For more than 20 months, the acclaimed music program at Trinity Church, one of New York’s wealthiest and most powerful churches, has had no permanent leader.
The last person to hold that position, Julian Wachner, was fired last year after being accused of sexual misconduct, a charge he has denied. Since then, the church has relied on guests to help fill the gap. But on Monday, Trinity announced that it had found a new leader: Melissa Attebury, the director of the church’s music education and outreach efforts.
“This is a calling, and I feel very compelled and very excited about doing this,” she said in an interview.
Attebury will take the podium at the start of the 2024-25 season, and will be the first woman to hold the position in the church’s 326-year history. She said that while she was honored to be part of the milestone, “my work won’t be focused on the fact that I’m a woman.”
Trinity’s leaders praised Attebury, describing her as a collaborative leader who could help guide the music program in a moment of transition. A singer and pianist by training, she joined Trinity’s choir in 2006 before rising up the administrative ranks.
In an interview, the Rev. Phillip A. Jackson, Trinity’s rector, said that Attebury “just has Trinity in her bones.”
“She already has brought and will continue to bring stability to the role,” he added.
Trinity’s music program — a choir, a Baroque orchestra and Novus NY, a contemporary ensemble, which together present hundreds of events each year — has been in a state of uncertainty since March 2022, when the church fired Wachner after a former Juilliard School employee, Mary Poole, publicly accused him of kissing and groping her at a music festival in 2014, and said that he ignored her demands that he stop. Wachner has disputed Poole’s account, saying that while they briefly kissed, the encounter was consensual.
At the time, Trinity said that it had not verified the accusations, but that it had dismissed Wachner because he had “otherwise conducted himself in a manner that is inconsistent with our expectations of anyone who occupies a leadership position.” Wachner’s representatives have criticized Trinity, saying that the institution did not conduct a thorough investigation before dismissing him.
Attebury, who has appeared over the years as a vocal soloist with the Trinity ensembles, said that despite its recent challenges, the quality of the music program had not suffered. “We have built a very strong leadership team within the music department,” she said.
As director of music, she said, she hopes to bring more rarely performed works to the stage. Next fall, for example, the ensembles will perform Alessandro Scarlatti’s “Saint Cecilia” Mass. And she will seek to expand Trinity’s education programs, which serve about 750 children in eight public schools.
“I’m very focused,” she said, “on raising up the next generation of church musicians.”
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