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

403 South Jefferson Ave.
Saginaw, MI 48607



Monday, July 18, 2011

First Congregational Church Announces Purchase of Historic Pipe Organ

The Organ Committee of First Congregational Church, with support of the church’s Board of Trustees, has purchased an historic pipe organ, Ernest M. Skinner’s Op. 372, which became available from a church in Dearborn, Michigan. This instrument will temporarily occupy the narthex coat room until it can be integrated with First Congregational Church’s own historic pipes to achieve a tonal and artistic unity embracing the highest standards of craftsmanship.

Helderop Pipe Organs of Detroit will remove the organ from Dearborn Christian Fellowship, where it was transplanted over twenty years ago from the location of its construction, First Presbyterian Church, Bowling Green, Ohio.  Built in 1922, Opus 372 represents a rare instrument built at Skinner’s Westfield factory by craftsman of the Skinner-acquired Steere Organ Company. 

Recently, First Congregational Church formally announced its pipe organ revitalization project.  Board members reactivated the church’s Organ Committee earlier in 2011 after realizing that the sanctuary’s pipe organ was and is badly in need of repair.  Necessary maintenance includes replacing the console along with control system, and rewiring and releathering as needed, so the instrument is fully functioning and mechanically reliable.  The church’s project embraces the aesthetic goal set in the 1920s by the church’s Music Committee when they selected the Skinner Organ Company to build a three-manual organ, Opus 751.

If you would like more information about the organ project or would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to the project, please contact Nicholas E. Schmelter, Director of Music Ministries, at the church office center, (989) 754-6565, who will be pleased to answer any of your questions.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Organ Tour – Installment No. 4

Ernest Skinner’s reputation for mechanical ingenuity and attention to detail was outstanding.  His organs were designed to be played with ease: they included reliable combination actions, melody couplers, solid ivory drawstops, and a recognizable consistent touch.

“The exterior of Skinner consoles was usually made of oak, although at least one console was constructed of solid mahogany, stained light to complement its high-gloss, dark, wine-colored mahogany interior. These exceedingly attractive Skinner consoles were designed with more in mind than mere beauty.  E. M. Skinner maintained that ‘the convenience of the organist should be made the first consideration of the organ builder, regardless of fads, hobbies, or economics.’ The distance between keyboards, the position of the pedal board, the placement of the drawknohs, and the location of all mechanical devises (expression pedals, combination pistons, etc.) on the Skinner console were designed for maximum convenience, and the manual keys of most of these consoles were now equipped with ‘tracker touch.’” (Holden, The Life and Work of Ernest M. Skinner 45)

Such was the case with the design of the original console built for First Congregational Church in the 1920s. 

Following the disastrous fire of the 1970s that destroyed the church’s roof and much of the sanctuary, it was necessary for the congregation to purchase a new organ console.  What replaced the original Skinner console (modified by John Shawhan in the 1960s) was crafted of hardwoods in the French-terrace style.  Drawstops were made of plastic. 

A number of minor additions made over the years have compromised the console’s aesthetic integrity.  Many organists find it difficult to achieve proper balance on the mini-bench. Some stops have been disconnected or have broken entirely.

In addition, malfunction and problems with the “revised” combination action date to 1975 when some stops set regardless of what piston was used, when others would not cancel on any manual piston, and when others would not set on any piston.

How might the organist or guest to First Congregational Church find mechanical reliability and convenience in the console?  Ernest Skinner certainly knew the answers!

Orpha Ochse praises the craftsmanship of Skinner in her 1975 text The History of the Organ in the United States (when doing so was perhaps against certain academic trends): “From about 1910 to about 1930 Ernest Skinner was at the peak of his popularity, and his position as one of the leading American builders was well deserved.  He was a master craftsman, and his organs were refined expressions of his concept of tonal beauty.  Skinner could achieve a remarkable degree of unity and cohesion in his organs, and attempts to ‘modernize’ them seldom leave one in doubt about where Skinner left off and the revisions began.” (328)

Dr. Steven Egler Appointed Artist in Residence at First Congregational Church

Historic First Congregational Church in Saginaw, Michigan, has announced the appointment of organist Dr. Steven L. Egler as Artist in Residence. His one-year term will begin September 1, 2011. As the congregation’s first resident musician, Dr. Egler will make use of the church’s facilities for practice, teaching, and recording purposes, take part in the congregation’s Friends of Music series of recitals, be allowed an office area, be active in the commissioning and premiering of new music for organ and choir, serve as a consultative resource to the church’s music program and organ committee, and take part in Sunday worship and special services as determined by his professional schedule. This titular designation and relationship praises Dr. Egler’s excellence as a professional musician, performer, music educator, scholar, and church musician.

Dr. Steven L. Egler, professor of organ, Central Michigan University, holds the bachelor of music, master of music, and doctor of musical arts degrees in organ performance from The University of Michigan, where he studied organ with Robert Glasgow and harpsichord with Edward Parmentier. Additional study has been with Lillian McCord, Catharine Crozier, Charles W. Ore, Quentin Faulkner, and George Ritchie. He has appeared as a soloist, collaborative musician, and clinician throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Norway, and France, and he has performed as a member of the Shelly-Egler Flute and Organ Duo for over thirty-five years. His performances have been featured several times on Pipedreams, and he has performed and given workshops for eight regional and national conventions of The American Guild of Organists and the National Flute Association. He has also taught in six Pipe Organ Encounters sponsored by the A.G.O., and he has adjudicated various organ competitions, including the prestigious National Organ Competition in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Many of his current and former students hold major church and college teaching positions throughout the U.S., and Egler has been honored by his colleagues five times with the Professor Merit Award for his teaching, creative endeavors, and scholarly work. He has been involved with the A.G.O. in many official capacities, including the National Council on which he served as Councillor for Region V and the National Nominating Committee on which he is currently serving as Director. The Shelly-Egler Duo’s CD, The Dove Descending, is available from Summit Records, and Dr. Egler’s first solo CD, When In Our Music God is Glorified, was recorded in 1999 by Prestant Records on the 1997 Casavant organ, Opus 3756, at Central Michigan University. This CD is available from The Organ Historical Society. Dr. Egler’s collaboration with the late Dr. Paul Willwerth, professor of trumpet emeritus at Central Michigan University, resulted in two CD’s: Music for Trumpet and Organ (a remastering of an earlier LP recording) and Ecclesiastical Music for Trumpet and Organ (compositions by Dr. Willwerth). His most recent CD, The Organ Works of Gerald Near, was recorded by White Pine Music and is available from MorningStar Music. An active church musician, Egler has served several churches in Illinois and Michigan for over forty-five years.

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 and eclecticism in its musical offerings since the 1800’s. The church’s first quartet, formed in 1882, effectively improved the quality of singing in the church. Over the years, musicians including Duke Ellington and Virgil Fox have performed in the sacred space.  The church is one of the finest facilities for music and musical outreach in the region. Its sanctuary boasts a three-manual, seventy rank organ containing historic pipes from Skinner Op. 751 that is presently under renovation.  The chapel houses an unaltered two-manual, nine rank pipe organ, built by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company, Inc. (Opus 1327). Among other instruments First Congregational Church houses two Steinway pianos, two harpsichords, six octaves of handbells, and dozens of recorders, percussion instruments, and Orff instruments.  Music programs for adults and children are a key congregational ministry and take place during the normal academic term.

The Rev. Dr. Todd S. Farley, PhD, is the congregation’s Senior Minister.  Nicholas E. Schmelter, MM, a former student of Dr. Egler, is Director of Music Ministries at First Congregational Church, and was appointed to that position in February 2011. 

This photo is courtesty of Robert L. Barker.