There are many ways to enjoy music at the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca, both as listeners and participants. At our Sunday morning services, congregational singing is accompanied by the organ, piano, or even djembe or ukulele. Guest musicians are frequent and include everything from solo cello, flute choirs, and recorder ensembles to singer-songwriters in the folk tradition, jazz a capella groups and rock bands. Our adult choir practices weekly to present music at one Sunday celebration a month. A larger choir is also formed for the Community Christmas Eve Service at Sage Chapel.
Beyond Sunday services, there are other opportunities to make music for and with each other. The Music Team collaborates with the Religious Education Team to sponsor regular Coffee House/Open Mic nights. The Unitarian Universalist Ukulele Union (UUUU) practices sporadically, but joins together for community events like the annual Ithaca Festival Parade and PorchFest.
The mission of the Music Team is to provide a variety of high quality music for Sunday Celebrations and to encourage and facilitate musical participation from the church community. If you have ideas for musical events or would like to inquire about joining the team or planning musical events, contact email@example.com.
Stephanie Ortolano, Music Director
Stephanie Ortolano became certified in organ performance through the Syracuse Roman Catholic Diocese in her teens while she was the organist for St. Joseph’s Church in Lee Center, NY, studying with Bruce Smith and Stephen Best. Since then, she has played for a variety of churches in the Ithaca and Boston areas as she was attending college and graduate school. She was also the accompanist for the Cornell University Chorus for several years during her undergraduate days, when she also studied with University Organist Annette Richards. Most recently, she was the organist for the Episcopal Church at Cornell. Professionally, in 2015 Stephanie completed her doctoral dissertation in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition, with a focus on iron nutrition in young children in Senegal. Occasionally she is able to put her passions for great organ music and international development together into concert formats, such as “Bach in a Boubou,” which helped raise funds for the Ousmane Sembene Library in Yoff, Senegal.
Jennifer Lawrence Birnbaum, Choir Director
Jennifer is a life-long Ithacan who escaped to NYC for 6 years and returned 11 years ago. She attended FUSIT as a 6th grader and later worked in a Tibetan publishing company, Little Red School House in Manhattan, and conducted the choir at First Baptist Church in Ithaca for 6 yrs. She currently teaches at Namaste Montessori School, CSMA, and works at Ceremonies and Event Planning of the Finger Lakes, and has been conducting the choir at FUSIT since 2014. She is also on the board of Women’s Works (a group that performs works by female composers) and the Cayuga Vocal Ensemble (Ithaca’s professional choir).
She has a degree in Music Education from Ithaca College, a Masters in Ethnomusicology from Columbia University, and sings with the Cayuga Vocal Ensemble and the Brooklyn World Music Chorus. She lives downtown with her husband, tenor Mark Lawrence and their teenage son, Zeke.