by Lorie Lewis Ham
For the last few years The First Congregational Church of Fresno, also known as the Big Red Church, has been presenting Halloween on Van Ness, Thrills and Chills Scary Music Concert—a fun night of Halloween music for the community and a way to help raise money for the restoration of their pipe organ. This year’s concert will be on October 23.
Their first Halloween Concert was held in 2008, said Jason Freeman, Chair, Casavant Pipe Organ Restoration Committee. “The idea began to take shape after watching some video clips of a similar Scary Music Concert that Cameron Carpenter had performed at the Trinity Church in New York City. We added the choir and soloists to the pipe organ concert format that Carpenter had created in NYC.”
Thrills and Chills has remained the theme since the beginning and Scott Horton, Musical Director and Resident Organist for First Congregational Church, selects music for each concert that is eerie and ominous, in addition to light hearted “spooky” music from well known plays and motion pictures.
The concert always features the First Congregational Church of Fresno’s Choir and organist Scott Horton along with special guests, which in the past have included Terry Estabrook and Terry Lewis. Guest selections this year include Gina Fazio and Jane Maldonado on two pianos performing “Debussy”, John Morrice performing “The Devil’s Trill” by Tartini on the violin, and Scott Hancock playing “Danse Macabre” by C. Saint-Saens on piano. Other music selections include Halloween favorites such as Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”, “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, and selections from “Phantom of the Opera”, “Ruddigore”, and “MacBeth”.
Each year’s event includes a silent auction, appetizers, champagne, and dessert afterward. The fun in the past has also included costume contests and Gypsy Fortune Teller Dancers. According to Jason, many hands are involved in the planning, music selection, rehearsing, food prep, and serving for this event. “We enjoy the community excitement that surrounds this concert. Everyone is excited when they walk into the Social Hall for food and beverages and are transported to a spooky world of balloons, candles, pumpkins, and spiders! We are very fortunate to have all of our balloon decorations designed and installed by local designer Cathy Lopez. We are the only church to host a Scary Music Concert that includes choirs, soloists, pipe organ, food / champagne reception, and silent auction.”
Funds raised through this concert will directly benefit the Casavant Pipe Organ Restoration Fund. The Casavant Pipe Organ at First Congregational Church of Fresno has been hailed as one of the finest instruments between San Francisco and Los Angeles, stated Jason. “We are trying to raise funds to complete the much needed repairs and restorations. We are trying to preserve this instrument for future generations to use and enjoy. The estimate for repairs is in excess of $400,000.”
The evening festivities on October 23 begin in the wonderfully decorated Social Hall at 5:30 with appetizers, champagne, punch and the silent auction, which lasts until 7 when the concert begins. Dessert and coffee close out this evening of Halloween fun. Tickets cost $25 for adults, $15 for children/students. $30.00 at the door for adults. They can be purchased online at Brown Paper Tickets (venue keyword: Big Red Church), at the church office 2131 N. Van Ness Blvd. Fresno CA 93704, or by calling the church office (559) 227-8489 and having tickets placed on a “Will Call” list. “Will Call” tickets that have been arranged with the church office prior to the night of the concert can be paid at the door for $25.00. More information can also be found on the pipe organ website . Don’t wait to get your tickets, they sell out quickly.
Author’s Special Note: I attended this concert last year and it was wonderful. I highly encourage anyone who loves Halloween and scary, beautiful music to attend this unique event.