By Jon Cullick
Music warms the body and spirit: this is the foundation of the Music on the Avenue series at St. John United Church of Christ. Now in its sixteenth year, the recital series offers the comforts of music and community spirit to the people of Bellevue. The 2015 season will take place from February 6 through March 6, every Friday evening starting at 8:00 p.m. All concerts are free and open to the public. Everyone is welcome.
Whatever one’s taste in music, Music on the Avenue offers something. Types of music range from jazz to classical and from vocal to instrumental. Performers are both students and professionals. Listeners will enjoy familiar music and discover new musical pieces. The acoustics in the church and the grand piano, courtesy of the Willis Music Company in Cincinnati, surround the audience with an awesome sound.
This year’s program features a variety of artists. The series will begin with Soprano Katy Lindhart, accompanied by pianist Brad Caldwell, performing songs of musical theatre on February 6. Violinist Vince Phelan will be accompanied by Steve Phillips on piano, performing classical chamber music on February 13. Dan Zehringer will perform pieces for the trumpet, accompanied by pianist Amanda Roberts, on February 20. Männerchor, a small ensemble of the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus, will perform classical, Broadway, and popular vocal music on February 27. The series will conclude on March 6 with the Chamber Singers of Austin Peay State University performing diverse choral music.
One need not be a musical expert to attend! This is a series that reaches out to everyone, including novices. The performers often talk to the audience, introducing the pieces they are about to perform with background information about the composer’s life and the instruments they are playing. They will describe the features of the musical compositions to help the audience get a sense of the melodies and harmonies they will hear. The printed program often includes translations of lyrics for songs that are written in languages other than English. The artists are also available to chat with audience members after each concert. As Steve Phillips, the chair of the Music on the Avenue Series, explains, “If you don’t think you know anything about music, there’s no need to stay away. We try to make it very accessible, very down to earth and warm.” It’s also the perfect way for parents to introduce young people to music.
Music on the Avenue started in 1999 when the church’s music director at the time, Brad Caldwell (who still performs in the series), offered the idea to Pastor Keith Haithcock and others in the church as an opportunity to provide outreach to the community and an avenue for local performers. As Steve notes, music is meant to be shared: “It can be an inspiration to see people doing something well and sharing their talents with others.”
The winter season was chosen as the perfect time of year for the series because people are looking for ways to go out and socialize. The series started with vocal performers but eventually expanded to a mixture of instrumental music featuring strings, winds, and percussion by soloists, quartets, quintets, and choirs. Last year a brass group, the Ohio River Brass Quintet, was featured for the first time. A percussion ensemble, the Miami University Steel Band, which plays steel drums, has become a recent favorite.
A team effort puts the program together every year. A small committee seeks a variety of artists, groups, and types of music. They also appreciate suggestions from audience members. At every concert audience members are invited to fill out surveys. The series receives support from local businesses and individuals (with levels of giving recognized in the printed program). In addition, one or more individual members of our community sponsor each concert.
With this kind of involvement, it is important to note that the series is about more than music; it is about community. For a few chilly weeks of winter, the series gives neighbors a chance to reconnect and socialize before and after the concerts as well as during the receptions that are offered on opening and closing nights. Speaking of the sense of fellowship, Steve observes, “It’s a very friendly, nonthreatening environment . . . It feeds our souls.”
My wife, Cheryl, and I look forward to this series every year. As music lovers, we enjoy hearing and learning more about our favorite composers as well as discovering some composers we have never heard of. We appreciate the showcasing of talented students and professionals, many of whom live and perform right here in our region. Most of all, we enjoy seeing other members of the Bellevue community who attend. Music brings people together.
The 2015 Music on the Avenue Series is in progress February 6-March 6. Concerts begin at 8:00 p.m. every Friday. Admission is free. There are no tickets and reservations are not necessary. For more information, visit Music on the Avenue on Facebook or write to MOTA@StJohnChurch.net.