St. Francis United Methodist Church celebrated its 30th anniversary with a concert-turned-fundraiser this weekend. The church is set back from the corner of Kildaire Farm Road and Penny Road in Cary.

Scott Baker gave an organ recital entitled “Musical Americana: Three Hundred Years of Music in under Sixty Minutes,” also celebrating the history of American music. The program consisted of works dating back to the American revolutionary period and all the way through Stephen Foster, Thomas “Fats” Waller, and contemporary composer Carl Simone. While the concert focused mostly on Baker’s organ skills, he gave up the floor to some special guests and collaborated with friends of the church, teaming up to help raise awareness and money for the church’s participation in the Appalachia Service Project (ASP), which helps rebuild homes for low-income families in Central Appalachia. While the concert was free, there was an opportunity to make donations to ASP.

Baker’s sensitivity to the many capabilities of the organ’s stops and different sounds was highlighted in a variety of works, from Dan Miller’s foot-tapping Two Gospel Tunes for Organ and the more impressionistic “To Longwood Gardens” by Samuel Barber to traditional preludes by Sam Batt Owens and the Toccata in C by Carl Simone (b.1955).* “To Longwood Gardens” was an additional showcase because Baker had the freedom and challenge of choosing his own interpretations and stops since Barber did not specify which particular sounds to use in his composition. Baker met the challenge head-on and presented a delightfully expressive portrayal of the piece.

Between the organ solos were chamber works or songs that required Baker to accompany another soloist. Cortney Baker presented a delightful and impressive violin solo from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess Suite, featuring “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty o’ Nothin’,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” and “There’s a Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon for New York.” Baker tackled Gershwin’s folk opera-jazz fusion style effortlessly, with glisses and slides between notes that emulated the singing style featured in the opera – so much so, in fact, that many of the audience members began singing along with her!

Another soloist Baker accompanied was Aaron Payne on soprano saxophone. He played a moving arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s “Adonai” from Chichester Palms, one of Bernstein’s most famous melodies and an important piece in American musical history. This is based on Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd” and evokes a tranquil but uplifting atmosphere. Payne’s tone was very pure and simple, showing his understanding and mastery of the piece.

The highlight of the concert was definitely the PDQ Bach musical parody: the “Pöckelbüchlein” (“Little Pickle Book”) Suite for Organ, Percussion, and “Dill Pickle-O.” Baker’s introduction of the piece based on its program notes was deadpan, making the music enthusiasts in the crowd laugh – which then led the rest of the audience into the humor as well. The three movements make fun of well-known historical tunes, from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony to “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and more. Amy Holt played the piccolo and James Linn handled percussion – including drum set, xylophone, train whistle, and bird calls. The entire room was full of laughter for the duration of the piece, and Baker concluded it with an out-of-character stinger on the lowest note possible on the organ.

Humor and all, the concert promoted a great cause and showcased local talent that one might not expect from this isolated church that sits on its own little street corner. Although the concert actually took about ninety minutes, Baker used it to transport audiences through 300 years of beautiful and entertaining music. St. Francis’s next special musical event is the Community SING and choral workshop with composer/arranger Alice Parker from March 16-18.

*Editor’s Note: We’re trying to find some biographical info on Carl Simone – if we do, we’ll add it here.