History of the West Side Concert Series
Joanne Harris Rodland, Minister of Music, West Side Presbyterian Church
It all started with the organ! A history of the West Side Concert Series, previously
known as the West Side Patron Series, is intricately linked to the history of West
Side’s sanctuary organs. Until the monumental fire of January 8, 2002, the sanctuary
organ was, at its core, a 1923 instrument built by Austin Pipe Organ Company of
Hartford, Connecticut. At the time of the fire, the instrument had 66 stops and
3,600 pipes with a three manual console or keyboard. The first changes in the instrument
were in 1954 when the console and the swell engines were rebuilt, new stops added
to the Swell and Choir divisions, and a new set of actions installed. In 1976 a
major contract was signed with the Austin Company for $53,075. This rebuild included
what came to be known as "the flower pots" on the side walls of the chancel. These
visible chests housed new pipe work for the great and the pedal divisions. Significant
gifts for all of this work were given by congregants David Bolger and the Barrie
Upon the completion of the 1976 rebuild, a series of concerts were announced. That
season included programs featuring the organ as a solo instrument and as an ensemble
instrument. Thirty-six years later the West Side Concert Series is still a vital
part of the ministries of West Side Presbyterian Church! The birth of the series
thus came from a desire to provide a venue for the sanctuary pipe organ. That desire
is still at the heart of the season as we plan each year’s programs.
It is fascinating to read back over that opening season which included Frederick
Swan, then organist of The Riverside Church, NYC as well as a Concerto Concert in
which The Rev. John R. Rodland and Joanne Harris Rodland performed organ concertos
with The West Side Orchestra. Dr. Gerre Hancock, Master of the Choristers at St.
Thomas Church NYC, brought his world famous Boy Choir to perform, a tradition which
has remained a part of the series over the years. Dr. Marilyn Keiser, then at All
Souls Parish in NC, and later at Indiana University was another featured organist.
Since that 1976 season, the sanctuary organ has been featured in concert each year
as we remain committed to keeping the sounds of The King of Instruments familiar
and beloved by our audiences. Also at the heart of our planning is the commitment
to bring not only internationally known artists, masters of a variety of instruments
to the series, but also artists from within this community at large, incredibly
gifted musical friends and neighbors who live right here among us. To look back
at the many names which have appeared on the concerts over the years is inspiring
and challenging as we continue to uphold the high ideals established in that initial
Fire destroys; fire opens the door to unforeseen possibilities. Our new sanctuary
has become home to a magnificent new instrument built by the pipe organ company,
Nichols & Simpson of Little Rock, Arkansas. Since its dedication in 2007 by Dr.
Catherine Rodland, St. Olaf College, Northfield, this exciting organ of 3,798 pipes
(49 stops, 59 ranks) has enlivened our worship and also delighted performers and
audiences as it has been featured in the concert series. The spacious and acoustically
enlivened sanctuary has been a joy for our artists and has also become an arts center
for the entire community.
Continuity has been important to the success of the West Side Concert Series. West
Side members who have chaired the series include Dr. Francis Schott, for 15 years,
Chris Cundey for 2 years and George Murray for 18 years. The continuity within the
Music Ministry of West Side has also been a source of strength throughout these
years. Since 1925, there have only been five musicians on staff underscoring the
church’s commitment to musical integrity within the worship life of the church as
well as within the work of the Concert Series.
The 2011-2012 season has seen significant changes as Richard Curtin has taken over
for George Murray as chair of The Committee. In addition, an Advisory Board has
been formed with George Murray as chair whose responsibility is to begin to explore
new programming while exploring the possibilities for advertising in the bourgeoning
world of electronic communication.
The West Side Concert Series is an Outreach Ministry of West Side Presbyterian Church.
As such, we have never charged an entrance fee, preferring to rely on the gifts
of our patrons and a free-will offering at our concerts. Pre-school childcare is
provided and free parking is available as we continue to make our concerts available
to everyone. It is our prayer that we will be able to maintain this open door policy
even in light of today’s economy.
As West Side celebrates its Centennial Year in 2012, we are grateful to have been
a valuable part of its ministry for so many years. We look forward to continuing
to be ambassadors for God’s great gift of music to the world around us in new and