NEW BRITAIN - Rick Coffey will say goodbye to his job of 45 years when he conducts his last service as South Church’s minister of music this morning.
Coffey recently reflected on his time in New Britain and what brought him to the city in the first place.
Coffey’s journey at South Church began in the summer of 1972 after he had attended graduate school at Columbia University’s Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Coffey graduated with a Master of Sacred Music degree.
“There was never any other goal than to be a church musician,” the 69-year-old said. “I’ve never longed for anything else.”
His passion for the arts came from his family. Coffey said his sisters - Mary Ella Cardwell and Brenda Moricle - were both musically oriented when he was younger and each enjoyed careers as professional musicians.
“They were my heroes, they were my idols,” Coffey said. “I wanted to be one of them.”
Coffey served as organist and choirmaster for the church upon his arrival. Just a year into his career, Coffey established the Music Series at South Church in 1973. This series is still running.
In 1974, Coffey helped develop the South Church Choral Society, the region’s first all-professional concert choir. The choir, now known as CONCORA, became an independent organization in 1985. Coffey served as the choir’s artistic director for 40 years, stepping down in 2014.
Also during his 45-year career, Coffey started the Main Street Children’s Choir. Founded in 2002 as the Main Street Singers, the choir is a nonsectarian vocal ensemble with a goal of providing children musical, vocal, educational and social opportunities.
Coffey said that was one of his dreams - to create a choir that would benefit students and young people in the community.
Through his time at South Church, Coffey established himself as an artistic leader and helped establish a strong local music scene in the area. He’s created many still-active programs and organizations and has helped prepare and organize events at South Church for decades.
On Friday, Coffey was honored at a banquet with his family and friends. His final service is this morning at 10:25, and Coffey said he is excited, not anxious. He credits the choir with giving him comfort and confidence.
“The choir here is spectacular … When I’m with them, I know everything will be well,” Coffey said. “I’m looking forward to it, not dreading it,”
Coffey’s music career isn’t over, though. Coffey will stay on as music director of the Hartford Chorale, but said he will always remember his time at South Church.
“I don’t feel like I’ve been here very long. I walk up that sidewalk every day, look up at that steeple and I just say, ‘I wonder what awaits me in there today,’” Coffey said. “It sounds very trite, but it feels like I just got started.”
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.