Treasure in Our Own Backyard

I asked my wife to pinch me. Like the rest of the audience at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church on March 26th I was transported and could have been dreaming. Indeed, I wasn’t in a vaunted metropolitan cathedral or a celebrated concert hall.

Instead, for the price of a free will offering at the gem of a neighborhood church on Contra Loma Blvd.,  I was enjoying world class music and a cake and champagne  reception in the latest installment of the Friends of Music series.  I know of no other church in the East Bay offering this kind of program, an eclectic combination of religious and secular music that brings in blue-ribbon talent.

Though a dedicated following has built, the Series still remains the best kept secret in Far East County. Allow me, then, to dispel any possible apprehensions; it’s not a churchy or parochial event; the only thing being preached is the love of music and the openness to community.

The latest event was a concert in honor of the 326th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, arguably the reigning prince of all composers.
Kudos to the guest performers, superlative soprano Dawn Ferry, the versatile Chris Wilhite on trumpet, adventuresome Peter Graves on alto sax, and our own highly talented Joben Gonzalez on guitar and Don Pearson on the church’s magnificent Rodgers 958 three manual and pedal Trillium Masterpiece Pipe/Digital Organ. 

The organ alone made the visit worthwhile. It is equivalent to a 110 rank organ but has hundreds of additional sounds stored in the midi. Choosing  the incomparable Johann as a subject was a special treat on the instrument. The performance brilliantly underscored Bach’s intellectual depth, technical command and unsurpassed artistic beauty. Bach’s music creates not only puts the senses to flight but studying it creates awe at his integration of symmetry, numbers and pure mathematics.  

The evening featured a Concerto in A Minor, Cantata no. 51, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Fanfare, Minuet,  Sleepers, Awake A Voice is Calling, Prelude for the Suite Nr. 1 for Cello,  a breathtaking Ave Maria sung by Ms. Ferry and a surprising and scintillating rendition of Air played by jazz saxophonist Peter Graves.  Don Pearson put an exclamation point on the evening’s delight with an original composition written for the evening, a birthday Sinfonia.

The community is blessed by Don ‘s presence. He’s a superb organist and a renowned musical director who received national recognition for the music series he created in Denver at the nation’s fifth largest cathedral.  Thanks go to Rev Robert Rien, Parochial Administrator at St. Ignatius, accomplished organist and certified organ builder who had the vision to bring Don to our community and this exciting project to the East Bay.

Future Friends of Music events might include fun variations like silent movies with organ background. Expect the next performance in May or June. Check the Calendar of Events or Datebook or call (925) 778-0768 to be put on an email list. Don’t let this best kept secret remain foreign to you. It’s a treasure in our own backyard. waiting for you to simply open it. 

And to Johann, thanks for three and quarter centuries of joy. Happy birthday, Johann! Happy birthday, dear Johann! Happy birthday to you! 

Walter Ruehlig

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