On Sunday, May 21 at the 11:00 worship service, Tom Bara will play for the last time as the regular organist
for Central UMC. Tom will begin a new ministry as the Director of Worship, The Arts and
Organist for the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, Georgia on July 1. Here is a brief re-cap of how Tom became
the Central Church organist and some friends he met along the way…
As written by Tracy Cleveland, Central Church Staff Pastor Parish Relations Committee member –
Not long after Tom announced his new calling, I learned that he had been a part of the Central UMC
community for over 30 years and that he has been part of the music family at Central from the start. I
asked Renee Huckle Mittelstaedt, Pete Deneen, and Tom Bara to sit down and reflect on their time together as
members and musicians at Central UMC.
Tom first came to Interlochen Arts Academy as a participant in a winter organ scholarship competition sponsored by
the American Guild of Organists and, organized at least in part by Robert Murphy (who had a rich history
with music at Central UMC). Tom’s experience with the competition and his exposure to the music
training opportunities at Interlochen made such an impression on him that he convinced his family he should
enroll for the school year. So, in the fall of 1984, Tom arrived at Interlochen as a sophomore in high
school and as a boarding student.
That same year, Pete’s family moved to the area, and he started his first year of high school.
Pete also had experience with Interlochen, mostly through summer programs. Renee came
to Traverse City with her family in 1985. All three were big fans of Central’s music program and
became members of Central UMC over time.
Asked if these three had met through the youth group and the answer was “not exactly.” While Renee
knew Pete from church and school and Tom as the wunderkind guest organist at church, it was Tom
and Pete who connected through their common mentor, Robert Murphy. Tom said “Murf” had a way
of pulling people into his orbit.” It was not long after Tom started coming to Central that Murf had him
in the choir and Pete turning the pages of music while Murf conducted the handbell choir. In addition
Tom would often play the prelude or postlude at the organ.
After high school, Tom went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1987, followed by Pete in
1988 and Renee in 1990. Tom and Pete reminisced of Pete’s first year when, they would meet for lunch. In
Tom’s Junior year he recruited Pete as his first student for a class “Organ Pedagogy, How to Teach
Organ.” And Renee heard through a friend that Pete was serious with a girl named Nancy, who would
later become his wife.
After graduating from U of M in 1992, Pete was the first of the three to come back to Traverse City to
teach and join the music staff. Ten years later Tom joined the faculty at Interlochen and spent one year
at Grace Episcopal Church as the organist. The influence of Robert Murphy was present when Pete
asked if Tom could come over and lead the adult handbell choir. Tom was back into the orbit of Central
UMC. One year later, in 2003 Tom joined the Central Staff as director of music. In 2008, Renee returned
to Traverse City and the three were together again in the music program at Central.
When asked what he was looking forward to in Atlanta and his answer brought a huge smile to his
face! It was the ability to do more of what he loves most – playing the organ – and to be in ministry together with his brother!
As a gift to the congregation and a way of saying goodbye, Tom will offer a short recital in the sanctuary
on May 17 at 6:00pm. The event will be livestreamed on the Central Church Facebook page and Website.