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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   October 2008



Tuning in to the 1880s

First Presbyterian Church of Silver City celebrates its 125th anniversary with a Hi Lo Silvers concert of songs popular when the church was founded.

Story and photos by Donna Clayton Lawder

What do a procession of bagpipers, hand-dipped ice cream and music from the Civil War era have in common? They all are part of First Presbyterian Church in Silver City's yearlong celebration of its 125th anniversary, which hits a high note this month.

Hi Lo Church
Pastor Bob Reese stands in front of First Presbyterian Church in Silver City, where he has been the pastor for 10 years.

"It's a big milestone," reflects the congregation's pastor, Rev. Bob Reese. "We've been doing a variety of special things — finding any excuse to throw open the doors, you could say — to invite people in, get to know them, and to let them get to know us."

In June, the congregation had a special celebratory worship service — complete with a bagpipe processional.

"In August, we had an ice-cream social to welcome people in to meet our church community," Reese says. "That's an example of what we're trying to do, reaching out into the neighborhood. These people all around us are our neighbors, not just 'potential new members,' and we want to know them and them to know us."

Continuing the celebration this month, First Presbyterian Church will participate in World Communion Sunday, Oct. 5, and host a special concert by the Hi Lo Silvers, Oct. 17 and 19.

Of the World Communion worship service, Reese says, "We're going to have real bread, a special component that I think makes the offering so appealing. We'll literally 'break bread' together." He adds that he hopes Christians from other traditions — and even others who are not so sure of their faith — will join in celebration that day with his congregation.

The concert by the Hi Lo Silvers, the pastor says, will be another welcoming event. "People from the community, no matter what their faith, are invited to come and enjoy this musical event."

The Hi Lo Silvers singing group rents rehearsal space at the church and performs there as well. Artistic director and founder Valdeen Wooton says the group started out rehearsing in members' homes, then switched to First Presbyterian because one of the singers who was a member of the church suggested the space.

"It's got marvelous acoustics," Wooton adds. "We love rehearsing there and having our public concerts there."

Wooton founded the Hi Lo Silvers in November 2000. She chooses and arranges the music for the concerts and leads the group in rehearsals. Along with accompanist Virginia Robertson and Wooton, there are 21 singers.

"We don't want the group to ever become unwieldy, so even though we're not big on having a lot of rules, we did take a vote at one point that 24 is our max," Wooton says with a laugh. Two of the original five Hi Lo Silvers are still members.

"We started out singing anywhere we could, performing-wise. Sometimes they were just little events, adding a touch of live music to a gathering or party," Wooton says. "In the beginning, we sang for anybody who'd listen to us. Now we are large enough and confident enough that we can put on a whole public concert, not just a 20-minute presentation. That bigger level of performing started around 2004."

The Hi Lo Silvers now offer set autumn and spring performances each year, and Wooton says that, thanks to popular demand, the group has also offered a Christmas performance for the past three years. The format is usually a Hi Lo Silvers concert performance for the first half of the concert, then a holiday sing-along with the audience for the second half.

"It works out perfectly every year. Making part of the concert a sing-along takes enough of the work out of it so that it's easy for us. And it's a real joy!" Wooton enthuses. "Christmas is a natural time for a sing-along, anyway, because people have their favorite carols and hymns, and they want to sing out. For that second half, we let the audience pick what they want to sing and we just sing along with them."

And the group has added one more special gig this year, for the occasion of First Presbyterian Church's 125th anniversary — an event for which Wooton says she's taken particular enjoyment in selecting the music.

"This concert is a bit different. Usually we focus on show tunes, patriotic songs, folk songs," she explains. "When we were asked to do the (church's anniversary) program, I searched for music from the past 125 years, of course, back to 1883, even back to 1880 actually, to see what was popular. I pulled a bunch of things together and brought it to the group for consideration. The girls looked at the music and decided, 'Yeah, we can do that.'"

Among music popular from that time are such recognizable hits as Gilbert and Sullivan tunes from Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore, which Wooton notes were all the rage at the time.

"There are some hymns that were popular in that era and that still are," she adds. "And I've chosen tunes that are historically relevant, having to do with the Civil War, which was, of course, still very much felt in those days. Things like 'Tenting Tonight' and 'Darling Nelly Gray,' which is the story of a black woman stolen away and never heard from again.

"We'll also do some stuff that's just plain silly and fun, like 'Polly Wolly Doodle All Day.' I'm quite certain 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' was popular, so I've come up with an arrangement of that."

Wooton describes the overall atmosphere of the concert as one that will bring a feeling of history and be enjoyable to listen to.

"It gives a flavor of the era and conveys the timelessness of music. It amazed me, actually, how much music I found from those 'olden days' that will entertain a modern audience. These songs still are known. It would have been easy to come up with three or four programs, in fact!" she says. "The concert is for the church's anniversary, but the music will celebrate and bring in a larger sense of history, so I think a wide range of people are going to enjoy it."

First Presbyterian Church will celebrate World Communion Day Oct. 5, at its regular 10:15 a.m. worship service, followed by a time of greeting and fellowship. Sunday School follows, 11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The Hi Lo Silvers concerts in honor of the church's 125th anniversary will be Friday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 19, 3 p.m. at the church, 1915 N. Swan St., Silver City, 538-3513. The Hi Lo Silvers rehearse Wednesdays, 12:30-2:30 p.m., at the church. They still have room for a new member or two. Call Carolyn Baldwin at 388-8771 or Valdeen Wooton at 535-4212.

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