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Church musician forges secular career

By Bob Arnold

Church musician forges secular career

A Christianity Today article some years ago observed that “music has always been a point of contention in the church.”


Karl Vaters pointed out that the arguments in large part have been trivial, revolving around such issues as singing in harmony instead of in unison as with Gregorian chants, whether or not to use instruments and which ones are appropriate, but one issue, he says, is worth arguing over, or at least taking seriously: performance music vs. worship music -- music focused on musicians vs music focused on the divine, or specifically Jesus in Christianity.


Over more than three decades, Brookhaven native and resident Blake Scafidel has lived this contention and personified it.


Before 2020, folk knew him as primarily a church musician, who also had to support a family as a secular musician. In recent years, he has focused on building a reputation as a performing artist and secular composer


Scafidel says his musical experiences have paralleled his life experiences -- “navigating through chaos, facing rejection, overcoming mistakes, and -- most importantly -- believing in myself.”


Born in Brookhaven in 1968, Scafidel really started his career journey at the tender age of six when he told his parents he wanted to study piano, following in the footsteps of his mother, the musician in the family, who was an accomplished pianist and the musical accompanist at Central Baptist Church, the Brookhaven congregation in which he grew up. His childhood and youth revolved around his interest in music.


“I was never into sports like other kids,” he recalls. “I played the piano in church, at school and in local talent shows.”


After his parents separated, he left Southwest Mississippi briefly in the 1980s to live with his father in the Dallas, Texas, area, where he earned his Graduate Equivalency high school diploma. He returned to Mississippi in 1986 to study music at Co-Lin until 1988 and then at Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi, until 1991 before starting a 30-year career as a church musician.


“My experience as a church musician encompassed a variety of traditions in diverse settings throughout the South,” Scafidel relates. “I served big and small Southern Baptist, Methodist and non-denominational Pentecostal churches in rural, suburban and urban communities in Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina. The challenge was providing music with which both the varied congregations and I were mutually comfortable.”


Scafidel cites pianist Dino Kartsonakis, whom he describes as “the religious version of Liberace,” along with Olafur Arnalds, John Williams and Hans Zimmer as major influencers in development of his reflective, contemporary classic music style.


Drawn to large-scale instrumental and orchestral music, he enjoyed producing the Christmas and Easter pageants at the churches he served. He also found satisfaction in developing distinctive music programs. He recalls a unique non-denominational congregation that wanted to build a contemporary music program, and needed to recruit musicians you could not find in churches to provide the required sound. “Now besides churches, there are two other places you can find musicians -- schools and bars,” Scafidel says. “We developed and implemented a plan to visit bars to get the musicians for the program.”


Because the jobs are normally part time and the pay is usually low, the life of a church musician is often a financial struggle, and Scafidel worked outside the religious community while serving his varied churches to make ends meet. Over the years, he has composed music for grant monies, operated his own commercial video production company and performed with bands and other artists in varied gigs. In 2008, The Mississippi Arts Commission awarded him $5,000 to produce several orchestral compositions. Second Story Films, his production company, created promotional videos for the State of Mississippi and corporations and covered weddings. Gigs have taken him to varied venues, including Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club at Clarksdale, Mississippi.


In 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic made the financial life of church musicians even tougher, Scafidel moved to the secular world full time. Outside the religious community, Scafidel says he has been a “late bloomer” in pop music influenced by Elton John and Bruce Hornstein. He maintains a studio and is creating an events center with a stage where he can perform for private audiences at his home in the Breckenridge section of Brookhaven off Highway 84 west going towards Natchez. He performs regularly at Magnolia Blues in Brookhaven and continues to expand his public appearances as a piano soloist in new venues. A public website (blakescafidel.com) and Facebook page (Blake Scafidel Music) tout his performances and sell his albums.


A highlight of Scafidel’s secular musicianship is his Christmas show -- “The Cure for Christmas Chaos” with solo and orchestral arrangements of Christmas favorites and two original compositions.


“I’ve watched people from our area travel for miles to Branson or Nashville to see professionally-produced shows,” he says. “There is no reason Mississippians should have to travel to see a spectacular, high-quality, professional show when our own state is known as the birthplace of America’s music. Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the culture, or maybe it’s a magical combination of elements unknown, but we consistently produce and promote artists in all genres. ‘The Cure for Christmas Chaos’ showcases that talent for our own people to see and enjoy and brings the revenue associated with a professional show to our local businesses in a mutually-rewarding partnership. It has the staging, lighting, and artists that are expected for a professional production. All the arrangements are originals exploring both religious and secular themes, and all of the musicians are professionals -- some of the most talented in our state. My goal for “The Cure for Christmas Chaos Live” is to bring our communities together and share the beauty of Christmas music through a Branson-style show that is both entertaining and uplifting.”


Scafidel and his wife Correne, whom he met at Co-Lin, have five children -- two still at home, a 19-year old son and 11-year old daughter; and three grown, two sons, 29 years old and 25 years old, and a 23-year old daughter. His wife teaches piano at Brookhaven Downtown Music Academy and is the music accompanist at Brookhaven’s East Haven Baptist Church.


What are your hobbies?

I played golf with my father at one time, but music is both my career and hobby today.


Are you a reader?

When I was a church musician, I read a lot of religious and spiritual books that inspired and nurtured me and changed my life. Today, my interest is in the lives and work of musicians like John Williams and Hans Zimmerman.


You are a musician, of course. But do you have a special interest in any one type of music.

I like instrumental and orchestral music, particularly movie score.


How about movies or theater?

I like epics. Star Wars movies are my favorites. I like the acting for Sean Connery and Morgan Freeman.


What would you do with the winnings if you won the lottery?

I would travel the world to experience different cultures and give it to humanitarian causes.


How would you change the world?

I wish it were so simple. Change is needed for sure. But doing it is the big question.




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