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The History of Music at Venedocia's Salem Church

In April 1848, the William Bebb family, Thomas Morris family and Richard Jervis family settled in what was to become Venedocia. All three of these families came from North Wales, and from the first Sunday, they met for worship, Sunday School, and prayer meetings. According to the genealogy of the Bebb family, one of the motivating forces behind William Bebbís decision to leave Wales behind and immigrate to the United States was the desire to have four part singing in worship. He had been teaching four part singing to the youth of the community, and the elders of the local church did not approve and would not allow it within the church, going so far as to threaten to excommunicate him if he didnít stop corrupting the children of the region. With this as one of the motivating forces for their emigration, it is no wonder that music has always been a very important part of Salem Church.

Under the direction of a chorister, the congregation perfected the singing that the elders in Rhiwgriafol sought to prevent, and in the 1937 book One Hundred Years of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism in America, Daniel Jenkins Williams wrote, "A conspicuous characteristic of the Venedocia Church is its remarkable and inspiring congregational singing."

The Gymanfa Ganu, literally, "festival of singing," is a long standing tradition in the congregation. Beginning in 1915, the annual report lists payment made to Dr. Daniel Protheroe of Chicago, Illinois, who came regularly for a number of years to direct the Gymanfa Ganu. He was a prolific hymn writer, and wrote at least two hymn tunes named after Venedocia.

In 1890, the Venedocia Male Chorus was formed, continuing the Welsh tradition of male choirs. For over 20 years this group toured the nation, and won the National Eisteddfod competition in Seattle, Washington. They disbanded about 1912, and in 1918, the Cambrian Glee Club was formed "to develop an organization which would afford an opportunity for the young men of the community to follow in the footsteps of their fathers and older brothers who were active members of the famous male chorus which flourished in the community from approximately 1890 to 1912 and to maintain the excellent tradition which it had so effectively established; to maintain an interest in choral work for which the Welsh people are so well known; to make it possible for the young men to exercise their God-given talent for their own personal satisfaction and to provide entertainment for those interested in male chorus singing. Two strict requisites were made: only single men were to be admitted to membership and that the accompanist was to be a male." Their first director and president, Haydn Morgan, went on to become a professor of music at Eastern Michigan University and wrote and arranged a number of anthems for church choirs. The Cambrian Glee Club performed concerts throughout the region, and beginning in 1930, held annual reunions Labor Day weekend, coinciding with Salemís Gymanfa Ganu. Throughout the history of the congregation, a number of young people have gone on to careers in music, from organists and choir directors to performers and composers.

The importance of music in the life of the congregation is also reflected in their willingness to quickly adapt new musical technology. In 1920 electric blowers were installed on the organ, and the church borrowed the money necessary to complete the work. In 1971, a new 19 rank Moller pipe organ was dedicated, replacing the original 1898 Barckhoff Pipe Organ of 14 ranks that had been removed the previous November.

In 1954, the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers was formed, and in 1963 Schulmerich became the first company in the United States to manufacture handbells. Salem Presbyterian Church quickly became involved in what was to become the growing popularity of handbells, and in November of 1964, a gift of 25 Schulmerich cast-bronze handbells were given to the church in the memory of Thomas A. Morgan by his family. In the fall of 1969 an additional 13 bells were given by Mr. and Mrs. Layton Jenkins in memory of both their parents, for a total of 38 bells covering a three-octave range. From December 1965 through May 1972, 30 youth and 20 adults participated in the bell program which brought the mission of the bells over 9,000 miles reaching approximately 20,000 people (excluding radio and TV audiences). .

In September of 1997, we dedicated a baby grand piano given by the Davis family in memory of their two daughters, Marla Davis McOmber and Sharon Davis. Both of these young women had grown up in the church, and Marla had served as the churchís organist, and Sharon as choir director prior to their untimely deaths. The piano was originally given to Marla by her husband as a wedding gift, and upon her death was given to her sister, Sharon. When Sharon was killed in an automobile accident, it was given to the church in memory of the two sisters.

Even in the face of untimely deaths and important leaders moving away, the music program at Salem Church continues and grows, reflecting the continuing emphasis the congregation places on music. The bell program continues today, with three active children and youth bell choirs including children ranging from kindergarten through high school. Our junior choir program, which is open to all elementary age children and meets after school on Wednesdays, has about 30 active participants. The 1997 Sunday School Christmas program was centered around music, and included choirs, handbells, flute and piano, with over 60 people contributing their talents.


Known Music Leaders at Salem Presbyterian Church

Translated from the First Church Report of 1896:
After the death of Thomas Morris and William Bebb, the responsibility of leading the singing fell to William G. Bebb. The following persons also assumed an interest in and helped with the singing: John Hughes, Evan B. Evans, Rowland Whittington and Rhys Price; but the one that did most for the singing in Salem Church was John D. Richards. He led the singing for over a quarter of a century. Because of failing health in his later years, he was not able to continue as previously, and last October he resigned. The responsibility then fell upon Robert R. Thomas, who was assisted by William C. Morgan and Richard S. Breese. The church on many occasions expressed its appreciation for the labors of Mr. Richards, and at his resignation, presented him with a gift.
Since the time of that report the music ministry of the church has gone forward under the leadership of the following individuals:
Choristers
Robert R. Thomas 1896-1911
James H. Jones 1911-1914
Thomas P. Roberts 1914-1918
J. Alford Breese 1918-1931
Thomas Jones 1924-1942
John Edgar Morgan 1936-1948
Carl Morgan 1942-1955
Bebb Jones 1956-1976
Lee Lare 1977-1994, 1997
Organists
Margaret Breese Jenkins 1898-1902
Alice Jones Morgan 1902-1906
Eunice Evans Foster 1906-1919, 1924-1936
Frances Uhl Breese 1920-1924, 1936-1962
Anne Overholt Morris 1963-1967
Mary Ann Owens Matthews 1968
Carol Lanning Foster 1968-1980, 1993
Marla Davis McOmber 1981-1984
Connie Lloyd OíNeill 1981-1992
Joyce Morris 1981-1992
Harriet Schaadt 1993-present