History of Music at Central

Since 1852, music has played a vital role in the life of Central Congregational Church.  Today, Central is known throughout Rhode Island for its ambitious music program.  The annual Christmas Carol and Good Friday services, Easter’s Lessons and Carols, and the occasional “pops concert” are must-see/must-hear events for church and community members alike.

In the Beginning

Central’s first organist was William O. Fuller, the 24-year-old son of one of the church’s charter members.  He took the job after returning from Germany, where he studied with composers and pianists recommended to him by Franz Liszt:  Ignaz Moscheles, Theodor Kullak, and Carl Czerny.

Fuller’s successor, Edward Glezen was more of an entertainer.  The congregation sometimes detected Gilbert and Sullivan melodies during Sunday Worship.  In 1870, he introduced English and choral music, holding meetings at parishioners’ homes so they could rehearse the hymns.

In 1879, the Reverend George Harris, Central’s second minister, compiled these into a book of “Psalms and Hymns.”  A decade later, he expanded this early hymnal into “Hymns of the Faith,” published by Riverside Press.

The turn of the century brought Central’s first female organist, Fanny Cliff Berry  -  followed in 1904 by Helen Hogan.  During her 24-year tenure, Hogan began a girls' choir, instituted Christmas and Easter pageants, and included local musicians in Sunday afternoon recitals.

Music Traditions

At first, a professional quartet performed hymns during the church service.  The congregation stood and faced the choir loft as they sang.  Once congregational singing was introduced in 1858, a full choir of volunteers joined the quartet, leading the congregation in singing hymns and chanting psalms.

Although the quartet became a duo of contralto and bass singers during the Great Depression, it remained a fixture at Central through the 1960s.  Today, our choir’s section leaders have assumed the role filled by the quartet.

In the early ‘60s, organist Frederick MacArthur established many musical traditions we still enjoy.  When Patrick Aiken, our current organist and choirmaster, came to Central in 1993, he continued and enhanced the most beloved traditions:  performing the “Hallelujah Chorus” at Easter, “As the Leaves Fall” on Veteran’s Day, and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” for Thanksgiving - when the congregation once again stands and faces the choir loft, as it did in the early years of the church.

The Organ

Central’s first organ was two-manual E. and G.G. Hook, Opus 135, pipe organ.  A young man earned $2 a month pumping the bellows.  A new organ from  Roosevelt Organ Builders - costing $7,093.42 - was installed in 1882.  It was the first in Providence with pneumatic action and other new mechanical devices.

In 1917, Austin Organ Company installed Opus 754, a four-manual pipe organ built using pipework from Central’s two previous organs.  It was dedicated on January 4, 1918, with a recital by famed French organist Joseph Bonnet.

Central’s current organ is a superb example of the "American Classic Organ," developed by Aeolian-Skinner.  It is irreplaceable.  Built in 1965, it was dedicated in honor of Arthur Howe Bradford, D.D., Central’s minister from 1918 to 1952.

The organ contains four divisions, 58 ranks, and 3,456 pipes. The remarkable design mingles twentieth-century voices with the colors and textures of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French and German organs to permit performance of a wide body of organ literature.

After 40 years, however, the organ was in need of repair.  A capital campaign and months of manual labor restored its original grandeur - and our historic pipe organ made a joyous return on Easter Sunday 2009.