2017 community concert series

Three years ago, Hillsdale First United Methodist Church began a concert series as part of our Celebration of 150 Years of Ministry at our 45 North Manning Street location. Here's what's happening in the 2017 Concert Series.

Our goal is to present programs of a distinctive sacred flavor and with high musical standards in order to offer the good news of Jesus Christ to our community through the gift of music.

All concerts are Sunday afternoons at 4:00 pm and are free and open to the public. A reception will follow each program.

Hillsdale First United Methodist Community Concerts are sharing the gift of music in the name of Christ.

2017 Concerts coming up

Were You There On That Christmas Night?   

Hillsdale First UMC's Annual Christmas Concert

Sunday, December 10 at 4:00 pm


The program will be an uplifting celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ through choral music, selections for handbells, scripture readings, and brief reflections. This annual event will again include the spirited singing of familiar Christmas carols by choir and audience.

Performing will be the Hillsdale First UMC Chancel Choir, a Hillsdale College Chamber Orchestra, and the Hillsdale First UMC Handbell Choir, all under the direction of Music Director, John Ourensma.

previous concerts in the 2017 season


from Alma College, Dr. Will Nichols, Director

On Sunday, March 19, Hillsdale First UMC hosted a concert by the Alma Choir, under the direction of Dr. Will Nichols. The program by the choir from Alma College, Alma, Michigan, included sacred classics for unaccompanied choir, as well as some selections with piano accompaniment, and a closing set of rousing spirituals. The group's long-standing reputation for excellence, its many traditions and its ambitious performing, touring and recording schedule attract talented students for whom choral singing is an important part of their lives.

Dr. Nichols has been directing the Alma College choral program since 1983 and is active as a professional singer and composer.

This event was the second of the 2017 Hillsdale United Methodist Church Community Concert Series, Sharing the Gift of Music in the name of Christ.

January 22 -  the Ten commandments silent film

On Sunday, January 22 at 4:00 pm, Hillsdale First United Methodist Church offered a screening of The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 blockbuster silent movie depicting the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments. The showing included live pipe organ accompaniment much like the film would have been originally presented in theatres of the day. Guest artist, John Schwandt, from the University of Oklahoma, and a master of this art form, returned to Hillsdale after his acclaimed performance presenting The King of Kings last year.

Dr. Schwandt is a nationally acclaimed performer and is in demand as a clinician, recitalist, leader of hymn festivals, silent film accompanist and as an organ consultant. Dr. Schwandt has been a featured performer for the American Guild of Organists (AGO), the American Theatre Organ Society (ATOS) and the Organ Historical Society (OHS). He has been featured numerous times on American Public Media’s Pipedreams broadcasts. Equally at home on a classical or theatrical pipe organ, he is known for his musical versatility and ability to excite and engage audiences of every kind.

Prior to Dr. Schwandt’s 2006 OU appointment, he was Assistant Professor of Organ and Curator of Organs at Indiana University. In 2006, he founded the American Organ Institute (AOI) to preserve the unique American characteristics of the pipe organ. The program includes not only the established classical repertoire, but emphasizes skills such as improvisation, liturgical organ playing and broad musical flexibility, particularly as it is applied to the accompaniment of silent films and the performance of theatrical organ music. The AOI is also the only program in America which possesses a fully-equipped pipe organ workshop capable of building, maintaining and restoring instruments. It functions in part as a laboratory for a new curriculum of organ technology courses. Thus, at the AOI it is possible to major not only in performance, but in Church Music or Organ Technology. The addition of an emphasis in Theatrical Organ is currently in development. Students of Dr. Schwandt have recently won the Poister, Rodland, Schweitzer, and Manz Competitions and the AGO's National Competition in Organ Improvisation.

John Schwandt has served churches in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana as a parish musician. Most recently, he served as Artist-in-Residence at McFarlin United Methodist Church in Norman, and is currently Artist-in-Residence at East Lake United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. He is often engaged to lead hymn festivals across the nation for churches of all denominations. He has recorded for the Calcante and GIA labels, as well as independent producers, and is featured on a recent album by the rock band Shiny Toy Guns. In addition to hymn festivals, he is also frequently asked to perform silent film accompaniments or to play more traditional organ concerts. He is known for programs that are musical and accessible, drawing enthusiastic and young audiences. Dr. Schwandt is under management with Mercury Artists.

John Schwandt began his formal organ study with George Damp at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music. His undergraduate studies were at St. Olaf College under the tutelage of John Ferguson. His graduate degrees, as well as the prestigious Performer’s Certificate, were earned at Indiana University, having studied organ with Larry Smith. Among the numerous notable organ competitions in which Schwandt has participated and won, he placed first by a unanimous jury decision in the 1998 National Competition in Organ Improvisation held in Denver, Colorado in conjunction with the American Guild of Organists’ National Convention.

concerts from the 2016 season

What Sweeter Music, by Hillsdale First United Methodist Church Music Department

On Sunday, December 11 at 4:00 PM, Hillsdale First United Methodist Church offered an exciting Christmas presentation for the greater Hillsdale community called What Sweeter Music. The program will be an uplifting celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ through choral music, selections for handbells, Scripture readings and commentary about the music. This annual event will again include the spirited singing of familiar Christmas carols by choir and audience.

The choral selections offered by the Hillsdale First UMC Chancel Choir, joined by several singers from the choir of First Presbyterian Church and their director, Dean James. The chamber orchestra was made up of Hillsdale College and Spring Arbor University students. In addition to choral music and the singing of carols by all, the Hillsdale First UMC Handbell Choir offered two contrasting settings of seasonal standards Silent Night and Good Christian Friends, Rejoice!

Organ Recital by John Ourensma with Nicholas Nestorak, Tenor

The fourth concert in the 2016 series was Director of Music John Ourensma's annual Organ Recital, with guest tenor Nicholas Nestorak.  

The concert included sacred pieces for voice and organ, in addition to some solo pieces performed by John Ourensma. John also explained and demonstrated a little about how a pipe organ works. Organ music was based on familiar hymns, some masterworks for the pipe organ, several beautiful and well-known sacred arias by Bach, Handel and Mendelssohn, as well as sacred songs by Thiman and Stanford. Also included was an interesting commentary on how an organist chooses from an organ's many different sounds to play solo music as well as accompany a fine singer.

The Kalamazoo Ringers Handbell Choir

An outstanding handbell choir in concert!

On Sunday, April 17 The Kalamazoo Ringers, a group of fifteen ringers performed on played a six octave set of Malmark handbells along with a seven octave set of Malmark Choirchimes. The Kalamazoo Ringers is the oldest continuously operating community choir in the country. Founded in 1981, the ensemble has played extensively throughout Southwest Michigan, as well as touring throughout the Midwest, Ontario, England, and Japan. The choir is directed by its founder, Janet L. Van Valey, and hosted by the Grace Harbor Church in Kalamazoo. 

The King of Kings, accompanied by Organist John Schwandt

On February 28, organist John Schwandt accompanied Cecil B. DeMille's classic 1927 silent movie, The King of Kings.

The King of Kings, the epic 1927 blockbuster silent movie, is the Greatest Story Ever Told as only the great Cecil B. DeMille could tell it. Working with the biggest budget in the history of Hollywood, DeMille spun the life and Passion of Christ into one of the highest-grossing films of all time.

Organist John D. Schwandt is Associate Professor of Organ and Director of the American Organ Institute (AOI) at the University of Oklahoma School of Music. He is a nationally acclaimed performer and is in demand as a clinician, recitalist, leader of hymn festivals, silent film accompanist and as an organ consultant.

concerts in the 2015 season

Cameron Wilkens, Pianist


Bradley Hunter Welch, Virtuoso Organist

The Covenant Players, Drama Team

John Ourensma, Pipe Organ Recital and Demonstration

Sing We Now of Christmas by Hillsdale First UMC's music department

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