“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” – Colossians 3:16,17

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” – Martin Luther

The Music Program at SecondFirst Church has a central place in worship, stemming from the long and proud traditions of music being a valued part of both of our constituent churches.  Our worship music spans many genres and styles, from art music (‘classical’) to gospel, and contemporary sounds, Taize’, as well as occasional forays into jazz and rock.

When music is used as a means for praising God, it is welcomed here.

Our music program includes a variety of opportunities for participation: our congregation participates by singing from the pews, clapping along to spirituals, ringing bells in our many bell groups, playing guitar, mandolin, or bass in our Church Street String Band and Folk Group, singing as a member of our choirs, playing Brass in our brass group, or by performing as soloists.

When music is a path through which you praise God, your musical gifts are welcomed here.

Vocal Music

The Sanctuary Choir is a mixed choir led by Music Director Paul Laprade. Rehearsals are on Thursday nights from 7:00 to 8:30, with a warm-up rehearsal at 9 am on Sunday mornings. The choir meets from late August through Pentecost and presents music for a majority of Sundays and Holy Days during that span of the liturgical year. The choir welcomes new voices at any time…especially in the fall. The most important qualification is that you like to sing! Please contact Paul Laprade at paul@secondfirst.org if you are interested.

The Woodwork Choir, Folk Group, and Church Street String Band meet on special occasions and present music for various services, particularly in the summer. Solos, duets, trios…all are welcome!

Hymnody is a focus of the music of our services. Our hymn resources support liturgy in content and spirit. We choose hymns from nearly every musical and cultural Christian tradition. Our congregation sings with joy!

Instrumental Music

Pianist Valerie Blair accompanies our choral and bell ensembles, supports our congregational singing, performs many of the preludes and postludes for our services, and offers her skills for many instrumental moments during our services. You may hear her perform Brahms or a ragtime hymn adaptation on our Steinway grand…or hear her perform Bach or a French Romantic period work on our four-manual Skinner organ.

For more than 50 years, SecondFirst has embraced handbells as a vital part of our music program. We currently have five handbell choirs for all ages, led by three handbell directors. Martin Ringers, Bellcanto Ringers, and Angelus Ringers are led by Julie Cook Ramirez, Interim Director of Bells (julie@secondfirst.org)  The Peanut Bells and Carillons are led by Directors Sarah Hallberg (sarah@secondfirst.org) and Joyce Zartman (joyce@secondfirst.org), respectively. In addition to special events, the bell groups perform throughout the traditional liturgical year. Interested in ringing in worship? Contact Julie Cook Ramirez or any of our fine directors!

Bell Ringers

Special Musical Events   

Special music includes the presentation of larger choral works in December and April/May, often accompanied by a small chamber orchestra, string quartet, brass quintet, or other ensemble. Some of the larger choral works include Rene’ Clausen’s A New Creation, J.S. Bach’s Cantata 142, Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass, Joseph Haydn’s Mass in E-flat Major, and Franz Schubert’s Mass in G. The choir has also performed commissioned works, such as Chicago composer Paul Carey’s God’s Nature.

Our bell groups join together twice a year to perform special events: Christmas Vibrations (December) and Ring in Spring (April). A variety of music adorns each of these events, which includes more bell techniques and styles than anyone would imagine….and dessert after the music ends! The church also hosts visiting performers and ensembles, and has offered many other events, such as a variety show, an annual Organ Walk (held in conjunction with the Rockford Chapter of the AGO), and occasionally even a silent movie night with exciting theatre organ sounds!

Our Instruments 

The handbells used at SecondFirst were cast and tuned at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry of London. There are 169 bells in the set including duplicates and triplicates—one of the largest sets of handbells in the country, and arguably one of the largest sets of Whitechapel bells in the world! The bells can play a range of 81 notes ranging from a low G (an octave and a fourth below middle C) upward to a high D# (an octave and a third below the top C on the piano).

Our organ is a four-manual Skinner. The sanctuary features a Steinway grand piano, and a Yamaha baby grand piano graces our choral rehearsal room. You may find our children using chimes in the “Peanut Bells” or playing Orff instruments on special occasions; our Sanctuary Choir is augmented with brass, strings, and occasionally djembe. Members of our congregation often perform on the piano, organ, guitar, and other instruments. You can read more about our organ here. Interested in playing during worship? Contact Paul!

The Music Ministry Team

Chairperson: Jan Novak

Our Music Ministry Team supports the vision and initiatives of the Music Director, providing assistance with every aspect of the church’s music program. Duties include approving expenditures, discussing and advising the congregation on various components of the role of music in worship, as well as planning and providing volunteers for special events, such as the Ring in Spring, Variety Show, and Organ Walk, and for concerts by visiting artists. Meetings are held the third Sunday of the month at 11:15 am in the Choir Room.

We invite you! Are you curious about our music program? Interested in being involved? No matter what your question may be, we invite you to ask. Contact our music director, Paul Laprade paul@secondfirst.org with any question or comment!

You are always welcome to become a part of our music making teams!

Peanut Ringers Director Sarah Hallberg teaches the kids a new song during rehearsal in Emerson Hall.

Peanut Ringers Director Sarah Hallberg teaches the kids a new song during rehearsal in Emerson Hall.