesne University. Past musicians have included oboist Ian Woodworth, who regularly plays with the Pittsburgh Symphony, trumpet player Griffith Gentilcore, and flutists Dayna Hagstedt and Cheryl Zhang.

Since covid, the church choir has dwindled from 12 members to just a handful, but English said he is determined to keep the music alive.

“I have to be very careful, selecting extremely basic, simple songs that we can learn in a short time, and using my creativity and arranging skills, doctor them up just a bit to make them more interesting,” he said.

He hired a vocal performance major from CMU, Holly Romanelli, to give the group a strong lead voice.

“She has great energy and is fun to work with,” he said. “Instead of singing every week, we now aim for about once every month but our small-but-mighty group continues the tradition.

“This is drumming up interest and it looks like we might even have some new faces joining the mix when we resume in September.”

People gather under a tent for a past Worship by the Water at Allegheny RiverTrail Park.

By Tawnya Panizzi

Source: Trib Live