Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Person of the Week

Nathan Bayreuther: A Life of Music

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Nathan Bayreuther is the director of music ministry at the First Congregational Church in Madison. He says that music “can be a very spiritual avenue to learning more about God,” and the ability of music to move an audience can be both emotional and visceral. 

Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source

Nathan Bayreuther is the director of music ministry at the First Congregational Church in Madison. He says that music “can be a very spiritual avenue to learning more about God,” and the ability of music to move an audience can be both emotional and visceral. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)

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Nathan Bayreuther is the director of music ministry at the First Congregational Church in Madison. He says that music “can be a very spiritual avenue to learning more about God,” and the ability of music to move an audience can be both emotional and visceral. 

Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source

Nathan Bayreuther is the director of music ministry at the First Congregational Church in Madison. He says that music “can be a very spiritual avenue to learning more about God,” and the ability of music to move an audience can be both emotional and visceral. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)

The office of Nathan Bayreuther has a few distinct items not common in most work areas. His two desks are positioned in an L shape, one accommodating an electronic Yamaha keyboard that engulfs the entire desk while the other holds a pair of small speakers on either side of his computer monitor. The far wall of his office is adorned with sets of pipes of varying sizes from old pipe organs. On the walls just outside of his office hang framed posters of past concerts he helped organize.

The office accessories reflect Nathan’s position as the director of music ministry at the First Congregational Church in Madison, a position he has held since 2005.

“If I have something I’m thinking about, and I want to play a piece of music to hear how it sounds, then I’ll do that,” Nathan explains about the keyboard. “But mainly it’s so that it can be hooked up to my computer. It enables me to have it connected to my notation software, so I can arrange and then print sheet music pretty easily.”

As for the pipes, Nathan says, “Some are from the first church I served in New London; the church replaced the original 1870 pipe organ with a digital one in the late 1990s, and when they sold a number of the organ pipes, I was able to keep some of the smallest ones that nobody wanted. Others are gifts from various friends and colleagues.”

As music director, Nathan is responsible for training and working with not one, not two, but three vocal choirs: the Spirit Choir, an intergenerational group that practices every Sunday just before service; the Chancel Choir, a children’s choral group from grades 4 to 8; and the adult choir composed of members high school aged and older who sing multiple-part music every week. He also works with a fourth group, the Handbell Choir, which operates on a four-week rotation, rehearsing for four weeks and performing the following Sunday.

The work is certainly a full load, but Nathan doesn’t let the daily pressures of the job get the better of him. A good-natured man, he has a genial way about him and a tendency to humility, deferring to composers whatever credit he receives for the music he plays.

“I consider myself just kind of an interpreter. I give the credit to all these other people who made this music,” he says, adding, “I don’t really write much of my own.”

He also sees the humor in situations and admits that “glee” takes a different meaning at choir practice.

“We have a great time,” he says. “We laugh our heads off all the time in rehearsals.”

And yet Nathan takes music seriously. His skill behind the pipe organ is unmistakable and he has received accolades for his musical talent.

The journey to become a music director began with piano lessons at an early age.

“My grandfather was the one who told my mother, ‘Get that boy piano lessons,’” he says with humor.

He began his lessons at age 8 and persevered for 10 years. At age 13, he started his career as a professional organist at the First Congregational Church in New London; immediately after high school, he was hired as the full-time director of music.

In 2005, he accepted the position of director of music ministry at the First Congregational Church in Madison. He also established himself as an organ recitalist across Connecticut and in New York City when he performed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 2015. He was invited to return for another performance at the cathedral on Sunday, March 29, at 3:15 p.m.

He has a B.A. in music, organ performance, graduating magna cum laude from Central Connecticut State University. He studied music under Dr. Ezequiel Menéndez, director of music ministry and organist of the Archdiocese of Hartford at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph, and with Godfrey Tomanek, a noted organist, composer, and teacher from Old Lyme.

In 2014, Nathan also signed with Arabesque Records music label in New York City and released an album, Christmas with The Steinways.

At the First Congregational Church in Madison, he has taken on significant projects, including the restoration of an old Steinway piano in 2007.

“We did a lot of fundraising for it. And once it was all restored—[it is made of] rosewood—it was just a beautiful instrument. We put it in the sanctuary so we could use it for services,” he explains.

The project was followed by an even bigger undertaking: the restoration of the church’s 1929 Möller pipe organ.

The instrument, Nathan says, is “pretty unique because it’s what’s called a symphonic pipe organ, which means that it was really meant to sound as closely as you can to a real orchestra, like a symphony.”

He adds that a pipe organ is the “kind of instrument that can go from nearly inaudible to heroically powerful.”

As with any historical musical instrument, it needed to be restored and its many parts needed repair. Nathan took on the project and reached out to the community for support.

In 2019, the A. Thompson-Allen Organ Company painstakingly replaced thousands of bits of brittle leather and refurbished the 1,547 pipes. The organ was successfully restored to “like-new” condition and was rededicated in January 2020. The cost of the entire project was close to $300,000.

The ability of the community to come together to complete the project “speaks certainly to the congregation’s and the community’s appreciation of music. But it also speaks of their generosity. This is a very generous congregation, and it’s a privilege for me to work here,” Nathan says.

As director of music ministry, he also organizes many of the music events and concerts at the church.

One of them is the annual Five Fridays Lenten Concert Series that takes place from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. with guest organists playing the first four Fridays and Nathan performing the culminating event on Good Friday. This year, Good Friday falls on April 10; for each of the Lenten Fridays, the public is invited to bring their lunch to the church for the free half-hour concert.

In addition, Nathan organizes concerts by bands and chorales, including The Glenn Miller Orchestra on Saturday, April 25 at 7 p.m.

When he is not at the church playing the organ or rehearsing with the choirs, Nathan is likely to be spending time in his home in Northford with his wife, Liz, and seven-year old son, Harrison.

He is also passionate about sailing, a pastime that captured his interest even as a child. His office walls are decorated with pictures of boats, including one of him on his 19-foot sailboat, Orion.

Nathan says that “in both sailing and playing music, you’re able to take a lot of liberties. There aren’t too many road signs that you have to follow. There are [only] a few. You have to follow the channel and you should really do what the composer asks.”

He explains that the ability of music to move an audience can be both emotional and visceral. He recalls one occasion when the adult and handbell choirs visited a nursing home to perform before the residents, many of whom had either physical challenges or difficulty communicating.

“When we sang and played for them, all of a sudden, their faces changed. [The] residents who had their head(s) tilted over to one side, very slowly started picking their head(s) up and there was this spark they were filled with because of this music. And that was really touching to me. It really showed me the power of music to reach people,” Nathan says.

Yet he insists that the ability to touch lives does not rest with him.

“I don’t even really like to say that I do that,” he says. “I like to say the music does.”

That is what music is, he adds.

“For me and for my profession and the way that I look at it, it is the way to experience God at a very deep level, a very spiritual level. Music is very spiritual; [it] can be a very spiritual avenue to learning more about God and experiencing God’s work within us.”

For more information about the events at the First Congregational Church in Madison, including the Five Fridays Lenten Concert Series and the concert by The Glenn Miller Orchestra, call 203-245-2739, ext. 14, or visit www.fccmadison.org.

To nominate a Person of the Week, send an email to m.caulfield@shorepublishing.com.


Maria Caulfield is the Associate Editor for Zip06. Email Maria at m.caulfield@shorepublishing.com.

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