Making a Joyful Noise: Music at WCC, 1936-2024

Making a Joyful Noise: Music at WCC, 1936-2024

Music has been an integral part of services at WCC since its beginning 150 years ago. Although I wasn’t born until the year our present sanctuary was built, I have enjoyed the music offered from kindergarten on! Sunday school classes were then held in the Community House and my formative memories always include the singing of a hymn in those classes. When told by a little red-headed, second-grade girl sitting next to me that I sang “too loud”, I wish I could have foreseen that years later I would be the paid soprano soloist in the Chancel Choir.

After the congregation moved across the street in 1936, a children’s service was added, taking place in the Community House’s Children’s Chapel. At age ten we could audition for the children’s choir by singing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’ accompanied by organist Betty Lightner. Mrs. Lightner was the wife of then choir director Lionel Lightner, a teacher at New Trier High School.

Going to the Children’s Chapel each Sunday to sing in the choir was such a treat. We wore black robes with a white surplus as we marched down the aisle in twos with hymnal in hand. We sat in pews under the gorgeous stained glass window showing Jesus talking to the gathered children. Standing in the entryway at the back of the chapel, as a group we would try to decide who had the honor of pulling the rope that rang the church bell in the tower to start the service.

As high school sophomores, we could join the Chancel Choir in the “big” church, still clad in the same black and white robes. When I first sang in the Chancel Choir, there was also a paid men’s quartet who sang Sunday evenings on WGN’s “Theater of the Air”. Over time, it changed to a quartet of two men and two women, who were WCC’S four soloists. I was the soprano by that time, and thank goodness we only had our names in the WCC bulletin. If we were used for a larger audience, it would have been Scheibe, Snodgrass, Dunkelberger and Williams. My name might have been changed to be more interesting.

Fast forwarding to other choir memories, I must mention the choir trips to England at the turn of this century. What a wonderful experience they were, and what an opportunity to represent WCC. These trips included the Chancel Choir, the Children’s Choir and their parents, Randy Manges as our conductor, and Doug Cleveland as our organist. We made three trips two years apart. The first was to the St. Albans Cathedral, the second to Litchfield Cathedral, and the third to the Salisbury Cathedral. We stayed in the towns for a week each time and sang the Evensong service in the late afternoon. Two large buses ferried us to our group morning adventures: one for adult type tours and one for places that appealed to the children’s choir and their families. My roommate and I went on two of the children’s bus trips to LegoLand which overlooked Windsor Castle, and to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. Yum!

Another important element of my musical memories are the organists and choir directors WCC had over time. The first organist I remember was Earl Mitchel, who sold pianos at Marshall Field’s and accompanied the School of the Chicago Art Institute Glee Club during his lunch hours, where I was a student. Our choir director was then head of the AIC’s Oriental Art Department. At Christmas we would sing holiday songs on risers in front of the El Greco painting at the top of the AIC stairs. Subsequently, two New Trier music teachers, Arlene Ream at the organ and Adelaide Bradburn as choir director joined us at WCC.

The choir still sang through the summers under Marion Morrison, with George Hinners both playing the organ and directing. Pastor Paul Allen brought us Elizabeth Paul Chalupka who played the organ and directed the choir too. Beth had done some recordings with WFMT, so the radio station would announce when we had a choir concert in the church. At that time, a string quartet from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra often played during the first half of our concerts. More recent organists and directors, whom many of you will remember, were organists Elaine Clemens and Jill Hunt and director and composer Dr. Robert Harris who was on staff at Northwestern University’s School of Music. Today, the congregation remains in good musical hands with our talented Director of Music, Victoria Marshall and our new fine organist Randall Swanson.

While the choir composition, size, and leadership may have changed over the years, music has importantly enhanced the congregation’s faith, as well as the personal joys and sorrows of its members at weddings and memorial services. I have always looked forward to making “A JOYFUL NOISE UNTO THE LORD” each amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.