Sometimes, the best things in life really are free.

The Savannah VOICE Festival offers some of its programming at no cost. This year, for the first time, the popular VOICES in Sacred Song concert is free.

The goodwill concert is set for Aug. 17 at First Presbyterian Church. It was put together by Timothy Hall, organist/choirmaster at Christ Church Episcopal in Savannah, and will offer oratorio, liturgical music and inspirational song.

Anne McNair, the director of music at First Presbyterian Church, says the church always offers its space for the sacred concert.

"It's exciting to do that mainly because we have nice acoustics for performing," she says. "We're very happy to host it every year."

Church member Danny Cohen is on the Savannah VOICExperience board.

"He originally was the one that arranged for the sacred music concert to be here," McNair says. "It really is popular. Last year they sold tickets for it and it was sold out.

"This year, we decided to open up for free admission for the community. Our church has supported them in having their concerts here.

"One other concert, the finale, will be here on Aug. 26," she says. "Our church likes to support the arts and provide our space as an outreach to the community. We have such a good performance space, we like to offer it to as many concerts as possible."

Hall has been a part of the festival since its inception.

"The festival is made up of opera, Broadway and musical theater and song, so this is another genre of vocal music," he says. "One of the reasons sacred music is featured is because Sherrill Milnes, the co-founder of the festival, began singing in church. His mother was the choir director. He sang a lot of sacred repertoire in his lifetime."

When Hall was a senior at Westminster Choir College in New York, he often sang with the New York Philharmonic. When Milnes performed the "Elijah" oratorio with the orchestra, he autographed Hall's score.

"I never dreamed all those years ago I would be working beside him," Hall says.

The sacred concert is made up of big sacred works that might not often be heard in church settings, Hall says.

"These are up and coming singers," he says. "A lot of them are virtuosos.

"There also are Negro spirituals, a wonderful sacred genre of music. There are some other sacred works that are not such big works.

"We have some sacred music by Rossini, Verdi and Mozart," Hall says. "There also are some Mahler and Wagner, which you don't usually think of as being sacred works."

The music is very diverse.

"Some are favorites of people who return year after year," Hall says. "Some are new that I have not yet seen.

"I will be working with the singers and coaching their pieces over the next several days," he says. "We'll put it together like sort of like a jigsaw where it all comes together."

The First Presbyterian Church is a good place to present the concert, Hall says.

"It's a beautiful venue for concerts with fine acoustics and a beautiful space," he says. "They have a new Steinway piano and a good organ. It's a perfect venue for that concert."

While there will be a free-will offering, there will be no admission charged or tickets required.

"They just wanted to offer it to the public because people like sacred music and don't often get to hear it in a concert setting," Hall says. "It's another way to introduce people to the festival.

"It shows them the festival is not just one kind of music," he says. "It's an audience builder and a goodwill gesture to broaden our audience."

Hall has been in Savannah for 26 years.

"I'm a lifelong church musician, mainly an organist," he says. "But I love working with singers.

"My parents were both singers and growing up in our household, I just fell into that naturally. I love working with these students.

"Some have made their debuts and are really up and coming, while others are on the same path, but at a different level," Hall says. "Each singer brings something to the table."

Hall is a huge fan of the Savannah VOICE Festival.

"It's not just the two vocal cords vibrating, but also the emotion and training and talent which make singers and the festival great," he says. "I don't know what we did before we got this festival.

"We fall in love with these singers and support them as much as we can. People drive all over the country to hear their debuts. It is like a big family.

"The sacred concert is a beautiful concert, in a beautiful setting," Hall says. "Let this music and these beautiful voices wash over you. It's a beautiful experience and I feel very grateful to be a part of it.'


What: VOICES in Sacred Song

When: 6:30 p.m. Aug. 17

Where: First Presbyterian Church, 520 Washington Ave.

Cost: Free