In this season of Thanksgiving, let’s be grateful for one of the enduring strengths of First Unitarian Church – our music program! We have much to celebrate,
for our music program has many valuable parts! I will start with an expression of admiring gratitude for our staff musicians.
Emily Pinkerton, our Director of Music, is a gifted leader and performer with extensive experience in folk and classical music. She has a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from the University of Texas where she studied traditional music of the Andes, spending a year on a Fulbright scholarship in Chile. Emily also has extensive skill in Appalachian music, and she is proficient in banjo, fiddle, and guitar. Her band, The Early Mays, recently placed first at Clifftop, one of the largest old-time festival in the country. In classical composition, she has received awards from New Music USA, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. In addition to her work at church, Emily teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and tours throughout the region. We happily celebrated Emily’s tenth anniversary with First Unitarian Church last spring.
Aside from Emily and Bill, there are several other wonderful parts of our music program:
- Joyful Noise, which rehearses on Thursday evenings, provides a terrific opportunity for singers of all ages and all abilities to create music together.
Joyful Noise regularly performs during our Sunday morning worship celebrations. Aside from Joyful Noise, which is led by Emily Pinkerton, there
are several other opportunities for church members and friends to become part of a lay-led music group at our church, including the Folk Circle,
the Seasonal Singers, the Recorder Ensemble, and the Vocal Octet. I should add that our lay-led Dance Choir works closely with our music program.
- We are fortunate to have two concert series taking place in our Sanctuary. One of these is SongSpace, which presents a variety of singer-songwriters
and other contemporary folk artists. The other is Tapestry, which has entered into a partnership with the Chamber Orchestra of Pittsburgh to present
diverse music from the classical repertoire. Each of these concert series includes five or six concerts each year, and you would be quite welcome
to attend any of these musically inspiring events.
- We are also fortunate to have an artist-in-residence program. This year, our artist-in-residence is Mathew Tembo from Zambia. His instruments include
kalumbu, kalimba, mbalule, and silimba, which is the Zambian version of the marimba. Mathew will be presenting his music on Sunday mornings as
a soloist and also in collaboration with our performing arts groups.
- Our Music Endowment, which is valued at well over $100,000, supplements the financial resources available for the music program through our church
- Our pipe organ, which was a gift to First Unitarian Church from Andrew Carnegie, has served our congregation well since it was built in 1904. (The time has come for us to refurbish and expand the pipe organ, but that is a subject for another day!) The Steinway concert grand piano is an extraordinary instrument, and we are very fortunate to have it. The harpsichord, which is on loan to our church, was built by my father, James Herndon. Aside from these instruments, we have pianos in the Priestley Room, the Schweitzer Room, the Semple Room, the High School Room and the Undercroft Gallery.
Although Emily Pinkerton has been part of our music program for many years, she officially became our Director of Music on January 1, 2016. In this role, Emily has started to implement her vision for our music program. So far as I can tell, this vision is an expression of several core principles:
- First, Emily emphasizes participation and inclusivity. Joyful Noise, which includes all ages and all abilities, is one example of this.
- Second, Emily has a strong commitment to lifting up and appreciating the musical and spiritual value of many different kinds of music.
- Third, Emily understands that music is a remarkably effective and enjoyable way to build community.
- Finally, Emily brings a sensitive awareness of the ability of music to lead the way into a shared experience of mindfulness and spiritual depth. For Emily, sometimes music can serve to bring another dimension of meaning to the basic message on Sunday mornings, while sometimes it lifts up a complementary theme. What I appreciate so much about Emily’s approach is that within the context of our church, she understands music first and foremost as part of the spirituality our church offers. For this reason, perhaps it would be more appropriate for us to start using the term “music ministry” rather than “music program.”
Our music program has changed and evolved over the years, and no doubt it will continue to change and evolve in years to come. However, what we have right now is really pretty amazing. I hope you will join me in expressing gratitude for all that our music program brings to our shared experience of religious community at First Unitarian Church.
See you in church!