Finding Faith: Music brought organist to God — and Delray Beach

Finding Faith: Music brought organist to God — and Delray Beach 

by The Coastal Star 

Paul Cienniwa, who starts June 1 as St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s music ministry director, says ‘music can touch people who aren’t religious. It’s a spiritual experience.’ 

By Janis Fontaine 

   Never underestimate the power of music. Paul Cienniwa’s skills as an organist brought him to the church: Playing organ paid his bills when he was a struggling student and, in fact, organ-playing paid a lot better than the minimum wage he made in a sheet music store. 
    Music also brought Cienniwa to God. “The music converted me,” said the newly hired director of music ministry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach. 
    But first, music brought Cienniwa east. Born and raised in a suburb of Chicago, Cienniwa earned a bachelor’s degree from DePaul University before moving to New Haven, Conn., to attend the Yale School of Music. He earned a master of music degree in 1997, master of musical arts in 1998 and, finally, a doctorate of musical arts from Yale in 2003. 
    Now, after two decades in New England, Cienniwa is on the move again and he is thrilled. The position at St. Paul’s seems tailor-made for the gregarious Cienniwa, who starts work June 1. 
    “It’s overwhelming and wonderful and I can’t wait,” he said by phone from Fall River, Mass. 
    Cienniwa’s career in New England sometimes had him in the car for four hours a day, with his hand in pies in Boston, Providence and places in between. 
    He had been serving as chorus master of the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, directing the chorus at Framingham State University, lecturing at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and teaching piano at the Music School of the Rhode Island Philharmonic. 
    He also played organ and harpsichord regularly with the Rhode Island Philharmonic and the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra. He performed on a weekly radio show at WERS 88.9 FM in Boston. 
    Cienniwa and his wife, Jacqueline Maillet, a middle school music teacher, were ready for a change. But Cienniwa said potential employers were often intimidated by his full plate. Until he met the leadership at St. Paul’s. “They got it,” Cienniwa said. 
    But there was one more hurdle. Cienniwa’s wife of just three years had three adult children and a grandchild living in New England, and he didn’t want to ask her to leave them. He didn’t have to. She told him, “Go for it. It’s perfect for you.” 
    She will join him here. 
    Taking on the position of music director at St. Paul’s is like taking on a mantle. 
    Cienniwa is following a legacy left by Dr. Keith Paulson-Thorp, who served as the director of music ministry for more than 10 years and expanded the popular concert series originally founded by Stuart Gardner. 
    Thorp introduced jazz concerts and klezmer, which brought more people to the church, and founded La Camerata del Re, a consortium of South Florida musicians who perform with instruments authentic to the time period of each piece. 
    Now Cienniwa will add his flavor to the program. 
    “I plan to move quite slowly,” he said. “Music is an outreach. It’s a gateway drug to bring people to church. Music can touch people who aren’t religious. It’s a spiritual experience.” 
    One thing he does plan to do is start a children’s choir. “It’s the No. 1 thing I want to do,” he said. “I want to engage children in the religious experience. And if I can get kids and carry them through their teenage years, what a wonderful thing.” 

Hear Cienniwa play at St. Paul’s Church 
Paul Cienniwa will perform his first South Florida concert, French Sweets on harpsichord, at 3 p.m. June 11 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 188 S. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. The program will include suites by Francois Couperin, Johann Sebastian Bach and Jean- Philippe Rameau. 
Cienniwa is looking forward to his first performance here. “My duty to the art is to be as good as I possibly can and leave the rest up to the audience,” he said. 
Tickets: $15 at the door, $18 for preferred seating, $5 for students. 
Info: Call 278-6003 or visit

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