A friend of music at First Congregational Church is someone like you!

403 South Jefferson Ave.
Saginaw, MI 48607



Monday, April 25, 2011

Women's Fellowship to Sponsor Meal and Hymn Sing - May 6

The Women’s Fellowship of First Congregational Church, 403 South Jefferson Street, is hosting a spaghetti dinner and hymn sing on Friday, May 6, that is free and open to the public.  Spaghetti prepared by the congregation’s senior minister, the Rev. Dr. Todd S. Farley, PhD, will be served in the church’s social hall, Bradley House, beginning at 6:00 p.m.  The hymn sing titled “Pray and Praise Thee Unceasing” will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the church’s main sanctuary and is a celebration of hymn texts, tunes, poems, prayers, and other readings.  Nicholas Schmelter will lead the music from the church’s organ.  Donations collected at mealtime and following the hymn sing will be donated to the congregation’s youth ministries, which are administered by Ms. Angie Noah.

Organ Historical Society to Visit First Congregational Church

The Michigan Chapter of the Organ Historical Society will visit First Congregational Church, 403 South Jefferson Street, on Saturday, May 21, at 10:00 a.m., with the purpose of touring the congregation’s two historic pipe organs.  Members of the public are invited to take part in this open house event. First Congregational Church’s sanctuary boasts a three-manual, seventy rank organ, built by the Ernest M. Skinner Company of Boston (1930) and enlarged by John F. Shawhan (1965) and Scott Wheeler (1975). This instrument contains historic pipes from Skinner Op. 751 and other additions by Casavant Frères Ltée Op. 2809, and is in urgent need of restoration.  The chapel houses an unaltered two-manual, nine rank pipe organ, built by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company, Inc. (Opus 1327).  The Organ Historical Society is an international organization that seeks members from all levels of interest in the organ. The Society promotes a widespread musical and historical interest in American organbuilding through collection, preservation, and publication of historical information, and through recordings and public concerts. The Organ Historical Society is dedicated to documenting and preserving historic pipe organs and to raising public awareness and appreciation of America's organ heritage.

Poets Will Convene for Afternoon of Music and Poetry - May 1

Members of the River Junction Poets will gather at First Congregational Church at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon, Sunday, May 1, to present an afternoon of recitations and music.  Excerpts from “The Child’s Book of Beasts: An Entertainment for Organ and Narrator” by composer Richard Proulx will be performed by Dr. Christopher Urbiel and Nicholas Schmelter.  The public is invited to this program celebrating creativity in verse.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First Congregational Church Hosts "For the Children" to Highlight National Child Abuse Prevention Month

National Child Abuse Prevention Month will be highlighted in a unique collaborative program taking place at First Congregational Church on April 26, at 12:00 p.m.  Members of the public are invited to join civic leaders, young musicians, and members of the community, who will gather and raise awareness of child abuse and neglect. 

Musical presentations will be offered by David Brown (of the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy) and pianists Catherine Hart and Hannah Hart. Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” will be read by Drewe Robinson, CAN Council Board Chair, and interpreted in visual theatre by First Congregational Church’s Senior Minister, the Rev. Dr. Todd Farley. This special hour will conclude with a light lunch provided by Subway and the CAN Council of Saginaw County.  Dessert will be provided by the Women’s Fellowship of First Congregational Church.

Since 1979, the CAN Council of Saginaw County has been dedicated to stopping child abuse and neglect through prevention, intervention and advocacy programs and services. 

First Congregational Church is an acoustically superb building, which dates to 1868, and is located on the corner of Jefferson and Hayden in downtown Saginaw. The congregation is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and has recognized excellence in musical outreach and community service since the 1800’s. If you would like more information, please contact the music department at the church office center, (989) 754-6565, or Suzanne Greenberg at the CAN Council of Saginaw County. 

Letter to the Editor - Saginaw News

April 12, 2011

The Saginaw News
100 S. Michigan Ave.
Saginaw, Michigan 48602

Dear Editor:

Residents of the Saginaw Valley have affirmed their interest in the pipe organ thanks, especially, to the staff of The Saginaw News.

Last Saturday I was delighted to be among one hundred people present for the Bay City “Organ Crawl” organized by Robert Sabourin and the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.  Enthusiasts from Saginaw, Bay City, Midland, and surrounding areas gathered to listen to organ music performed at Saint Boniface Catholic Church, Saint Joseph Catholic Church, and Trinity Episcopal Church.  Participant involvement was not limited to an audience-only scope; participants joined in the singing of beloved songs and reveled in the beauty of glasswork and architecture distinguishing Bay City and its churches as historic-unique.  Do note that many participants walked from venue to venue because of the favorable weather conditions. 

When participants were asked how they learned of the crawl, they were especially grateful and appreciative of your publication’s coverage. 

It would be a blunder not to mention that dozens of people have already discussed with me the significance and energies behind the organ project at First Congregational Church.  They, too, learned of this unique project from The Saginaw News. 

Their comments have been ones of support, ones sharing and embracing Saginaw’s fondness for the pipe organ, and ones of legitimate question.

Firstly, and as a result of your article, people have contacted me reiterating their interest in and the uniqueness of the congregation’s Ernest M. Skinner instrument.  Even a quick perusal of the web reveals how efforts scholarly and musical praise the work of Skinner: what the Skinner firm produced is truly unique as an American art form and an example of mechanical ingenuity.  Dorothy Holden includes in “The Life and Works of Ernest M. Skinner” one relevant quotation from Ernest Skinner, himself: "I suppose when I am dead for fifty years all my organs will be as dead as I am." (232) What an incredible opportunity for music aficionados in Saginaw, for enthusiasts in the congregation, the community, and the region have the opportunity to see that one of Skinner’s organs does not die: to grasp that a regional gem, a piece of Americana, might be renewed to embrace its original tonal ideals.

Secondly, people have contacted me lamenting the loss of the 55-rank auditorium instrument built by the Austin Organ Co. in 1908 that was demolished with its facility – the Saginaw Auditorium – in the 1970s.  While it is not possible to rebuild the auditorium or its large municipal organ, which served at the time of its construction as an installation of national significance, there is the distinct potential for the Skinner instrument at First Congregational Church – due to its tonal uniqueness, eccentricity, potential quality, and location – to serve in a municipal capacity in downtown Saginaw: to serve as a national lure for performers, to serve as a recording instrument for artists, to serve as a “host instrument” for an artist- or artists-in-residence, and to serve as a collaborative tool with the regional orchestra, choral societies, and other arts groups in an outreach benefiting Saginaw and the region.

Thirdly, people have asked what they can do to help.  Ultimately and understandably, the scope of any organ project is limited by budget.  That being said, financial support is a key.  Many times, as you will notice in projects that have been publicized (and are available online), the uniqueness of Skinner-related projects has resulted in partial- or full-funding by regional foundations, charitable groups, or other generous patrons.  Grant monies are sometimes made available.  These projects are sometimes funded in full by a generous lead donor (or patron).

It is my hope to see this and many other projects in the region come to fruition. I thank The Saginaw News for bringing to public attention a venture that many times is “kept in the dark” or not publicized.  And, contrary to what Skinner mentioned, I am convinced that the pipe organ will not be dead in the Saginaw Valley thanks to such musical advocacy.  Yours is to be commended.

Nicholas E. Schmelter, MM
Director of Music Ministries
First Congregational Church

Monday, April 11, 2011

June 12 - Shirlene Zarin-Taj Brown and Schmelter to Improvise Jazz Service

Composer Duke Ellington considered the three Sacred Concerts among his most important music.  Though the compositions that comprised the concerts at Grace Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine were not necessarily linked with the Mass (or the liturgy of the church), they offered a remarkable example of jazz music performed in a sacred space.  First Congregational Church welcomes jazz artist Shirlene Zarin-Taj Brown to First Congregational Church on June 12, Pentecost Sunday, when she will collaborate with Nicholas Schmelter in an improvised service of Holy Communion.  Brown began her career as a radio announcer for Public Radio WLGI (90.97 FM) in Hemingway, South Carolina, and has received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music (Saginaw Valley State University).  A professional, touring vocal artist, she has collaborated with ensembles and pianists in varied musical styles in Europe, Asia, and the United States of America.  Brown has performed with renowned jazz cellist Karen Patterson of New York City, the Motor City Samba of Detroit, and the Michigan Arts International Ensemble directed by Dr. Michael Naylor of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Her participation with regional jazz combos includes the following collaborations: Jazz Nova Ensemble directed by Tony Rongo of Bay City, Michigan; Mainstreet of Midland, Michigan; Level 5 of Flint, Michigan; and also the Jazz combo Swing Shift under the direction of Kenneth Duquaine, Flint, Michigan.  Brown is featured on several CD releases including John Ebata & Friends (1997), Opus #3 (2001), and her latest release, Simple Treasures (2007).  Look forward to this unique worship happening.

Music of Easter - The Chancel Choir and The Saginaw Brass Quntet Will Collaborate

Easter Sunday music is necessarily celebratory and joyous.  Hymns, anthems, and other repertoire by Handel, Peeters, Nelhybel, and others will be offered in worship by the Chancel Choir and the Saginaw Brass Quintet, that recently performed a concert of American music in the church’s sanctuary.  Founded in 2006, the Saginaw Brass Quintet models its musical efforts after the professional quintets Axiom Brass, Spectrum Brass Quintet, and The Canadian Brass.  The Saginaw Brass Quintet has performed an eclectic repertoire of sacred and secular arrangements in public venues and churches in the region. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Lent - Thanks and Praise

to Bill Ostler. Bill Ostler played the horn in Paul Basler’s contemporary choral composition “Psalm 23 (from Songs of Faith)” on the Fourth Sunday in Lent.  Basler writes the following of Songs of Faith: “The piano and horn play very important roles in the work – they serve as equal counterparts to the choral ensemble; it is strongly suggested that they be allowed to ‘play out’ and not be thought of as simply accompanimental in nature.” 

to Beverly Westervelt. Beverly Westervelt played two excerpts from Telemann’s Sonata in A Minor [for oboe] at morning worship, April 3.

to Saginaw Brass Quintet.  The Saginaw Brass Quintet – staffed by members Don Belcher, Chris Harris, Bill Howard, Keith Kidder, and Bill Ostler – performed a program of American music on April 3 to an enthusiastic audience.  Donations received at the concert were generously contributed to the organ project at First Congregational Church.