The most important day of my life was, in fact, an evening.  That Wednesday evening of South Main Baptist Church’s youth camp in 1986 was the occasion on which I said ‘yes’ to God, ‘yes’ to the offering of himself on Calvary, ‘yes’ to his Resurrection, and ‘yes’ to the grace that it offered.  Right then was when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour.

I made that decision during that evening’s worship service altar-call, and each youth (or adult) who made that decision to follow God was given to an adult to talk privately through their state of mind, their decision, their heart, and to make quite sure said decision-maker understood exactly what they were doing.  Pictured at-left, Bill Kolter was for me that adult.  He passed away this week.

Dr. Kolter was as gregarious as people say — and then some.  He was approachable, in possession of a bedside matter that matched his scientific skills as a physician and brought those skills to life and made them relevant to his patients, level-headed, and filled with God’s love.

His heart was above all given to God and then to his family, his church, and his friends.

He was a friend to all.  He was a friend to me.

Rest in peace, Bill.

Thomas with one of his granddaughters this past Memorial Day in Houston

Thad Roberts, Jr. had for thirty-two years been the iconic Minister of Music of South Main Baptist Church in Houston, Texas - the man who led our music program during what must be deemed hopefully merely the first of many golden ages for our congregation. By the end of 1986, however, he was very-much cancer-ridden, and in January 1987 he passed away - God taking him up into eternal glory in what would have been Mr. Roberts’ temporal retirement year.

Newly-bereft of one of the titans of our church’s history, we went looking for not someone who could fill Mr. Roberts’ shoes, because no-one could possibly do such a thing: Thad was too bigger-than-life for all-that, …but somone who would be able to make shoes of his own and set them alongside Mr. Robert’s in equal stature. Thomas ‘Tommy’ Coker did such a thing and more: along with the pastors and others on our ministerial staff as well as innumerable lay-people, he helped lead South Main through the aftermath of the darkest time in our church’s history and what was to us nothing short of an apocalypse: the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (though my conservative friends would deem it the ‘taking back’ of the Convention, but that’s for another time).

Tommy (who would later go by ‘Thomas’) and his family came to us in September 1987, and Tommy’s ministry with us ended at the conclusion of this morning’s morning worship service (Sunday 3 June 2012).  A short video of the last moments of his ministry with us may be had here.

Thomas Coker is to me nothing short of being a third father (after Dad and Step-dad Russ (may the latter rest in peace, the former still being very-much with us) who along with Brenda (his wife), children, children-in-law, grandkids, and his and Brenda’s parents (his parents having gone to glory) I count as nothing less than extended family. I am still trying to wrap my mind around him not being in the office at South Main scurrying about getting music, choir newsletter, score-reading, and phone calls done not to mention the rehearsals on top of rehearsals.

Of course, he was and is a consummate musician who demanded nothing but excellence (in other words, the best of one’s musical ability and the best of one’s heart, mind, and spirit) out of everyone in his ministry. But he was far-more than that: he was a consummate minister, and it is saying something that above his music, we will remember his time at South Main for the person he was and continues to be: an example of Christian living, a man’s man, a friend’s friend, a minister’s minister, a listener, a fount of common sense, a steadfast ‘leader of men’, an individual having a work ethic of mythical proportions (he never took a sabbatical), and one who made and continues to make the conscious choice every day of his life to never stray from what matters, even though he (and all of us) at times may stumble.

As my youngest grandfather always said, ‘Time marches on.’.  And for Thomas, the steady march of time and the prompting of God’s spirit have compelled him to take this next step on his life-journey.  We will miss him.   I will miss him.  But after all the blood, sweat, weekends, and tears he has given to South Main for lo, these many years, and to all his churches before coming to South Main, he is well-deserving of a long rest in the glow of the ‘golden years’, playing with the grandkids, composing more music, writing (I hope), and whatever else comes to mind.

As for South Main, our mission and work continue. The Middle School Choral Director of St. John’s School in Houston, a South Mainer for almost as long as Thomas, and one of the pillars of our music ministry in his generation, Stephen Bedford has been named Interim Minister of Music at South Main, his first act of business already being done: posting signs around the music suite telling one and all that yes, indeed, choir rehearsals during the summer months will be happening as they always have. The post-Coker era in the Ministry of Music at South Main has begun, and Thomas is just fine with that!

Godspeed, Tommy, and blessings to you always from me and everyone at South Main. Thank you for coming to us in 1987, and thanks for staying the course and helping us into what I pray will be a bright new golden age.

And thank you most of all for living into what has been the motto of the Ministry of Music at South Main and our church at-large: To God Alone Be Glory!

Jeff Ragsdale



For a number of years and when it has needed the services of a choral ensemble, Da Camera of Houston has collaborated with the Houston Chamber Choir.  2012 sees the Chamber Choir and Da Camera re-create a historical musical event: the first-ever public concert devoted entirely to Franz Schubert’s musical works.  Held in Vienna at the Gesellschaft, it presented various vocal, chamber, and choral works and was by all accounts a great success.

Franz Schubert was one of the greats of Western music, and this concert will present his work at its very finest.

Full ticket and concert information


Hear the Future 2012 is our 13th annual invitational school choral festival, featuring three of our area’s top public and private-school choral ensembles.  If nothing else can restore one’s faith in humanity and the future, this show will do it.  True, Chamber Choir does a few pieces, but this day is about the kids, and the kids always show us up.  Come hear why we need arts funding in our schools, and come hear the future!

Full concert information - Admission is free


While we may only being doing a one-hour Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah, this is a chance for the kids and young ones out there to experience this work of music art in a more-accessible and kid-friendly atmosphere, complete with vignettes about the life and works of G. F. Handel interspersed throughout.

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No-one could bring energy to a performance of any work of music like Leonard Bernstein.  And in May 2012, we bring you works of this great, great man along with his daughter, Jamie, who will regale us with reminiscences about growing up with her father.  A night of magic not-to-be-missed - what a way to end this glorious season of the Houston Chamber Choir!

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Dominick DiOrio is among composers a rising star, and our March 2012 concert will see the premiere performance of his crystalline A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass for choir, marimba, and soprano soloist.  Also on this program are a premiere from Christopher Theofanidis and a composition from David Ashley White.  The concert is rounded-off by works of Johannes Brahms.  In April 2012, we will take this concert to Yale for a performance there.

Full concert and ticket information


‘Christmas at the Villa’ - four little words, and if you’ve been to one of the Houston Chamber Choir’s concerts at the Chapel of the Villa de Matel at the convent of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, you know what I am talking about: stepping from the workaday, hum-dram world of Houston and stepping into…somewhere else…that reminds one there is more to life than this world of returning voice mails and changing tires.  Let the Houston Chamber Choir transport you to Bethlehem and beyond!

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What would the holiday season be without the music of Handel’s Messiah?  The Houston Chamber Choir brings to you once again the Christmas portion of Messiah while giving Houston a performance of Schubert’s Magnificat, a piece not as well-known, but should be.

There is no better way to get into the spirit of the Season!

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