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Internet search, ‘divine hand’ bring new music director to church

By George Wilkens
Published: October 10, 2013 Updated: October 10, 2013 at 02:48 PM
MAIN IMAGE -- Hillsborough, Tampa, 10-9-13--- Sylvanna Fraga, who has taught piano from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles, and is now the music director at Lutheran Church of Our Savior on Hillsborough Ave. will be playing a November 17 concert at the church to raise money for its longtime food bank. Fraga was photographed in the sanctuary at the church. ANDY JONES/STAFF

TOWN ‘N COUNTRY — When the organist at Lutheran Church of Our Saviour retired, the small congregation turned to the internet to recruit a replacement. The outcome was so successful and seamless, some say a greater power was at work.

When she learned of the opening, Sylvanna Fraga, an award-winning concert pianist, piano professor, soloist and choir director with 23 years of experience at Southern California churches, was seeking a new opportunity and had set her sights on Florida.

Hired in April as the church’s musical director, the critically acclaimed pianist will perform a Nov. 17 concert to benefit one of the congregation’s oldest missions, the Kaye Prox Food Bank.

Fraga and the church were in contact days after she applied for the job. “In about a week I was being interviewed. Everything went so quick,” she said. “I will never forget: Somebody in Los Angeles told me, ‘It seems like God is kicking you out of here,’ because everything went too quick and smoothly.”

The search committee had big shoes to fill. “Our goal was to maintain the level to which our previous music director had taken our music program,” said the Rev. Jon N. Keiser, pastor since 1996. “When Sylvanna contacted us online, her resume was her website. The committee looked at it and said, ‘Does she realize the size congregation we are,’ a relatively small congregation of about 200?”

The committee interviewed several candidates, but were “very anxious” to meet Fraga, he said. “Sylvanna was the only candidate we interviewed who asked to play the organ. My jaw dropped because we realized the potential here to actually maintain that level” of musical excellence. “The committee looked at each other and we offered her the position right then and there. We just felt like it was a match, and it has been,” he said.

“We realized there had to be a divine hand in this to bring us together,” Keiser said.

Recalling the relaxed face-to-face meeting marked with humor, Fraga added, “I strongly believe we all felt the same.”

All this came on the heels of Fraga and her husband, Eric Meade, deciding to trade the Golden State for the Sunshine State. Born in Argentina, Fraga had performed in Europe and Argentina but never had been to Florida. Meade, a Cincinnati native, had visited many times; his parents live in Tarpon Springs.

Meade pitched Florida to his wife. “He just told me plain and simple, ‘Everything is just better there,’ ” with friendlier people and less traffic, Fraga said. “It was a good move.”

The couple, who ideally wanted to move to Florida’s West Coast, now live in Tarpon Springs.

Fraga’s 4 p.m., Nov. 17 concert at the church will cover a wide range, from classical music from the 1700s to contemporary. She will play a classic Steinway loaned by The Music Gallery of Clearwater.

Proceeds from ticket sales ($10 in advance, $12 at the door) will benefit the food bank at a time when the need is great. Some 25 percent of Hillsborough County’s homeless people are in the Town ‘N Country area, Keiser said.

Distributing food thrice weekly to registered recipients who visit the church on a rotating basis, volunteers have provided 171,000 pounds so far this year, more than during all of 2012, said volunteer food bank Director Marilyn Ruggiero.

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