I sheepishly opened the door at First & Central Presbyterian Church on 11th and Market, having arrived nearly fifteen minutes late for Market Street Music’s season-opening concert. My worries were unfounded: no one turned to stare. While I hung back waiting for a break in the music to make my way to a seat, eventually an usher spotted me, cheerfully placed a program in my hand, pointed out where we were in the schedule (middle of the second selection) and without further wait I slipped into the plentiful bench seating. (TLDR: it’s OK to show up late. I wasn’t the only one.)
The in-progress musical selection was “Whimsical Variations,” a 1952 piece by Leo Sowerby, who in his lifetime was often called the “Dean of American church music.” David Schelat played it masterfully on the church’s organ, which is made up of approximately 2,000 pipes. At first, the notes were light and airy, but shortly after, the music turned dramatic and a little dark. It grabbed my attention, since my tardiness was the result of a piece I was writing about upcoming Edgar Allan Poe themes IN Wilmington, and this music finally made me feel like we were in October. The piece I missed was “Chaconne in E Minor,” by a 17th Century composer, Dieterich Buxtehude.
What followed was an original 2018 work by the organist himself. Schelat’s piece was “Four Chapters in D for Organ,” and it clipped along at a nice pace. I suppose I expected religious music, being in a church and listening to an organ, but the performance didn’t feel church-y. The third chapter was a berceuse, which translates to lullaby.
Schelat says he wrote this composition, “…as an exploration of various traditional organ and keyboard pieces, updating them to our time. My style is fairly traditional, with form being important and use of mildly dissonant harmonies throughout. My style sounds like music of our time—but never shocks the listener with dissonance.”
The Gabriel Kney organ he played is a serious asset. This one, the Opus 112, built in 1989, consists of two manual divisions and pedal, 29 stops and 38 ranks. First & Central has the only pipe organ built by Kney in the mid-Atlantic.
My same time management skills that got me there late led me to another surprise: the performance ended at the thirty minute mark. It was only the second time I heard applause – once after the Sowerby piece and once at after all four chapters of the modern work. Schelat left the room, and returned for his bow. (TLDR: it’s a short concert, so don’t be TOO late. You’ll still have time to grab a salad on your way back to the office.)
Schelat had fans in the room. I recognized many faces from the OperaDelaware chorus, several of whom are professional music teachers, and many of whom perform with Schelat in the Wilmington Mastersingers.
Some were dressed in button-down shirts and ties; the ladies in cardigans. The few of us in tshirts were probably all a bit chilly – the HVAC in that church wasn’t playing around. (I’ve sat in many a church where the atmospheric conditions distracted from the art. This is not that kind of church.) I was not the only tattooed person in the room. I felt right at home.
In summary, the Market Street Music concerts are a relaxing escape from your busy workday. Be sure to catch one of the free, weekly, Thursday performances, starting at 12:30pm. Upcoming selections include:
- October 11: Daniel Carunchio, pianist and winner of a 2017 Delaware Division of the Arts Individual Artist Grant, plays music of J. S. Bach and 20th Century French composer Francis Poulenc.
- October 18, 2018: Lyra Russian Choir returns to Wilmington with music from the Russian Orthodox Church as well as folk songs from their Russian homeland.
- October 25: Brandywine Harp Orchestra does Halloween. This herd of harps, directed by Janet Witman, was the first American harp orchestra to perform at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival in 2009.
Pro tip: make First & Central a peaceful destination other times of the month. Walk the Labyrinth, which is open to visitors on the fourth Wednesday of the month from 11am-7pm. Labyrinths have been used for meditation and reflection for more than 4,000 years, helping to clear the mind and give insight.