St. Sinner Orchestra: Heaven and Earth Collide
Written by Eric Mitts. Photo: St. Sinner Orchestra, courtesy of Haley Earley.

The creation of longtime Grand Rapids songwriter and musician Greg Scheer, the St. Sinner Orchestra merges a rock band with a classical string section, for a sound unlike anything else. 

Profoundly prolific, having written over 1,000 pieces of music, from rock, pop, folk and jazz songs to classical arrangements and religious works, Scheer had most predominantly established himself in church music over the last three decades, where he has also worked as a speaker, and author of two books on worship.

“In many ways, what has defined my career, or even plagued my career, is that I am kind of a musical omnivore,” Scheer told Revue. “Which, in a sense, is what led to St. Sinner.”

The St. Sinner Orchestra features Scheer on guitar and vocals, with a percussionist, and up to a dozen string players from all walks of life. And unlike other pop acts that just add strings to conventional song structures, Scheer writes compositions that fully incorporate his players into a lush tapestry of musical styles and genres.

“One of the things that I don’t like about being in a regular rock band is you just spend time rehearsing the same thing over and over and over again,” Scheer said. “And I’m hearing things in my head that aren’t happening. So what I found with St. Sinner is that I could still have a rock band vibe – it’s still rock and pop music, but I can do anything I want to with the strings.”

The St. Sinner Orchestra started around 2017, with the group’s first album, So Far From Home, coming in 2019. A deeply personal project for Scheer, the original roster of St. Sinner Orchestra also included his two sons, Theo Scheer on cello, and Simon Scheer on bass.

“My sons were two of the first members in St. Sinner, and that was really, really fun,” Scheer said, adding that they’ve moved on to other endeavors as they’ve gone off to college. “They’ve kind of moved out of that realm. But I’m trying to get my younger son back in for the summer.”

Maintaining such a massive lineup has become something of a full-time endeavor for Scheer, from coordinating schedules, to recruiting and replenishing members as other commitments and pursuits take them away from the project. Constantly on the lookout, he said he knows just about every string player in town, including members of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra, who have worked with St. Sinner over the years.

“We’ve really built a community,” Scheer said. “I have felt like there have been a couple shows where it’s almost like this sacred space that’s made, because the musicians, we all like each other, we were friends before we started making music together, or became friends by making music, and we have a great time.”

That unique experience for the performers translates directly to the audiences, who Scheer said have often not known exactly what they were in for at a concert by St. Sinner Orchestra, but have equally often walked away amazed.

“We’re the band that you didn’t know that you needed,” Scheer said. “We’re this little community that likes to be together, likes to make music, and then people can feel that. There have been times when the air is almost thick with this sense of liminal space. You’re just at the edge of something, and something really deep is happening, so that’s been really, really satisfying.”

The group’s name has puzzled some, with Scheer conceding that having made most of his career in church music, and having led worship, that calling his project St. Sinner could come across as a bad move, but he likes the dualism in it.

“We all live in multiple spaces,” Scheer said, adding that calling it the St. Sinner Orchestra makes the project sound like a place in and of itself.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the group will release its new album, Synonyms for Goodbye, during a special show at The Stray in Grand Rapids, on July 27.

Culled from a massive repertoire of more than 40 songs, the songs on the album all stem from a place of personal pain and growth, namely Scheer’s own divorce, which found him working through themes of grief, love and existential crisis in the music.

“The last song on the album I wrote specifically because I knew that I needed a song called ‘Goodbye,’ and it actually works out really well,” Scheer said.

For the album release show, the performance will include some works from Synonyms for Goodbye, as well as a good bit of even newer material.

“I’m always writing, and I always want to try out new stuff,” Scheer said. “And I think it’s pretty cool for an audience that every time they go to a show, there’s like a world premiere.

St. Sinner Orchestra
"Synonyms for Goodbye" Album Release
The Stray, 4253 Division Ave. S Suite A, Grand Rapids
July 27, 7 p.m.,