Music in the Air

Music has been an important part of the history of the First Universalist Society, now known as the Unitarian Universalist Church of Wakefield. Hymns, anthems, concerts, sing-a-longs and musical fundraisers have all filled the church with music.

There are not a lot of records from the earliest days of the church, but tradition has it that the church was noted for music and even dances. In 1860 the church needed to pay for renovations. They hosted a May Day Festival to raise the money. A prominent part of the fund raiser was a concert by Gilmore’s Band of Boston. Patrick Gilmore, conductor of the Band, went on to have an illustrious musical career.

Reminiscences by churchgoers provide some history. In 1963 Clara Brownell, an active church member for many decades, wrote down her church memories. She recalled that in the 1880's, “It was the custom to have Sunday school concerts four times a year: Harvest, Christmas, Easter and Children’s Day.” She remembered Nathaniel Cutler of the Cutler Brothers store, who served as Sunday School Superintendent. “He had a good bass voice and loved to sing.”

In May 1894, the Wakefield Daily Item began publishing. The 1894 Children’s Day concert received a nice write up in the Item of June 19, 1894. Nathaniel Cutler was still the Sunday School Superintendent. He presided over a program that included recitations and singing by various classes. A four person orchestra accompanied solos by Miss Cora Hackett, Miss Stella Bourne and Miss Ada Phipps. There was a duet by Mrs. George O. Weiman and Mrs. Fred W. Young. Also singing were “three little boys - Georgie Stimpson, Stanley Purdy and Artie Abbot.

Mrs. Virginia Stanley Gleason of Tennessee recently sent the church a reminiscence of her Sunday school days in the 1930's. She too had fond memories of the junior choir of her era. Miss Geneva Hodson was the organist and choir director.

In the 1980's folk music concerts were added to the church’s calendar. Several members of the congregation, including Bob McSweeney, Bill Knott and Gayle Spurr, organized a monthly coffeehouse. The Linden Tree Coffeehouse began when it was still unusual to have live folk music outside of Boston or Cambridge. The idea caught on. As the coffeehouse grew, many people not previously associated with the church joined the committee, including Ed Britt, Paul Hartey and Liz Freeman. Over the years the Coffeehouse has taken on a life of its own, though it is still an outreach of the church.

Since its founding, the Coffeehouse has hosted many different acts with new performers every season. Some performers do come back several times. Bill Staines appeared annually for many years. The Gloucester Hornpipe and Clog Society was one of the earliest acts booked, first performing in April of 1988. They were back again in December of 2009.

Like performers, types of musical performances have come back many years later. Faced with extensive costs to renovate the building, the church again turned to music for raising funds. The Standing Room Only concert series, now in the fourth season, has raised funds the church has used for repairs, a new roof and other projects.

Sing-a-longs have also returned to the church on a regular basis. One Friday night each month the Rise Up Singing program is hosted by the church. All are invited to come and sing together from the Rise Up Singing songbook.

Heading into its third century, the church is still a musical place. In addition to the hymns, anthems and instrumental performances on Sunday morning, the church hosts many more musical events each year: Linden Tree coffeehouses, Rise Up Singing events, Standing Room Only concerts and other special events.

Event Date: 
Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 4:45pm