Combination of arts lends new ‘Tone’ to concert

How many people can say they have sung with Kurt Elling? As of Sunday, June 3, more than 350 people at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Rockford.

It was all part of “Tone on Tone: An Organ and Calligraphy Concert,” to celebrate the re-dedication of the church’s newly-refurbished organ at its central worship site, 600 N. Horsman St. Kurt Elling and his father, Henry, were participants in the 4 p.m. concert, along with organist Marsha Foxgrover and visual artist Timothy R. Botts. Videographer Marc Miller displayed the talents of art and music together on a big-screen projector.

Foxgrover’s credits include: the Organ Conference of the University of Michigan, the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, and two Far Western Regional Conventions of the American Guild of Organists. A review in the Los Angeles Times called her playing “… impressive, performing some formidable German works from memory…” The American Organist praised her: “… she has to be one of the most fantastic players around. Her playing is clear and vital, registrations appropriate, and her technique is phenomenal.”

Her academic appointments include Rockford College, Azusa-Pacific University and the College of DuPage. Her church music appointments as organist include Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena, Calif.; First Covenant Church in Rockford; and Wheaton Bible Church in Wheaton, Ill. Her most recent recording, Barber’s Adagio: A Concert of Organ Classics, has been enthusiastically received.

Timothy R. Botts is the senior art director of Tyndale House Publishers in Wheaton, Ill., where he has designed more than 700 books. He teaches calligraphy part time through the College of DuPage and conducts workshops internationally. Botts refers to his work as “word pictures which serve to communicate the message of inspirational words by their visual presentation.” He has published eight books of calligraphy. He is also working with Masterpiece Ministries to mentor young people in the arts.

For the first selection, Allegro from “Concerto in A Minor” (BWV 593) by Johann Sebastian Bach, Botts illustrated Isaiah 9:6, a popular Christmas text, in calligraphy. For “A Spiritual Pair: Diptych for Organ” (1994) by Dan Locklair, he illustrated “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in letters with a fluidity of motion suggesting movement through the skies. In the next part, “Go, Tell It!” the letters were stacked on top of each other suggesting a mountain.

The Gospel prelude “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” typically presented in its white heritage format, was given an African-American treatment on the organ. Botts printed out the troubles that might plague the Christian, and how Jesus overarches them all.

The prelude on “Were You There” recalled Christ’s crucifixion. Botts wrote “Were You There” in stark black letters, then off to the side in bright red, “When They Crucified My Lord,” followed by somber blue letters “Sometimes It Causes Me to Tremble.” Then, in soft, flowing green letters, “When He Rose Up From the Dead,” and in bright pink, “Sometimes It Causes Me to Sing,” concluding with large, expressive purple letters, “Glory.”

Three hymns were part of the program. Kurt Elling sang a few stanzas solo on each hymn, and the congregation joined him in the other stanzas as his father played the organ.

Kurt Elling, noted jazz singer, has earned seven Grammy nominations for six Blue Note albums, has been at the top of Down Beat Critics and Jazz Times Readers’ polls for six years. He holds three Jazz Journalists’ Association awards for Best Male Vocalist, and has the Prix Billie Holiday from the Academie du Jazz in Paris. He has performed with many well-known artists and has written multidisciplinary works of art for The Steppenwolf Theatre and the city of Chicago.

His father, Henry, has directed the music program at St. Paul Lutheran Church for more than 30 years, serving as organist and choir director. He served Luther High School North in Chicago as choral director for six years. His choirs took many tours, including EXPO 1967 in Canada and Europe in 1968.

At the conclusion of the performance, Henry Elling was presented with a plaque of appreciation for his many years of service to St. Paul. All those who participated were given a standing ovation by the congregation.

from the June 6-12, 2007, issue

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