The Wright Sound
story: Jim Dyer photos: Brent Van Auken
PILGRIM CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH WELCOMES A NEW MUSIC SERIES
Great architecture tends to resonate in the creativity it generates in human beings. In this regard, it’s not surprising that Pilgrim Congregational Church has long been a focal point for such inspirations. Designed by the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the late 1950s, the building is home of the United Church of Christ and has long been the venue for Shasta High School’s extravagant Madrigal Dinner.
Starting April 2, it will serve as a performing arts venue for a new music series called “The Wright Sound.” Musician and video producer Tony Armsdon formulated the idea not long after experiencing the church for the first time.
“It’s totally inspired by the space,” Armsdon says. “When I came in here, it just floored me. The music jumps out of the walls. There’s not another building that looks like this or sounds like this.” The first event (set for 6 pm April 2) will feature jazz vocalist Joe Catanio backed by a combo that includes bassist Bruce Calin (“A Prairie Home Companion”), pianist John Gonsalves, trumpet player MacKenzie Hughes and Armsdon on drums and percussion. The event will include two sets of music and an intermission with wine and hors d’oeuvres.
The church was designed by Wright just before his death in 1959 and was one of his last designs. He agreed to the project, saying (according to church literature), “If I like the ‘feel’ of a job, I take it.” Built by members of the church, the project had its setbacks. Limited funds delayed the work and forced changes to the original design. Only the fellowship hall of the original design was completed. Still, the building serves as a beautiful worship space for its congregation and the members enjoy inviting others to experience the space for artistic ventures, says minister Ann Muir.
Pilgrim is a “joyful, faithful Body of Christ that happens to have a beautiful building designed by a famous architect,” wrote Muir in an e-mail interview from Cairo, Egypt, where she’s been living for a portion of the winter. “We love and celebrate the arts in Redding and are interested in sharing our building in order that the community has another beautiful and unique venue for artistic events.” The church members see the new series and similar events as a way to serve the community.
“Other than the Madrigal Dinner, the building is not so well known,” Muir says. “The acoustics are wonderful and the venue is beautiful and unique. We’re interested in expanding community use for artistic ventures which are consistent with our ministry and spiritual presence in Redding.”
After the first concert, future shows are being planned for July, October and December 2011. Armsdon wants to film the upcoming events to produce PBS specials similar to the well-established “Austin City Limits” program, a public television mainstay.
“I like the idea of this intimate vocal storytelling where the artist really communicates with the audience,” Armsdon says. “It should be a wonderful experience and something totally unique to the North State.”
The first concert will feature Catanio, who has performed throughout the Bay Area alongside premier jazz musicians such as Dick Hindman, Mary Fettig and Grammy Award-winner Marc Russo (Yellow Jackets, Kenny Loggins, Doobie Brothers). Catanio has also performed in Las Vegas with the renowned Milton Berle.
“What a privilege to do an intimate concert in a venue like this,” Catanio says. “I’ve played a lot of big venues and some intimate venues, and the opportunity to play a venue where the audience is right on top of you with the acoustics and design of the church is so wonderful. I feel like the music is going to really be channeled through musicians and myself.”
Catanio is promoting his recent album, “Stories” (Ten K Records), which features songs that reflect many of the watershed moments of his life. Catanio co-wrote one of the songs on the CD and it features Grammy-winner sax player Ernie Watts on four tunes.
“Every song has a profound meaning to me and I’m going to give a little bit of a story behind each of the songs,” Catanio adds.
In addition to the four main concerts, Armsdon hopes to produce in-between shows that might include anything from theatrical performances to spoken-word poetry. For the concerts, he foresees a mix between top area artists and professionals from beyond the region.
“It’s the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in the State of Jefferson,” Armsdon says. “It’s a visceral experience to perform in here. This building might make you a better musician.”
The Wright Sound 6 pm April 2 Pilgrim Congregational Church, 2850 Foothill Blvd., Redding Tickets: $30-$35 More information: Visit “The Wright Sound” series’ Facebook page