This section on the arts includes articles on art objects, poetry, choirs and musical groups, dance, drama, music in general, and musicals and concerts. (Note: See the Appendices for a list of Musical VIPs and Scott Merrick’s List of Events, which includes musical performances.)
Art and Poetry
Art Objects at the Church
by Grace Ulp
The bronze bird on the terrace is a gift from the Gildersleeve family in memory of two sons who died at an early age. The original gift was a small bronze bird that stood on the fountain in the Atrium—too small for safety. It was stolen by a member of the church family and never returned, so the Gildersleeves gave us a big bronze bird, fastened firmly to the earth.
The Memorial Wall, facing the terrace, has plaques placed for those members whose ashes are placed on church property.
A memorial bench to the right of the terrace was given in memory of Gertrude and Russell Beeson, who for years spent time and energy on the church landscape—weeding, planting, and caring for it. There are other memorial benches, not identified by plaque. One was given to honor a couple who, for years, folded the church bulletin and prepared it for mailing.
A bronze lectern made by sculptress Nancy Genn was commissioned, along with the candlesticks and urn, by the architects of the church. It was cast using the lost wax method, using close to five hundred pounds of molten bronze. Theodore Bernardi, one of the architects, guided the design for the shape of the top to hold a Bible. In 1963 the lectern was exhibited at the M.H. De Young Museum. A statue of the Buddha was loaned to us as a replacement. The Chronicle reviewer called it “the finest utilitarian sculpture he had ever seen.” The lectern was given by the Genn family in memory of Morley P. Thompson, Nancy Genn’s father and moderator of the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco. The lectern was part of the great chancel design for many years. Its non-representational design had the ability to elicit projections from viewers as do Rorschach ink blots – favorable and puzzled. Some saw a kneeling angel supporting the Bible, others found the bronze dark. Unfortunately a speaker at the installation of Barbara and Bill Hamilton-Holway refused to speak from it, calling it “demonic.” Within a few years the lectern was returned to the artist. It can be seen in photographs of the chancel from that time.
The Bible on the lectern was a gift from First Parish in Hingham, MA to this church. It was used as the pulpit Bible in the Old Ship church in Hingham from 1825 to 1875. The bible was a gift to John Howland Lathrop, minister of this church in 1906.
The great bronze bowl bell used in worship services was a gift from Dr. Lathrop’s family to the Boeke family. It was considered to be a national treasure by the Japanese—seeing it here, a Shinto priest, here to conduct a purification ceremony, bowed prayerfully to it, in recognition of its great virtue.
The organ, an Aeolian Skinner, was designed at the same time the sanctuary space was designed, and is considered to be one of the finest organs in California. It is a balanced American Classic, and will play almost everything written for the organ. There is a pamphlet that describes its ranks and stops and swells
A few wall plaques celebrate the ministers and some remarkable members of the church. One calligraphy records the words of Bernie Loomer on “Joining the Church.” In the Atrium are others of the Stoic’s Prayer, a quotation from Rumi, and a hymn, “Mother Spirit, Father Spirit.” These calligraphies are replaced from time to time by banners proclaiming church ideals
A calligraphic book recording gifts to the church rests in the Ellsworth memorial table. Mr. Ellsworth was Head Usher for many years, and the table serves to hold Orders of Service every Sunday morning. The calligraphy book was created by Fern Labuhn as were several of the atrium calligraphies.
There is a faun under one of the trees in the Atrium. It was in a garden of a church member for many years and was given to us by her family.
Banners lining the Social Hall were created by members of the church and the RE program to brighten the room and absorb some of the echoes natural to a rectangular room with a cement floor.
In the Fireside room there is a bronze relief sculpture of the Good Shepherd given by Henry Schaefer-Zimmern, an art teacher at the University, and a copper relief honoring Joe and Judy Fabry’s daughter who met an early death in the mid 1980s.
Out behind the Safir Room is a Transylvanian Gate, “Szekely Kapu” given to the church by Dr. Kati Lynn Kadar symbolizing our partnership with the Unitarian Church of Homorodujfalu in Transylvania, Romania. It was dedicated in April 2007.
On the hillside east of the church parking lot is a “Gunplow” sculpture, “Guns into Plowshares,” dedicated in 1994. The monument was created by Norma Lewis, a Carmel artist. It stands over the “graves” of 21 guns confiscated from local criminals by a local police department, and memorializes those murdered in an outbreak of killings in Richmond. It hopes to turn our minds to ways of non-violence and of peace.
Altar Table Decoration
by Grace Ulp
The furniture for the Altar Table is an urn to hold flowers and four candlesticks—all made by Nancy Genn, the artist who made the brass lectern, and given to the church by Dr. Cope’s family.
The candles were made by Dr. Cope during his ministry—he took a normal candle and covered it with beaten wax which made a lovely rough-finish candle to suit the candlesticks. When he retired, Grace Ulp took over the candlemaking. When she retired, the responsibility for candles was turned over to the Altar Flower Committee.
The Eternal Light over the altar table originally consisted of glass jars with a wick, filled by members of the Alliance, and replaced with another jar when the wax burned off. It required climbing on ladders. Finding this somewhat onerous, an electrical light was invented by Walter Nelson, our inventive genius. For many years it flickered, candlelight-wise. The flickering mechanism has since been put on hold.
At Christmas there were many poinsettia plants on the chancel table, to be given at the end of the season to our shut-ins. For many years there were at least a hundred of these plants donated and tended by a truly devoted member, Lemar Morrison. The dazzling display ended with his death.
The major and ongoing flower displays and seasonal or timely decorations are provided by the Altar Flower Committee whose truly creative artistry opens the silence before the worship service begins.
by Claire Baker
Back in the 1970s Rev. Boeke sent out the word that community poets were invited to the Fireside Room before service to take part in an open poetry reading. I heard about it from Lucile Bogue, a member and was impressed with that kind of community outreach. One time we read from the lectern in the sanctuary. It was a warm and impressive outreach, and I liked the idea of poetry as part of the church program. For years the Beacon on the Hill newsletter has carried a Poetry Corner including poems that members have written.
Choirs and Musical Groups
by Grace Ulp
This group meets on the first Sunday of each month at 5:30 p.m., sharing a potluck and then reading scenes or whole plays. No preparation is required—the participants are handed a script and read it cold. The group started with people who were cast in two of Donna Davis’s plays and wanted to sustain the deepened connections forged during those two productions. All are welcome to come and participate or to be an audience.
by Grace Ulp
A gamelan is a musical ensemble from Indonesia, typically from Bali or Java, with a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs, bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings. There may be vocalists. The term refers more to the set of instruments than to the players of those instruments. A gamelan is a set of instruments as a distinct entity, built and tuned to stay together—instruments from different gamelan are generally not interchangeable. It is an ancient and rich music, formal and traditional.
Our gamelan group is directed by Daniel Schmidt, meeting Thursdays, 6–7:30 p.m. It is easily accessible music, requiring no prior musical experience.
Youth and Children’s Choir
by Michèle Voillequé
Note from Grace Ulp: There have been three generations of children’s choirs since we moved up on the hill. The first was led by the choir director, Phyllis Wells. The second was led by Grace Ulp, who had an accompanist to help. The youth choir was involved in several of the music productions, Noye’s Fludde, for one, with sturdy singing and wonderful animal masks constructed on coffee cans and carried in a parade through the sanctuary. The group sang about once a month in the worship service, and some of the members later went on to be part of the adult choir.)
The Youth and Children’s Choir, as it exists in 2011, was started in 2004 by Michèle Voillequé at the request of Bryan Baker and the Music Committee. The YCC boasts between 12 and 16 singers, ages 5 to 12, and helps to lead 1:001 a.m. Sunday Worship services about once a month, as well as the early Christmas Eve and Easter services. The choir has performed together with the Adult Choir, Luminescence, and at many Music Program fundraising events, including Opera Alive!, The Music Party, Animal Crackers, and several Messiah Sing-Alongs.
In the words of Malcolm Dawkins, “we’ve sung bunch of times in front of the whole church, and it’s fun.”
The choir exists to teach children and youth “to make a beautiful vocal sound naturally; to be prepared and relaxed performers; to develop round- and part-singing ability, and to achieve excellence, mutual respect and kindness in our music-making.”
Thanks to Deborah Schmidt and Patricia and Walter Ellis, the choir has a few Orff Instruments and tone bars to play. We make regular use of them.
Together with Rev. Chris Holton-Jablonski, the Choir drafted its first Covenant of Right Relations in January 2008:
Because we love singing, making people happy when we sing to them, performing, getting to sing in worship regularly, knowing one another, making friends with new members and staying friends with the others, having Michele as our teacher, getting to use the tone bars, having conversations, when Michele plays the violin, when she teaches us dances …
We promise that we will …
Show respect for ourselves and other singers*
Speak and act kindly toward one another
Focus on the task at hand
Ask if we don’t understand something
*no hitting; no talking over other people, creating a distraction while others are trying to learn; no swearing or calling people names, being bossy…
As part of the Religious Education program, the choir performed and arranged music for The Quiltmaker’s Gift, a semester-long storytelling project in 2008. The choir also created a special mash-up of songs to say goodbye to Rev. Chris Holton-Jablonski, “a great minister,” in June 2011.
In closing, the YCC would like the congregation to know that “we really like singing and speaking in funny voices. Having fun is important. We are good at all of that.”
Note: For more about dance, see Roger Dillahunty’s piece in “Personal Stories”: Sharing My History at UUCB.
by Grace Ulp
Liturgical Dance is part of the worship service on many Sundays. The dancers interpret music or poetry or readings.
Memories of Dance
by Kay Fairwell
One of my favorite parts of worship services is dance. Before I came to UUCB, I never experienced dance in a Sunday service. My first time seeing Roger Dillahunty dance was awesome. I remember the sweet dance of Frances Hanna (in her 90s at the time!) and Roger. One of my favorite memories is of Sarah Bush dancing in the Atrium to one of my favorite songs (which I had recommended to her mother, Barbara Hamilton-Holway): “Feeling’ Good” sung by Nina Simone. I also remember with fondness dances of Bill Hamilton-Holway and Sarah Bush, Roger and Sarah, and members of the congregation joining our professional dancers in lovely meaningful services.
by Margaret Gudmundsson
The first play presented on our stage was HMS Pinafore in (I think) the spring of 1965. It was presented primarily by the choir but was assisted in many ways by lots of people from the church as a whole. A core group then did several other small things, but the first full-length straight play was JB with Charlie Schlaudt playing the part of Job. That was the beginning of Squirrel Hill Theatre. Within the next year or so we had presented You Can’t Take It With You, Androcles and the Lion (with Bill Ulp of course as Androcles; I think Bob Maynard was the lion and Frances McDaniel was Mrs Androcles) and Telemachus Clay. Generally the choir (or Music Committee/Program) did a musical every other year. In the early years it was all Gilbert & Sullivan. I think Music Man was the first Broadway show we did. Erda Labuhn did much of the design for sets, and Grace Ulp did a lot of the design for costumes. Dick Labuhn oversaw a lot of the set construction.
by Grace Ulp
Straight theatrical performances started tentatively with a rather gaudily costumed playlet in the Sanctuary about queens and princes. Getting directors was easy—there were lots in the area who had just the play in mind. Getting actors was easy—lots of our people were enthusiastic about being on stage and learning parts and getting “into” a role. Harder was finding producers, set building, costume making and prop finding, and back stage people to fix and find and see that it all ran smoothly. And storage for all of the above! Over time, decent lighting was acquired. In its prime, Squirrel Hill Theatre put on three plays a year, had a committee and officers and meetings to discuss all of the above.
Scheduling rehearsals into a busy Social Hall took tact on all sides. The result was a very lively in-house theater group. And there were cast parties. Lots of community-building.
Breaking in the New Worker
Jay Hanks wrote and produced a play about the raising of the geodesic dome at the church’s Freestone Retreat. The play, with a ten-member cast, was directed by Erda Labuhn and performed on stage in the UUCB Social Hall on January 31, 1976 at the 2nd Annual Bacchanal. “Breaking In The New Worker” was published in the book Tales of Freestone, compiled by Maya Elmer (pages 131 to 148).
by Marin Fischer (the artist formerly known as “Lois”)
The first time I volunteered to paint scenery at the church was for Lily the Felon’s Daughter. It was three feet high and between six and nine feet long, painted on cardboard, so it wasn’t difficult to manage. It was a scene of a garden path with a fountain at the far end, seen through a marble balustrade.
The set for Into the Woods in 2011 was a much bigger job and took a lot longer, and I wondered at times whether I had taken on too much. The backdrop is approximately 10 feet high by 12 feet wide and required working on a scaffold. It was a good thing that Richard Hanway showed up to help because he fearlessly climbed to the top level, which I didn’t have the nerve to do. And he enjoyed painting all those scary little branches that gave the scene its spooky effect. The scrims were painted on a mesh fabric that is translucent when lighted from behind and opaque when lighted from the front.
Donna Davis deserves most of the credit for the actual design and color choices. She told me what she wanted and I did my best to make it the way she wanted it.
Acoustics at UUCB
by Warren Zittel
Most people attending our services give little or no thought to the acoustics of our church or our sound system, and that is as it should be. However, I do take some pride in that achievement. As a member of the committee headed by Ira Nelken that was chosen to wisely spend our precious Capital Campaign money eight years ago, it was my great pleasure to investigate the acoustics of our church and their impact upon our services.
What I found, simply put, is that our acoustics are very nearly perfect…for small musical groups. This is because of our size, and the fact that our space is reverberant at the 60 to 80 cycles per second range. Thus my string bass can be heard and felt in the back pews no matter how quietly I play. This makes us a very good venue for recording small ensembles and, in point of fact, we earn some revenue from these recordings. However, it also means, unfortunately, that the male spoken word becomes less intelligible. For example “Singing in the Rain” could easily be heard as “Sinking in the Drain,” depending upon how one is feeling on any given day. This paradox of having acoustics that serve us so well on the one hand, and yet having those same acoustic qualities serving us less than well on the other hand, meant that, unless we were willing to settle for bus-terminal level of intelligibility, we had to do more than simply amplify the sound. It meant that our new sound system needed acoustic engineering. This engineered solution to the problem is what you are hearing today.
Concert Grand Piano
by Jo Maxon
The impetus for getting our grand, grand piano came from our Minister Emeritus, Raymond Cope, several years after his retirement. He wrote [I don’t know to whom], saying that he felt the church really needed a nine-foot grand piano. He felt the church needed a concert-size grand piano. Dr. Cope gave a gift of $10,000 to the church so we could purchase the piano. We learned while shopping for the piano that we would need to raise more funds, and several folks contributed— the Griffiths, Bob Dad and me, and others.
I think folks from the Music Committee went shopping, probably with Eric Howe or Edwin Barlow. They found and played and liked the piano we now have, which has been played by certain jazz greats— I think Charlie Parker is one of them, maybe Dave Brubeck. If you lift the cover of the piano, there is at least one signature on the brass part near where the strings attach.
André Watts played benefit concerts on this piano early on. I believe he also recorded here. Julian White used to give annual concerts on it too.
by Eric Howe
Dr. Sharon Mann (SF Conservatory faculty) also played a recital on it, and led us to the master technician/tuner Sheldon Smith (who has since died) and his wife, Linda McCormick, who restored the Chickering for the church. The church’s Chickering was written about in a 2001 doctoral dissertation on Chickering pianos in the United States. Ours, serial number #86580, was made around 1896, heavy construction with a rosewood case with a bent tail. It has heavy, turned legs, carved leaves and tassels. The great competitor was Steinway, with its Erart repetitions, restored with new felt. The hammers, shanks and flanges were replaced—a “modern” action design giving a much more familiar, responsive touch, and a uniquely “American” sound. The artists were given their choice of which piano they wished to use – and the choice did not always fall on the Yamaha.
by Sandra Sodurlund
When I took the job at UUCB (January 1996) there was a harpsichord there. It was in poor repair and had not been very well built in the first place. I got information about an instrument that was being finished by Andrew Lagerquist, a builder friend of mine. He was eager to sell it when it was completed. So Eric Howe and I went to have a look. It was much better put-together than the one we had and sounded great. We wanted it and started looking around for funding. That was when Ladd and Jeanne Griffith spoke up. I don’t remember just when that was. Jeanne probably knows. Anyway, all of us have enjoyed the instrument ever since. I still use it for teaching and my own performances. I just played a piece by Herb for violin and harpsichord on it at the Sounds New concert in March.
(Note from Grace Ulp: There have been harpsichords at the church ever since the Messiah Sings used them: one was homemade from a kit and did not hold up well.)
Music Groups and Mama Sez
by Kathleen Baumgardner
Most of my favorite memories from church include music and music program fundraisers. When making music with a group of people, magic happens. Not only does each individual bring their own life force to bear, but an additional entity is born—that of the music itself. I became acutely aware of this when singing in the a cappella quartet Mama Sez. I met Marleen Quint through the church choir and recognized in her a kindred spirit: rebellious, creative, talented, and vibrant. She invited me to join a group she was forming with two other friends of hers and, with her “Mama-ness” guiding us, we performed her wonderful arrangements together for several years, culminating in the production of a CD, which features some of our best work. It is through this work that I came to understand that creating music is my spiritual practice—through music I become part of the Universal source that connects us all.
(Note from Marlene Quint: It was an a capella singing group that was part of the church community for eight years, and is remembered for its joyous contributions to Sunday morning worship. It “popped.”)
Musicals and Concerts
by Grace Ulp
From time to time music creations that are not Broadway music in origin are presented—usually in the Sanctuary. One memorable one darkened the room completely: “Lite Works: A Holiday Pageant” introduced itself with the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance processional up the side aisle in the gloom. What a memory!
Opera a la Carte
by Grace Ulp
These programs were put on by the choir as fund raisers on alternate years with the musicals. A really elegant five-course dinner served by singing waiters (the choir, of course), served with flair, with musical entertainment between courses. Twenty 8-place tables surrounded the central entertainment area. Many times the dessert course was flaming—brought out into the darkened Social Hall by a parade of waiters. Our kitchen was up to the task. Several times the gourmet meal was planned and supervised by Kenneth Wolfe, chef-instructor in culinary arts at Contra Costa College. The coffee for the affair was donated by Alfred Peet, on condition that we make the coffee in the large professional urns with cloth filters, and not in the faithful electric percolators that had provided witch’s brew for so many Sunday coffee hours. (Our custodian at the time had been accused of using half old grounds, half new to make it.)
The music! Ah, the music! Scenes from Carmen! Arias! Sung by our own soloists and some friends of Phyllis Wells, who had a wide circle of acquaintances who liked to perform. The choir always had a few numbers from operas (or operettas) lauding joy, youth, champagne. The Berkeley Gazette (we had a local newspaper back in those days) often gave us a good spread. Some people would “buy a table”—eight places—and invite their friends, sometimes returning for a number of years. A good show.
by Ken McPherson
I remember South Pacific. This was an important and wonderful turning point in my life. In 1996, I was taking acting lessons and an acting class with Verna Winter, an iconic Berkeley teacher. At one point she told me I had to get off the couch and actually audition for something. I got a copy of Callboard magazine, which listed Bay Area auditions. I saw that a church in Kensingtion (that I had never heard of) was doing the musical South Pacific. I went up on the appointed evening and was greeted by Margaret Gudmundsson and Eric Howe. I had never auditioned for anything before and I was so totally freaked out that I could not even sing so Eric had me read from the script. I got a call from Margaret in a few days, asking if I would like to be the character Stew-pot. I said yes. At the end of the run, Eric asked if I would think about joining the choir. I called him in late August and said I would like to give it a try. I had left Sunday School when I was 15 and the fact that this was a “Church’ hadn’t really registered with me. They handed me a robe and I never looked back. My first Sunday in the choir was also Bill and Barbara Hamilton-Holway’s first Sunday preaching. The Buddhists have a term (I forget what it is) for a small event that changes one’s life. I think answering that audition call was that small event.
by Jeanne Griffith
Musicals. Wow! A chance to be in a Broadway musical! (Without an audition!) My appearances in the chorus for South Pacific, Oklahoma and Gilbert and Sullivan shows were a miracle to me as a long-time devotee of Broadway. Oklahoma also included square dancing with my late husband, Ladd.
Other choice experiences were unforgettable: singing at the Hiroshima Monument during an IARF trip, floating lanterns on the river in honor of the victims, and singing at a concentration camp in East Germany during another IARF trip, under Reverend Boeke’s leadership.
These are life-time highlights while being in our wonderful choir. I am deeply grateful.
by Terry Merrick
As I remember, it was only a couple of years after our UUCB choir was formed that Phyllis Wells broached the idea of doing Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore. Who could resist Phyllis’s enthusiasm? Dick Labuhn did a lovely set. Grace Ulp and I did costumes. We went down to Oakland to a fabric outlet and changed our ideas and designs according to the fabrics and colors available. Those first costumes, the ladies’ dresses, cut with sheet lining for body, turned out beautifully, I thought. Of course there were problems but, in general, I think all the participants had a wonderful time and it was a good church event. Grace added gold braids to the admiral’s jacket until he was a gilded wonder. We eventually did almost all of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas and several musicals. During those times I did posters, designed and painted sets, and designed and helped make costumes. I also sang in the chorus of the performances. Of course I was one of several who did those things. Grace Ulp and Erda Labuhn also designed and sewed and sang. And others. I remember the openable wings Grace made for the peers in Iolanthe and the hat that could turn inside out for Harold Hill in The Music Man. Very clever! The dress Erda designed for The Merry Widow and Grace constructed was exquisite. We had good singers and an orchestra, and I look back and think that our productions truly were unusually good for an amateur group. Another good thing was that a number of young people were in the orchestra, and children were in the productions like The Music Man. Several productions with just children and young people were very good—my memory of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was that it was definitive!
If I have any regrets about that period of my life it is because I was so involved with the music-drama that I did not get to know a lot of people outside these areas. I enjoyed being in the choir. Our choir sang well and did a lot of great music, choir concerts, special music for Christmas. Although we have lived across the Bay now over 30 years, I remember many people in Berkeley with great affection. A number have moved away or passed away, including our favorite tenor, Dan Gensemer, a long time ago; and our favorite baritone, John James who died just a couple of weeks ago. I think that the musicals made some money as fundraisers, although not a lot, as theater is expensive. The greater return was camaraderie, bringing in new friends and members and calling on a lot of us to do more than we thought we could.
Partner Church Concert
by Grace Ulp
A fine result of our Sister Church relationship was a concert by Tibor Szasz, a Hungarian pianist born in Transylvania in 1945. He is the grandson of a Unitarian bishop in Rumania. He began studying piano at age 4, debuted with the Cluj Philharmonic Orchestra at 16, and has performed at Carnegie Hall and with the Boston Pops Orchestra. He gave a concert Thursday, November 15, 1976, at our church while on a brief California tour, playing works by Beethoven, Liszt, Gershwin and Bach.