Our Program & Instruments
The First Congregational Church of Madison has a very active music program dedicated to spreading the Word of Jesus Christ. We have several adult and children’s choral groups, a rotating handbell choir, a magnificent 1930 Möller pipe organ, a restored 1875 Steinway Grand piano, the Music at the Meetinghouse concert series and much more. You are invited to take part!
We are host to many wonderful instruments available for our choirs and events. We are also very proud to feature our very own “Music Library”! All of our choral anthems, including large choral works and oratorios, have been painstakingly cataloged into an Excel file. Any church or music institution looking for a particular anthem, cantata or instrumental and orchestral parts may download the file and search over 370 titles of music! The database may be sorted by title, composer, parts, difficulty level, theme, tune, accompanying instruments and scripture reference. If a particular item is needed, we will be happy to lend out the copies for a reasonable amount of time free of charge, although any donations to help with postage would be very gratefully accepted. Special thanks to Sue Pellegrini of the Messiah Lutheran Church in Marysville, Washington for the encouragement to make this happen.
Thanks to the A. Thompson-Allen Company for permission to use the following information from their website. The company has been taking care of this organ since it was installed in 1930.
The Thomas G. Shepard Memorial Organ located in the gallery of First Church was built by the M. P. Möller Organ Company of Hagerstown, Maryland in 1930. It is placed behind a simple screen of gold ornamental pipes alternating with a wooden lattice design, permitting ample sound egress into the meeting-house.
Opus 5713 is a three-manual instrument placed in two side-by-side chambers; the Swell Organ chamber is on the left side of the gallery (viewed from the pulpit) and the Great and Choir Organs share a larger chamber to the right. The entire instrument is under expression, allowing a remarkable degree of nuance in registrations, and permitting the ultimate in flexibility and subtle shading when accompanying a choir or a congregational hymn. The expression shades are of the characteristic individual-action type; effective swell boxes permit the sound of the organ to progress from nearly inaudible to heroically powerful without the slightest hint of a bump in the crescendo.
The stoplist of the organ gives little idea of its musical qualities. There are no mixtures or independent mutations, most of the instrument’s power being centered on the unison pitch. But by careful scaling, a judicious amount of unification and duplexing, and a complete array of unison, sub- and super-couplers, the organ’s ensemble is satisfying and lacks no clarity.
The Swell Organ consists of eight ranks: Diapason, Gedeckt, Viole d’Orchestre, Salicional, Vox Celeste, Cornopean, Oboe and Vox Humana. A Pedal Bourdon unit also shares the Swell box. The Salicional rank is unified to play at 8’ and 4’ pitch; the Gedeckt unit plays at five pitches from 16’ to 2’. From these modest resources are derived enough stops to form an agreeable ensemble, one having power and clarity, as well as the necessary subtlety for most accompanimental purposes. The Cornopean is successful as a chorus reed, while the sugary Oboe finds much use for both solo and ensemble work. The ethereal and haunting Vox Humana, in its own enclosure and provided with an effective tremolo, is one of the finest examples of its type to be found.
In the adjacent chamber are two large duplexed chests placed end to end. Stops are both unified and shared between the Great and Choir divisions. The windchest nearest the Swell division contains the boldly foundational First Diapason and the milder Second Diapason, this latter duplexed to furnish a double for the Great Organ chorus. A colorful Doppel Flute plays on both the Great and Choir manuals, as does the keen Viole de Gambe. Also on this chest is an attractive Melodia, playable on the Great at 8’ pitch and on the Choir at 4’ pitch.
The other main windchest in this chamber contains the Choir Organ’s English Diapason, serving also as a 4’ Octave on the Great manual; a lucid Harmonic Flute that can be played at unison pitch on the Choir manual and 4’ pitch on the Great manual; a soft Gemshorn available to both Great and Choir manuals; and a gentle and intriguing Dulciana with its flat-tuned companion, a haunting Unda Maris of remarkable beauty. Also on this chest is a colorful and woody Clarinet.
Lastly, on a pair of elevated unit chests above and between the two main windchests, is placed a Tuba of considerable power, available on both Great and Pedal divisions at 16’, 8’ and 4’ pitch. The lowest twelve notes of this stop provide a solid and smooth bass to the entire organ, without the slightest hint of rasp or buzz. Finally in this chamber is a floor-shaking Pedal Diapason unit that defines the full organ and feeds the acoustically dry room with the foundational bass it requires.
An Echo Organ of some six stops was never installed, and its intended location remains unclear. The console is placed at an angle about halfway down the left gallery of the church, thereby allowing the organist to hear the organ and direct the choir to great advantage.
In early 2004 the organ narrowly escaped being ruined by the ceiling collapsing onto the pipework and mechanism. A quick rescue effort was mounted to safely place the organ’s pipework in trays and cover the mechanism to prevent further damage to the fabric of the organ. By the end of 2004 the ceiling had been re-plastered and the pipework cleaned and repaired. Today the Shepard Memorial Organ once again serves the congregation of First Church with reliable distinction.
Vox Celeste – 8′ The replication of strings sounds.
Oboe – 8′ One of the most beautiful stops found on this organ.
Chimes The 25-tube Deagan Class A set – top of the line.
Clarinet – 8′ A colorful representation of its woodwind counterpart.
Cornopean – 8′ Trumpet-like with a slightly mellower tone.
Harmonic Flute – 8′ A rich sound, appropriate for solo or ensemble chorus.
Harp A charming addition built in the late 1920’s.
Tuba Mirabilis – 8′ The most powerful stop, triumphant and glorious!
Unda Maris – 8′, 4′ Exceptionally delicate and ethereal.
Tuba Profunda – 16′ Grand and impressive.
Pedal Ensemble The Pedal Organ including the 32′ Resultant.
Full Organ Truly “pulling out all the stops”!
8’ English Open Diapason
16’ Dbl. Open Diapason
Swell to Great 16’, 8’, 4’
Choir to Great 16’, 8’, 4’
Great to Pedal 8’, 4’
Great to Pedal Reversible
- 10/29/1929: Original contract with M.P. Moller, Inc.
- 02/06/1930: Installation newspaper clipping
- 04/06/1930: Organ Dedication Program
- 04/07/1930: Everett G. Hill’s Dedication observations
- 04/10/1930: Dedication newspaper clipping
- 04/24/1930: Inaugural recital announcement
- 11/02/1988: Organ restoration newspaper article
- 10/02/1991: Letter from M.P. Moller, Inc.
Built near the height of Steinway’s productivity.
Admittedly, not much is known about the 1917 Steinway piano. For many decades, it has resided in the basement (undercroft) of the church and has been played quite regularly for choir rehearsals and student lessons. A CD of Christmas music entitled Christmas With the Steinways was recorded on that piano in the fall of 2006 and again in 2010 as a fundraiser for the 1875 Steinway’s restoration.
It has also served as a practice instrument for many of our Music at the Meetinghouse performers. It has a beautiful, rich tone and is a pleasure to play.
In 1866, he expanded and came to New Haven, Connecticut. Mathushek is considered one of the greatest innovators in piano design and construction and his pianos are generally considered among the finest American pianos built in that time period. The Mathushek Piano Manufacturing Company finally went out of business in 1958.
The 1896 Mathushek upright piano owned by the First Congregational Church, while in need of some cosmetic and structural repair, is nevertheless used every week for children’s choir rehearsals. Many individuals of organizations who use the Activity Room, as well as visitors to the church’s food pantry, like to sit down and play a tune or two, enjoying its rich, full and powerful tone. It is a treasured member of the church’s instrument “family”.
In 1875, the Steinway & Sons Piano Company in New York completed work on a brand new “Style 2” grand piano. This was only one of 1,965 total pianos built that year, and one of 159 Style 2’s built between 1872 and 1879. The Style 2 closely resembled its predecessor, the Style 1 or “A” model, both in sound and appearance. But enough changes, both in construction and action, warranted a new designation number.
After this rosewood piano, serial number 32341, received its finish, it was shipped to Morris Steinert, a Steinway piano dealer in New Haven, Connecticut. Steinert had begun distributing pianos there ten years earlier after partnering with a piano manufacturer named Frederick Mathushek. At that time, Steinert did not have a lot of experience manufacturing or distributing, and their venture was short-lived. He then tried three times to solicit the Steinway agency in New York, failing each time before bringing his wife with him on the fourth try. His wife so impressed the Steinways that his wish was granted and he became a Steinway dealer in September of 1869.
Serial number 32341 arrived at Steinert’s dealership on December 15, 1875. Although its travels immediately after that remains somewhat of a mystery, it was acquired at some point in time by a woman named Miss Marie Oakes Hotchkiss. Ms. Hotchkiss was the daughter of Henry Oakes Hotchkiss, a New Haven Long Wharf shipping merchant (perhaps Mr. Hotchkiss bought the piano for his daughter).
Born in July of 1850, Miss Hotchkiss lived at East River beach in Madison on the estate called “Stony Croft” on Neck Road. Upon her death in July of 1938, she left her estate to Yale University, but she willed her piano to a friend named Susan Hart. Susan was the great-great-granddaughter of Reverend John Hart, the Madison Congregational Church’s first pastor. When Susan passed away only a year later, she left the piano to the church’s chapel.
The Steinway Grand was kept in the chapel from that time until 1963, when the members of the First Congregational Church built a larger Church House to be used as office space and classrooms, including a new chapel and an auditorium. During the June 6th meeting of the Prudential Committee, Building and Grounds chairman Robert Littell decided that the Steinway should be moved to the new auditorium. He contacted the Hald Company who performed the service, and it remained there for some time.
Since then, the piano had not been used much at all. The exterior had been stained and damaged from neglect, yet the interior had been well-maintained by faithful piano tuners. With renewed interest in the piano and further investigation by the music department starting late in 2005, its nearly complete history was discovered.
It was moved into the sanctuary in July of 2006 to be played for the summer services, and the church decided in a short amount of time that it was worth restoring. Work began by Mr. Chris Robinson of Bloomfield in October, and within just two months the bulk of the restoration cost – $16,000 – was raised by many generous donors. Fund-raising efforts included an October jazz concert followed by the production of a piano Christmas CD.
This piano’s story is remarkable, with a beautiful, vibrant sound to match. It is an instrument to glorify God and to bless the congregation and Madison community.
- The “Steinway & Sons” logo on the fallboard of the piano only displays the “New York” branch; Steinway was not yet doing business in Hamburg and London. Pianos after the 1890’s display all three cities.
- Frederick Mathushek, Morris Steinert’s original partner, became a well-known and highly respected piano maker. A Mathushek 1896 upright piano sits in one of the Church House downstairs classrooms.
- Steinert moved his headquarters from New Haven to Boston in 1883, and his sons took over the business following his death in 1912. After the Wall Street crash of 1929, they closed the factories and all but three stores to survive. A past treasurer of Steinert & Sons acquired the assets of the company in 1934, and the company is currently owned by his grandsons. Today, there are three Steinert stores in Massachusetts and one in West Hartford which just opened in 2004.
- Steinert was good friends with Thomas G. Shepherd, son of First Congregational Church’s fourth pastor, Rev. Samuel Shepherd. Thomas Shepherd was an organist at a New Haven church, as well as a composer, and this church’s 1930 Möller pipe organ is dedicated to him. Steinert inscribed a copy of his book of reminiscences, published in 1900, to Shepherd “with my compliments and many recollections of musical events in our city.”
- Marie Oakes Hotchkiss’s estate on Neck Road is now the site of Mercy Center, a beachfront conference and retreat center for human development.
Bullock, Paula. “1875 Steinway Style 2 Production History.” 2002. http://www.pgtigercat.com
Evarts, Mary S. History of the First Congregational Church. Madison, CT, 1955.
Johnson, Joan. “Marie Oakes Hotchkiss” [personal e-mail]. June 26, 2006.
LaGuardia & Wagner Archives. Steinway & Sons Collection. New York. Production Series, Number
books, Box 040393, 1874.
Mercer, Anna T. “Meeting of the Prudential Committee.” June 6, 1963.
Mercer, Anna T. “Meeting of the Prudential Committee.” September 5, 1963.
Mercy Center at Madison. “Mercy Center’s History.” 2006. http://www.mercyctrmadison.com
Steinert, Morris. Reminiscences of Morris Steinert. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900.
Bells have been associated with religion for many centuries, but tuned bells – each one having a certain pitch – only started to make their debut in the 1700’s and flourished by the middle of the 19th century. Handbells were used for worship services, concerts, and even competitions! While interest somewhat dwindled around the turn of the 20th century, organizations such as the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers revived the art of handbell ringing, and it is quite popular today, especially in houses of worship.
The First Congregational Church of Madison has owned a set of Malmark Handchimes for a number of years. Resembling oversized tuning forks, handchimes are rung similarly to handbells but have a more mellow, softer tone. They are physically lighter and are found to be somewhat easier to ring than handbells and therefore are quite popular with younger ringers. The three-octave set of handbells owned by the church were rung occasionally for worship during the 1990’s and early 2000’s but ceased activity during a search for a new music director. The handchimes were locked away and sat unused for a number of years.
Soon after Nathan Bayreuther was hired as Director of Music Ministry, he explored the possibility of a new handchime choir, and a group of dedicated ringers began rehearsals in September of 2007. Having previously taught handbell ringing at the First Congregational Church of New London, he sought to have a set of handbells for Madison. The New London church graciously lent their handbells for six months, and shortly thereafter the Madison church bought their own bells through a very generous gift from the church’s Memorials Commission.
On Sunday, June 22nd, 2008, the Handchime Choir went to the First Congregational Church of New London to play during their worship service as their way of saying “thank you” for lending their bells. As chance would have it, the three-octave (37 bells) set of brand new handbells from the Schulmerich Handbell Company arrived in Madison the very next day! Since then, the rotating Handbell Choir has played in church about once a month using both handbells and handchimes. The beautiful sound of both instruments have enhanced the worship services greatly and are a pleasure to hear and play.
For the Beauty of the Earth arr. Nathan Bayreuther
We Gather Together arr. Nathan Bayreuther
Harpichords can be traced back as early as the late Middle Ages, but the instrument as we know it today took shape in the 1500’s. Widely used in Renaissance and Baroque music, the harpsichord was the dominant keyboard instrument until the mid-1700’s. Unlike a piano whose wires are struck by felt-covered hammers, the harpsichord’s wires are plucked by very small “plectrum” resembling miniature guitar picks. Volume is not controlled by how hard or soft one plays; one can hit the keys as lightly or as firmly as one likes, and the volume remains the same. However, some harpsichords feature multiple “choirs”, or rows of wires, which can be engaged or disengaged to produce more or less sound. Also, the music of that time period was written with many strategically-placed trills and flourishes not found in today’s music in order to compensate for the lack of precise volume control.
When the piano was invented in the mid-1700’s, the harpsichord almost totally disappeared. It was not given much thought until around the early 1900’s when some interest was generated in playing early music more authentically. Very poor reproductions, designed with limited historical research, were created up until the 1960’s when a few dedicated manufacturers decided to make harpsichords as close to the originals as they could. Craftsmen like David Jacques Way, owner of Zuckermann Harpsichords in Stonington, Connecticut, spent an enormous amount of time travelling around the world to study antique instruments and drawings. The result was a more historically authentic approach to the action, creation and sound to the numerous styles of harpsichords from various countries. The Zuckermann Company, while making full-sized instruments, also began to produce kits, available at different levels of construction. This provided the opportunity for harpsichord enthusiasts to build their own instrument at a reasonable cost.
This particular harpsichord, owned by Nathan and kept in the organ loft of the sanctuary, is a Zuckermann kit from the mid-1970’s and is ahistorically-accurate reproduction of an instrument made by the Ruckers family in Antwerp around 1621. Called a “Flemish Single”, it has two rows of wires with a standard keyboard (white naturals and black sharps). It has a beautiful, full sound and is used periodically to enhance church services. It always generates a tremendous amount of interest, especially with younger listeners!
Allemande by Johann C. F. Fischer (1656-1746)
Fantasia by Georg P. Telemann (1681-1767)