West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, established in 1946, is a welcoming congregation that seeks to be a spiritual home for people of free faith regardless of race, color, gender, disability, sexual orientation, age or national origin. The church’s motto is “One church, many paths.” Since 1952 its home has been the beautiful Mid-Century Modern building at the corner of Hilliard and Northview in Rocky River, Ohio. West Shore is a home for both church activities and a variety of community activities and organizations—including the Rocky River Chamber Music Society.
The dramatic, visual, and musical arts have been important to West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church throughout its history. When the church built a new sanctuary in 1961-1962, special attention was paid to the acoustics of this space thanks to the architect, Wallace G. Teare, who happened to be not only a member of the church but also an avid music lover. This fit in well with the church’s desire to extend its outreach to the community in the form of lectures, meetings, and concerts. Thus Teare made it a priority to balance the needs of the speaking voice and the requirements of music in the acoustical design of the sanctuary.
Teare’s efforts were successful and soon after the completion of the sanctuary he invited the Rocky River Chamber Music Society–founded in 1958 and still searching for a permanent home–to consider the new sanctuary’s remarkable acoustics. The Society’s first concert at West Shore took place in October 1964, and it has been there ever since. Artists who have performed in the Society’s series over the years have consistently praised the excellent acoustics of the hall.
Since the completion of the modern sanctuary, the church has made important instrumental acquisitions, including a Holtkamp pipe organ in 1963 and a Steinway piano in 1983, both made possible by generous members of the congregation. In 2014 the church was fortunate to acquire a Zuckermann “Z Box” harpsichord, made in the 1950s and no longer needed by its previous owner. To date, mostly the Steinway has been used in RRCMS concerts, but the others are available for use. The flexibility of the sanctuary was demonstrated well at a concert in January 2015, which featured nine bassoons, two vocalists, and one harpsichord! Even the organ loft was used by three of the bassoons who provided an antiphonal echo to the bassoons on stage in a work by Gabrieli.
During the period 2014 – 2017, West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church conducted a wide-scale capital campaign, known as “The Long Arc,” which touched many areas of the church including the sanctuary. Since renovating the sanctuary involved many acoustical and artistic issues, the church graciously solicited input from the RRCMS board throughout the process, for which RRCMS was most grateful. Both the church and RRCMS were interested not only in maintaining, but improving, the acoustical environment of the sanctuary for speaking and music. With the increase in size of the stage/chancel area; a new wood floor for the stage, steps, and floor in front of the pews; enhanced aesthetics on the wall in back of the stage; a re-vamped sound and lighting system; and new windows and shades; the goals of the sanctuary project were more than met. All this work was accomplished during the summer of 2017. The sanctuary officially re-opened on September 24, 2017, and was re-dedicated on November 19, 2017. The first RRCMS concert of the 2017-2018 season took place on October 9. Artists and audiences from both the October 9th and the November 13th concerts have raved about the clarity and pristine quality of the new acoustics. A member of the church choir aptly summed it up when she exclaimed, “As a performer, the new acoustics are amazing! When the choir sang for the first time after the new renovations, the sound was phenomenal!”
THE HOLTKAMP ORGAN
West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church
Founded in 1946, West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church first congregated in Lakewood, then moved to the corner of Hilliard and Northview in Rocky River where it built a modest church in 1951-1952. The congregation grew by leaps and bounds and by 1962 had built a new sanctuary. Since the dramatic, visual, and musical arts have always been important to West Shore, special attention was paid to the acoustics of the sanctuary thanks to architect Wallace G. Teare. As a member of the church and an avid music lover, Teare made it a priority to balance the needs of the speaking voice and the requirements of music into the acoustical design of the sanctuary. He invited the Rocky River Chamber Music Society to make West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church its permanent home, and in October 1964 the Society presented its first concert there. West Shore has been the Society’s home ever since.
Along with building the new sanctuary, plans were being made by the music committee and board of trustees to build a pipe organ. This was made possible by a generous donation of $55,000 from Homer and Gertrude Tielke (parents of current church member Marg Gobeille). The Tielke family requested no formal acknowledgement of their part in making the organ possible. The church’s organist at the time, Haskell Thomson, collaborated with the organ builder, Walter Holtkamp, Jr., in designing an instrument that would have “sound quality, beauty, craftsmanship, and attention to detail.” The Holtkamp Organ Company is Cleveland’s oldest continuously operating manufacturing company. It traces its lineage back to 1855. West Shore’s pipe organ, opus #1769, was completed in late 1962. The dedication concert took place on March 31, 1963. On the program were works by Lübeck, Bach, Mozart, Franck, and Messiaen, representing the major eras of classical music.
The Holtkamp Organ at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church consists of 33 stops, and 44 ranks or four divisions of pipes. Each division is played from a separate keyboard –three manuals and pedal. The organ has a total of 2,365 pipes. By way of comparison, the Skinner Organ at Severance Hall in Cleveland has 94 ranks and 6,025 pipes. The church’s organists have included Haskell Thomson, Garth Peacock, Kevin Jones, Fabian Toledo, Fern Jennings, and David Blazer.
CSJ, Rocky River Chamber Music Society, 11/1/2019