Good Shepherd has hired a new director of music who will be a familiar face to some of our members. With his musical knowledge, abundant enthusiasm and trim rock-star appearance, Todd Samra is a hard person to forget.
Anyone who has attended a lecture at the Monterey Symphony Orchestra or the Bach Festival may have heard Todd eloquently bring context and understanding to concertgoers.
Todd is 48 and came to this area six years ago from the Midwest. He recently moved from Cannery Row to Pebble Beach. A pianist himself, he taps a deep knowledge of music with a PhD from Ball State University and a Masters from the University of Missouri, both with an emphasis on choral conducting. Before coming to the Peninsula, he was a graduate instructor at Ball State.
But Todd also knows how to work with church choirs – and it might be said he was born to the job. “My parents both sang in our church choir growing up. That might be my first introduction to music. My mom still sings in the choir. My dad was an ordained Episcopal deacon.”
When he found the academic life in Indiana a little restricting, he came in 2011 to All Saints Episcopal Church in Carmel, a full-time job that left him little time to pursue other interests.
When he took his current part-time job at St. James Episcopal Church in Monterey, he was better able to lecture at the symphony, the Bach festival and as an instructor at OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at California State University, Monterey Bay.The music director’s job at Good Shepherd is also part-time, which will allow him to keep pursuing those activities but also take on additional work for the church. “It will allow me to do more here, because at St. James I just showed up Sunday mornings.”
What impressed him about Good Shepherd? “I like the rural aspect of it. The community sense is very, very important here.”
And part of his attraction to Good Shepherd might have seemed a drawback to some other music director. “There is no organ. Not that I don’t like the organ … but I am a pianist. The finger technique is completely different. I think the folk aspect with piano and guitars is more attractive to young people. The organ can be an assaulting instrument – it can turn people away.”
Does he miss Fort Wayne, Indiana, his hometown? “Not very much,” he said. What he likes better is our corner of California, particularly its diversity. “I call it America’s America – it’s a melting pot. What I like about this place is we accept everyone here.”
He says his music taste is “very eclectic – a little bit of everything.” In pop music, he likes Pater Gabriel and his favorite traditional composer is Claude Debussy. a Frenchman. Yet he has a particular love for English music – as he said, “from the renaissance through to the Beatles, including the music of the Anglican church.” As well as playing the piano, he is a baritone soloist.
Todd plays some jazz piano and says he would be happy to play wine and tune fund-raisers, as his predecessor Clay Whittington did.
Todd will officially take up his position on May 14, the Sunday that Bishop Mary will visit. But he has a bigger date on Sept, 29, when he weds Nicola Reilly, the development director at the Monterey Symphony. They will instantly form a blended family – her two sons aged 5 and 9 and his son aged 19.