Music and Arts News

14th Annual Handbell Concert

handbellsOne of the legacy’s of Mark Slegers’ thirty-nine years as Minister of Music here at First Unitarian Church is the vibrant and diverse handbell program. Begun in 1983 in conjunction with then Director of Religious Education, Ruth Lewellen-Dix, the program was founded with a single choir for middle and high school youth and 37 bells (no chimes!).  The program has surely grown! We now ring with a choir of five octaves of handbells and seven octaves of handchimes.


On Saturday, April 23, 7 pm, five handbell ensembles under the direction of Ellie Hodder, Director of Handbell Programs, will offer their best for your listening enjoyment.


• Warbington Chimes is comprised of our elementary school musicians. This ensemble was formed when our own Helen Warbington became enchanted by “that new instrument that goes so nicely with handbells”. In 1992, Helen purchased the first set of handchimes. We still use those chimes today and have added a second set to accommodate the many children who participate.
• Beacon Bells is comprised of middle school youth. Unlike many programs for young people, the handbell program is able to welcome parents whose child is hoping for a parent/child experience. These young musicians delve into the art of handbell musicianship using handbells, handchimes, singing bells, belltrees and much more. And, they are a ton of fun!
• Marguerite Bells is our high school ensemble. Like Beacon Bells, parents are welcomed. A couple parents who came “way  back when”, still join in and are adored by everyone. Marguerite Bells were named for the late Marguerite Hessler Deale, director of Religious Education in the 1980’s. There isn’t much these rockin’ musicians can’t do and they are guaranteed to get you to leap to your feet with wonderment and joy.
• Chalice Bells are the new kids in the program. This ensemble was formed in 2005 with 5 musicians. The program has grown both in size and musicianship. This year, Chalice Bells brought music to our neighbors at First Baptist Church where they were welcomed as “Portland’s premier handbell ensemble”.
• Parker Bells were formed in 1985 and named for Margaret Parker, a longtime patron of our music programs. Parkers is an advanced, auditioned ensemble. Their repertoire includes transcriptions of works for other instruments, new compositions and arrangements. We are certain you will enjoy their diverse repertoire and energized playing.


All of our ensembles love you, our devoted listeners. It is our goal on Sunday mornings and at this concert to bring you a musical result that will touch your heart and please your ears. Please do join us. You make our music making complete.


On Retirement: It Has Been a Long and Lovely Journey

As many of you know, I will retire from my position of Minister of Music at the end of June this year after 39 years of part and full-time service at this great church.  For fun, I divided our 150 years into 39 and found that I have served here 24% of our existence.  Wow, that’s a lot!  This has been a brilliant experience  and I will always cherish the rich memories of the magic we’ve created here.  I have enjoyed the support of our ministerial team and the congregation all the way through and I am very grateful. 
My wife, Carol, chides me that I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life in high school and never wavered.  That is mostly true though I thought I might go into business for about 3 days in college before walking across the street to the music department in Forest Grove to enroll at the Pacific University School of Music. From then on, I knew that I wanted to be a choir director.  Profound experiences in my UCC church high school youth group pointed me toward ministry, so this combination, is indeed  exactly what I always wanted to do. 
Choir has always been a place of spiritual grounding for me.  There is something ineffable about all of us breathing together to create art without a word except those that are sung.  It somehow unites and unifies an otherwise amorphous body of souls.  I read recently that when a choir sings a piece, all breathing at the same time, singing at the same tempo and with similar emotional stimuli, hearts do truly beat as one. 
This last year is very rich for me.  It has been nostalgic, but not sad.  If you see me smiling a little more broadly, it is because I am really enjoying it all.  It is fulfilling to repeat pieces I have loved over the recent years, pieces that at the time I was sorry to put down.  In this year of “last’s,” the choirs and I have enjoyed the last choir start-up, the last Menucha retreat, the last Christmas Music & Worship service and the last Christmas Eve.  All of it has been wonderful.  
This spring we will present two more Music & Worship services, the Annual Fine Arts Show Choral Concert on April 9 and what’ s been dubbed the Slegers Roast on June 10. The roast will be a fun (and somewhat humbling, I suspect) retrospective of the joy and laughter we’ve shared over these 39 years.
Thank you all for receiving the musical gifts we have given with such open hearts. You have been so kind and generous of spirit in your praise and thanks.  I often say that the world would be a better place if everyone got the recognition for their work that I receive every week from all of you.   

Thank you,

Mark Slegers


Special Music this Spring at First Church

February 21 Music & Worship: 150 Years of Heroes and Sheroes

Our special music intensive service this Sunday is a collaboration between Diane Englert, play wright and director in the Portland area and our Chamber and Unitarian choirs.  Diane has written brief dramatic vignettes about 5 outstanding contributors from our church’s rich history. All of them have been active in social justice in Portland’s and Oregon’s history. Abigail Scott Dunaway and Dr. Mary Thompson were leading suffrage workers in the second half of the 19th Century.  Helen Gillespie was a parent and an out lesbian in our congregation in the 1920’s.  Allan Hart as an attorney was instrumental helping Japanese Americans regain their rights as citizens after World War II. And Al Sinnard, working side by side with Barbara Coombs Lee, spearheaded the successful Death With Dignity campaign here in Oregon.   

All these heroes and sheroes will be portrayed in period costume by members of our congregation.  After each brief vignette a choral selection contemporary to their lifetime will be presented by the Chamber and Unitarian Choirs and String Chamber Orchestra. Come help us celebrate the church’s rich history in music.

April 9 at 7 p.m. in the Sanctuary: Annual All Choir Concert

 In this my last year at First Church,  I am particularly excited about our Choirs’ April 11 All Choir Concert. As a part of the Fine Arts Festival weekend, the UU Women’s Choir, The Chalice Choir, the Chamber Choir and the Unitarian Choir will  each present special pieces that just don’t fit into our regular Sunday services.  They range from a Shakespeare Sonnet and other expressions of romantic love to a tribute to a great choir director (which I will dedicate to my high school choir director who pointed me toward this career). As a special treat all of the choirs will sing one piece together and the Unitarian and Chamber Choirs will join for another piece.  I can't imagine this going much longer than an hour.

A free-will donation will be accepted to benefit the music and arts program at First Church. Please join us.

 Music and Worship Sunday, May 22: How can I Keep From Singing

Our final special music service this year will be an opportunity for the Unitarian, Chamber and Chalice Choirs to join together in this last Music and Worship service before my June 30 retirement.  Featured will be the Morten Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna with Chamber String Orchestra and several other shorter pieces.  A surprise finale arrangement of the Irish tune, “The Parting Glass” will bring a dramatic closing to the service.  I will take the opportunity to speak briefly about my 39 years here and about how music has progressed since 1977. Please join us in this heartfelt close to our 35th  Music and Worship Season.

Yours in love and music,

Mark Slegers, Minister of Music


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