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The Old Stone Church’s distinctive 1894 Johnson pipe organ will be in full song for a Sunday, Nov. 17 recital led by organist and choir director Jonathan Budd. (Photo by Elizabeth Reinhart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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“A well-trained organist plays with both their hands and their feet,” says Jonathan Budd, organist and choir director at East Haven’s Old Stone Church.
Most members of the congregation at this historical church would say he also plays with his heart. And Jonathan might agree.
“You can’t do a job successfully without really enjoying it,” says Jonathan.
Jonathan became minister of music at Old Stone Church in November 2018. Since that time, he has aimed to enhance the feeling of community within the congregation by providing the best-sounding music possible.
“He has successfully revived a music program that was on life support,” says Linda Hargraves, treasurer and chair of the church’s Music Committee.
This revival includes supporting all to contribute their musical talents to the church.
Jonathan hopes to help the overall congregation, “participate most of the time,” he says.
For the 13-member choir that he directs, his goals are to encourage members of all abilities to feel welcome and to keep coming back.
“People come to practice because they want to be here,” says Jonathan. “I have people in their 80s and in their 30s; it’s important to know that no matter where you are with your musical ability, we can move forward collectively.”
Jonathan is motivated by making a difference in people’s lives through music.
“There is something emotional about music,” he says. “You can’t put it into words, but it has an impact.”
Jonathan remembers a time when a parishioner was having a difficult week. The member came to choir practice and later said to him, “Those four verses in that hymn, they really stuck with me,” and helped her through her difficulties.
The music that Jonathan selects for Old Stone Church, whether it’s a regular Sunday worship service or a special service such as a wedding or baptism, “does not sound like most things you hear on the radio. It has challenging text with verses being dark and having good lyrics; the music is complex and interesting.”
Helping people to understand this type of music is another of his goals, as he believes it can have a more lasting impact in their lives, more so than music that’s easy to understand and repetitive.
To help reach a wider audience with this type of music, Jonathan and his staff have planned a recital at the church, at 251 Main Street, on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 4 p.m., featuring Yale graduate student Chase Loomer. A reception will follow in the church’s newly refurbished fellowship hall.
The concert will help showcase the Johnson pipe organ that was built for Old Stone Church in 1894, components of which remain from that original construction.
“Jonathan was the one who discovered how old it was,” says Hargraves. “We knew it was old. We didn’t know how old it was.”
Jonathan was able to piece the history of the organ together by noticing a 1949 dedication plaque that sits directly across from the organ in the upper loft of the church.
“I am staring at that sign all the time, so it led me to an investigation,” he says.
Investigate he did.
On the organ’s next tuning, Jonathan rolled up his sleeves and explored, along with two technicians from the Yale School of Music.
The large instrument takes up more than 30 feet of balcony space and consists of 1,006 pipes, with the largest pipe being 16 feet.
“Pipe organs are individually produced. They are made to match the space that they are in,” Jonathan says.
Tone quality in an organ is affected by several different factors including the length, shape, and air flow through its pipes, according to Jonathan.
“What makes a difference is the type of pipe you have selected and the amount of pipes in combination at the same time,” he described. “It can sound like an orchestra.”
Jonathan’s wealth of knowledge about the organ comes from his educational background and training.
He earned a B.A. from Connecticut College in English and organ performance, an M.A. in English from Trinity College, and a Ph.D. in English and education and a 6th-year degree in educational leadership from the University of Connecticut.
Although Jonathan was a high school English teacher for 20 years and now works as assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction, and assessments for the Trumbull school system, he always stayed true to his passion as an organist and choir director.
For more information, visit www.oldstonechurchucceasthaven.org.
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