Sunday, December 30, 2018

Pipe Organs of Meadville

(This article originally appeared in the January 2019 edition of the church newsletter.)

From time to time someone will ask me how First Presbyterian’s pipe organ compares to others in Meadville, or how many are in town altogether. It’s an interesting topic: one can glean a great deal about a region’s economic and cultural history by investigating its pipe organs. (Actually, this might make a fruitful avenue of research for a school project!)

Most of Meadville’s churches did have a pipe organ, large or small, at one time. Pianos, being associated with saloons of ill repute, were deemed inappropriate for worship; harmoniums (pump organs) can’t muster enough volume to accompany a singing congregation of more than a few dozen. Thus, particularly after the end of the Civil War, pipe organ manufacturing was a booming business in America. Two now-defunct Erie companies, Felgemaker and Tellers, produced several thousand instruments between them, some of which ended up in Meadville. (Until the fire of 1970, our church had a Tellers organ with four keyboards.)

I can’t speak to the fate of every pipe organ in town, but many have been replaced with electronic substitutes over the years, including St. Brigid, Trinity Lutheran, and Ford Chapel. Stone Methodist bought an electronic in 1991, but a few pipes from the previous organ were retained and can be played alongside the computer-generated sounds. Of the pipe organs still intact, the Unitarian Church’s is notable: built in 1894 by George Hutchings of Boston, it is a masterpiece of mechanical craftsmanship. Sadly, years of neglected maintenance have left this modest-sized organ in an unusable state (though the congregation is interested in restoring it). St. Agatha has a more substantial instrument built by Tellers in the early 1900s. To my ears it has some gorgeous sounds, and benefits greatly from the building’s natural reverberation, but it too needs a major overhaul.

The two largest pipe organs in town are, of course, our 1972 Schlicker and the 1977 Austin at Christ Episcopal Church, which has the same number of keyboards but fewer pipes. Christ Church is notable for having pipes at both the front and rear of the building, offering the congregation a “surround sound” experience: an arrangement often found in large cathedrals but not so common in more modest-sized churches.

Not surprisingly, with the closure of several large factories in the 1980s, no pipe organs have been installed in Meadville since then — only electronics, which are certainly cheaper but not nearly as durable as pipes. Zooming out to the national level, there are still organbuilders crafting new instruments, though not on the scale of a hundred or even twenty years ago. In a sense, a pipe organ is an investment for the long haul: a barometer of a congregation’s confidence that their church will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. The congregations that now opt for them do so because they have thought long and hard about the purpose of their worship, and decided a pipe organ will enhance that worship — not simply because “we’re a church so we ought to”, as the thinking once was.


(edit: the Organ Historical Society maintains a wonderful database [] on which information about most of Meadville's current and former pipe organs can be found -- as well as virtually every other city and town in America!)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

December at First Presbyterian

December 2: Advent I
Worship with Holy Communion at 8:30 & 11:00 AM
Preaching: Rev. Dr. Brian Jensen
12:00 PM 'Chili, Cornbread, & Carols' in Fellowship Hall

December 9: Advent II
Worship at 8:30 & 11:00 AM
(French Creek Brass Quintet at 11:00)
Preaching: Rev. Dr. Brian Jensen

December 16: Advent III
A Service of Lessons & Carols at 8:30 & 11:00 AM
(choir at 11:00 only)

December 18: Lunch @ First
Organ recital by Kevin Dill, 11:45 AM
with soprano Sonya Eagles-Dill
(Recital admission is free; a $5 lunch is available afterwards)

December 23: Advent IV
Worship at 8:30 & 11:00 AM
Preaching: Rev. Dr. Brian Jensen

Dec. 24: Christmas Eve
Family Service at 7:00 PM
Choral Candlelight Service at 10:00 PM
Preaching: Rev. Dr. Brian Jensen

Dec. 30: 1st Sunday after Christmas
Worship at 11:00 AM only
Preaching: Rev. Larry Peters

Monday, November 19, 2018

Photos from "Shades of Time" concert

A sizeable audience came out to hear Shades of Time perform on a cold, wet evening.

Director Alan Amy led the group in hits of the Big Band era, with a few diversions to the 1960s and 1970s.

Vocalists Sue Kipp and Shawn Amy treated the crowd to a few of their favorite ballads.

Thank you to Shades of Time for a fantastic evening of music!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Shades of Time

The First Presbyterian Church of Meadville hosts a free performance by Shades of Time on Saturday, November 17 at 7:00 PM.

Shades of Time was organized in 1988 by Alan Amy with the aim of bringing together alumni musicians from the Townville/Maplewood school district. Today the band comprises 15 musicians from Crawford, Mercer, and Venango counties, specializing in music of the Big Band era with an occasional detour to the 1960s or 1970s. They have performed at many local venues, including the Crawford County Fair.

The program at First Presbyterian will showcase the talents of two vocal soloists: Sue Kipp singing “Let’s Fall in Love”, “All of Me”, and “It Had To Be You”; and Shawn Amy singing “Summertime”, “The Way You Look Tonight”, and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Brass Instruments in Biblical Worship

(This article originally appeared in the October 2018 edition of the church newsletter.)

Thanks to the generous support of Dr. Dennis and Marci Finton, I’m pleased to report that the French Creek Brass Quintet will once again be enriching our worship with their musical talents several times over the next year.  The first will be on Reformation Sunday, October 28th, at the 11:00 service.  We’re actually quite fortunate to have such a fine group of brass players available to us here in Meadville.  I realize that in the past I’ve written articles on the organ, handbells, and piano, but I’ve never taken the opportunity to say anything about the use of brass instruments in worship.  So let’s do that now!

With all due respect to those 16th-century Reformers who felt that instrumental music had no place in worship (I’m looking at you, John Calvin), there is ample Biblical evidence to the contrary.  Before metalwork was practical for the nomadic Jews, their instrument of choice was the shofar, a ram’s horn.  It’s unlikely that actual melodies were played on this instrument: Exodus 19, Leviticus 23, and Joshua 6 imply that the shofar’s function was simply to make a loud noise — an auditory signal of God’s presence.  (Even to this day, observant Jews blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.)

Fast-forward a few centuries to the time of David and Solomon, and it’s clear that a variety of metallic instruments were now in use by the musician-priests.  A nameless chronicler describes the scene as the Ark of the Covenant is ceremonially brought into Jerusalem’s newly-dedicated temple:

“Now when the priests came out of the holy place…and all the Levitical singers…stood east of the altar with a hundred and twenty priests who were trumpeters (and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments…the house of the Lord was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.”  (II Chronicles 5:11-14)

In the New Testament we find passages where the function of these instruments is not praise but proclamation: 

“And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.  The first angel sounded…”  (Revelation 8:6)

“The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (I Corinthians 15:52)

And proclaim we will, loudly and boldly!  Hope to see you on October 28th, or even before.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Rehearsals Begin

Rehearsals for the Chancel Choir will begin at 7:30 PM on Thursday, August 30th.  Rehearsals for the Liberty Bells will begin at 12:15 PM on Sunday, September 16th.  New members are welcome in both groups!  Contact Kevin Dill for more information.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Jail-break, part four

Nearly six weeks after work began, most of the site has been leveled.