History of the West Side Concert Series

Joanne Harris Rodland, Former 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 family.

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 season

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, Minnesota, 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 saw significant changes as Richard Curtin took over for George Murray as chair of The Committee. In addition, an Advisory Board was formed 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

We are grateful to have been a valuable part of West Side's 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 exciting ways.