Norfolk Teen Serves as Church’s Music Director
By Grace Allen
You’d be hard-pressed to find a younger music director than Catie Siedel. In January, the 15-year-old was hired as the Federated Church of Norfolk’s associate director of music, but she’s been unofficially performing the job since she was 12.
It was during the pandemic-related lockdown that Siedel started volunteering her time in the church’s music ministry, which was without a director. A piano player since age 6, Siedel taught herself how to play the organ while the world was shut down. Then, working with Rev. William Main, the interim pastor at the time, she recorded hymns on the church’s organ to be used in Zoom church services.
Siedel has been playing music in the church from a young age, so she took in stride the progression to music director and the associated responsibilities, like rehearsals with the choir and playing for special events like weddings and funerals.
“It doesn’t make me nervous anymore,” Siedel said. “Playing piano in front of people is a great experience and you learn things like having a stage presence.”
In an email, Rev. Main, who served as minister from August 2019 to August 2021, said that playing hymns in church for a congregation is unlike playing in a concert for an audience.
“It is playing with them as they sing, which means listening to the singing and staying with them, helping the congregation keep the words and the music together,” he explained. “It is a relationship—organist and congregation. This was challenging for Catie as it is for all organists. But with guidance from choir members, she mastered that skill very well. All this as a volunteer. When she turned 13, I began to push for her to get paid.”
Siedel, who attended the Freeman-Kennedy School and King Philip Middle School and performed in their bands, also plays the alto saxophone and the clarinet and has received numerous music awards. An honors student, Siedel is starting her sophomore year at Ursuline Academy in Dedham, where she plays the piano for church services and performs with an acapella group.
She is also a student at New England Conservatory Preparatory School, where she spends every Saturday taking six hours of music instruction, including seminar classes, theory classes, and piano lessons. She participates in chamber ensembles as well as recitals there.
In addition, Siedel is a private music instructor in Norfolk, teaching piano and saxophone lessons to children.
Rev. Main, who now lives in Vermont, first met Siedel when she was a student in his confirmation class at the Federated Church.
“Catie is a very old soul,” said Rev. Main. “That is not exactly a Christian theologically accepted term, yet we do not have a good term that properly defines people like Catie. There is a wisdom in her and she sees the world from a perspective that most of us wish we had. She is self-adulting. There is a wonder and curiosity to her along with a drive for perfection.”
As a child, Siedel studied piano under Daniel Dickson, a world-class pianist and cellist who served as the Federated Church’s music director several years ago.
“I learned many valuable things from him,” said Siedel. “He started my classical music foundation and then when he moved on, I went to the New England Conservatory.”
Theology teaches us that music plays an important role in worship, and music is thought to be one of the essential ministries of many religions. Seidel believes it can be a powerful way to lift the spirit and help unify people by connecting the congregation through song.
“Music has been a big part of my life since an early age,” shared Siedel, who’s been called a child prodigy by some. “The church is a meaningful and sacred place to me and a place to share musical gifts of all abilities. Music, I feel, brings comfort to people. Spreading God’s word through music is something I love to do.”
This past summer, Siedel attended a pre-med summer program through Brown University’s Pre-College program, getting in despite being below the cutoff in age. While she says her love for music will accompany her in whatever direction her life takes, her ultimate goal is to become a doctor.
Given her talents and maturity, and the fact that both passions can be a way of serving others, no one would be surprised.