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A Look Behind the Leader

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

Brown Dr. Julie MayflowerLittle known fact: in addition to her flawless English, Dr. Julia Brown speaks fluent Portuguese. But the bilingual Brown transcends spoken language as she brings faith-filled music to her roles as organist and director of music at Mayflower Congregational Church in Grand Rapids.

Born to American-citizen parents in Brazil, Brown developed her love for music from her church choir-director mother and through her own musical studies. She especially loved the grand tones of a pipe organ – something her own church didn't have.

"When I first heard a pipe organ with that wonderful sound I said, 'I've got to learn that instrument,'" she recalled.

Fast forward to the present: she's head of the Mayflower church's extensive music department: seven different choirs (six of them for children/youth) and a handbell ensemble. She is also primary pianist and organist as well as special music and worship planner.

And there's an added bonus: she gets to play Mayflower's five-manual, 94 rank Tellers-Lauck pipe organ - a joy for a musician who early in life aspired to be a concert organist.

"One of my challenges is finding a balance between the administrative part of my work and the making music part of it," Brown offered. "As a musician I'm happier making music, but the administrative part has to be in place."


In preparing worship Brown selects music that underscores the morning's scripture passages and liturgy. "We want the music to enhance and expand (the Word) and give people different entry points for whatever is being said," she explained.

Mayflower's worship style fits broadly into the "traditional" category. Worship leaders, including Brown, wear vestments. There usually is a cantor (soloist) who assists in worship. Worshippers experience a mix of hymns, classical pieces, spirituals and more contemporary anthems, incorporating the breadth and the depth found in the history of church music.

It's not uncommon to hear a Grand Rapids Symphony player during worship. "Several of our (church) members have been or are on the symphony board of directors," Brown noted.

Mayflower has no screens to project lyrics or images for the congregation. Hymnals or printed music in the church bulletin are available. A hymn favorite is "Be Thou My Vision." "Great music, great words, and it's familiar," she said. "And no matter what the theme is for the day, it seems to fit."


Brown estimates that pre-COVID, Mayflower averaged around 250 in worship. Fortunately, when the pandemic hit last year, the church already had streaming capability and began to draw online viewers as far away as the west coast. It continues to stream worship even now that in-person worship has resumed.

Participation in the church's music program is vigorous. More than 70 voices (age 3 through high school) are singing in children/youth choirs. There are a dozen or so in the handbell ensemble, and three dozen in the adult chancel choir, which Brown herself accompanies under choir director Scott Bosscher. The chancel choir performs at a high level – it has paid section leaders alongside the church member volunteer voices.


After completing her undergraduate music degree in Brazil she came to the U.S. specifically to pursue organ studies. She received her Masters in Church Music and PhD. in Organ Performance at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

"There is a different dimension when you couple music with worship," she said. "It provides another layer that goes beyond just music for the sake of music."

She served a church in Oregon before coming to Mayflower Church in 2018 with big shoes to fill. Brown succeeded the venerable Jonathan Tuuk, the church's director of music for 26 years and an organ instructor at Calvin University.

The modern worship movement appears to have left aside the grandeur of the pipe organ. But Brown – active in the Grand Rapids chapter of the American Guild of Organists - speaks up for the organ as an enhancement to church worship.

"I won't say it's part of pop culture or whether it's a 'cool' thing to do," she said. "But it's a wonderful, supportive instrument for hymn singing and participatory music."


Brown has a collaborative work style with colleagues and congregation. And she sites "connections" as the most satisfying part of her music ministry.

"I see music as a means to connect with people – connect them to their spiritual selves and to others," she observed. "So when I'm accompanying the choir and I feel connected to them and to the director; and when I feel the congregation connecting with the words and the other parts of worship... that's the thing."

Editor's Note: Do you know of an area church music/worship leader who would be an interesting subject to profile? Contact us at http://www.westmichiganchristian.com/contact-us.html

Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Author: Terry DeBoer
Terry is a journalist/feature writer for newspapers, magazines and websites, with a background in radio broadcasting. His usual beat is arts and entertainment, specializing in Christian/gospel music. A married father of two, he is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan Contributing Writer: West Michigan Christian News August 2011 – Present Feature writer: -Mlive.com (website and various newspapers) 1988– 2016 -Spotlight New Christian Music Magazine 1997-2008 -Church News Editor, Church Herald Magazine 2004-2009

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