Last Sunday in northwest Ohio’s Christian churches, many worship services had choirs and congregational hymn-singing. But in a select group of those congregations, the Sunday music continued with the start of public concert series.
At Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral, the Alba Consort, four New York City musicians devoted to keeping alive music from Spain of a millennium past, enthralled an audience of about 100 people.
Alba had been invited to the cathedral by Paul Monachino, organist at Rosary and series originator. “They perform Medieval Spanish repertoire; in our Medieval Spanish cathedral it seemed like a good fit,” he said.
The Alba Consort played music from a rare peaceful period in which all three major monotheistic religions managed to coexist in relative peace.
“The Convivencia of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic culture (especially fertile in Toledo, Spain) shares a similar demographic to Toledo, Ohio, today,” Mr. Monachino said. Islamic centers and Jewish synagogues received invitations for their members to attend “so the concert would be a possible interfaith, intercultural experience.”
Meanwhile, 25 miles south, at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Bowling Green, northwest Ohio's Tower Brass quintet was kicking off that church's concert series. It was also the 35th-season launch for Tower Brass.
“We probably do about seven concerts a year,” said St. Mark's music director and organist Kevin McGill, who also performed with the quintet.
“I program the concerts, typically using members of our congregation.” Brian Bushong, trumpet player for Tower Brass, attends St. Mark’s.
Not all church music events involve sitting quietly and listening.
Tonight, Trinity Episcopal Church, 316 Adams St., begins its 14th Performing Artist Series, known for ambitious and imaginative performances, with Bachtoberfest: Part Drei! Billed as “beer, brats, and Bach,” the convivial evening is dinner theater of a German Baroque sort -- chamber music and a cantata by J.S. Bach, with a spicy German fall feast.
Organized by Wayne Anthony, minister of music at Trinity, the concert will feature the SonoNovo Chamber Ensemble and the Canticum Novuum Choral Ensemble, plus organist Michael Gartz and cellist James Anderson.
Trinity is one of the area’s oldest parishes at 150 years, but an architectural do-over in 2003 yielded a sanctuary open to the walls and its star-studded blue ceiling, a setting amenable to endless uses.
The Performing Artist Series will present a madrigal dinner Oct. 12 and the Perrysburg Symphony Chorale Nov. 15.
Using sacred spaces for public concerts can raise a church's visibility, support and inspire musicians, and please the listening public.
“When I began here in 2001, establishing a concert series was one strategy in the overall goal of increasing the profile of the cathedral in the community,” Mr. Monachino said. “Throughout history, cathedrals have served as centers of both religion and culture in the cities where they are located.”
His Cathedral Concerts balance programming between more worldly -- if still sacred -- groups like Alba and organist Yun Kyong Kim, coming Oct. 20, and liturgical events including Christmas and Easter.
The biggest challenge, Mr. Monachino said, is a partnership in which the Cathedral is the venue for a Toledo Symphony-presented concert, the award-winning Bruckner Symphony series led by principal conductor Stefan Sanderling. “The concerts are considered an outreach to the community. They are not religious events, but a way for us to share this magnificent edifice with the community,” Mr. Monachino said.
The 2013-2014 concert series at Monroe Street United Methodist Church, 3613 Monroe St., will launch Oct. 27 with a performance by the Perrysburg Symphony Orchestra with pianist Michael Boyd.
The Rev. Dennis Payne II, pastor of the central city church, says, “The series offers the surrounding community and the residents of Toledo another opportunity to appreciate the fine arts through music.
“It shows the community the diverse nature of Monroe Street U.M.C. and what it has to offer in addition to the weekly worship and outreach experiences.”
Organized by music director Denise Mathias, the series provides a showcase for local and guest musicians including a youth choir, the Young Voices of Greater Toledo, a venture started last year by Mrs. Mathias. The Young Voices will sing for an Advent choral vespers service Dec. 15.
Meanwhile at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, 871 E. Boundary, Perrysburg, Douglas Neckers, a member and lifelong music connoisseur, is ready to launch a series he dubbed St. Tim’s Discovers.
The highlight of the St. Tim’s fall season will be a performance Oct. 13 by visiting organist/composer Todd Wilson.
The program, to be held in Perrysburg’s St. Rose parish, 215 E. Front St., instead of St. Tim’s, will feature an original work by Mr. Wilson. “I want to fill St. Rose to the rafters for that event,” said Mr. Neckers.
He’s also tapped member and jazz whiz Dave Bixler for an Oct. 10 concert featuring pianist Arturo O’Farrill at St. Timothy's. And the Zin Quartet from the Toledo Symphony will appear Dec. 8.
Musicians typically love to perform in churches.
“It is always a positive experience," said Bernice Schwartz, who plays horn with Tower Brass, "because churches provide such beautiful settings with the architecture, the colorful stained glass windows, and the reverberation which is ideal for brass instruments.
“When the audience includes a large group of people that are connected like a family, there is a definite warmth in their reception.”
Keith McWatters, manager of the Toledo Symphony, which spends most of its December playing holiday gigs in churches, agrees.
“The very biggest difference between playing in a church and playing in a hall is the audience,” he said. Not only is it closer -- possibly within reach of musicians at the end of rows -- it is more engaged artistically and emotionally.
“Most players really appreciate being so close to the audience,” said Mr. McWatters, who also plays percussion for the TSO. “They are very receptive. We make the music more accessible but we’re able to feel the reaction of the audience.”
For Mr. Neckers, a chemist and businessman, St. Tim’s Discovers is all about accessibility: bringing great music to the community and making it possible for the community to attend free of charge.
That’s the case for most church concert series, although some do take a freewill collection -- either at the door or during an intermission -- to boost budgets.
And some churches use concerts as fund-raisers for other community groups. Tomorrow, the Clarence Smith Community Chorus will sing at Braden United Methodist Church, 4725 Dorr St., in a benefit concert for Toledo Rescue Mission. That concert begins at 5 p.m.