Another stressful holiday season is upon us, but catching Midday Noels during your lunch break may offer an oasis from the Christmas chaos. The musical event at First Presbyterian Church on McCullough Street is happening this Thursday and next Thursday.
If you go, it looks just like you would imagine: a large church sanctuary, colorful stained glass windows, and people in long wooden pews focusing towards the front. But here the coin of the realm isn't the Gospel. It's music.
Last Thursday Violinist Andrew Small and pianist Jae Ha were the featured performers in Midday Noels, a concert program that Music Minister Tom Dooling said has been around for quite a while.
"This series began approximately 33 years ago, and so has been a gift to the downtown community ever since," he said.
Dooling has been managing the event ever since he got here in 2009. While First Presbyterian takes its mission seriously, this program’s religious aspect plays second fiddle to its music.
"They are not formal events. They are intended for people literally to come in and leave as need be because it's over a lunch time," he said.
About 150 came to the season's first event last Thursday, which will continue for the next two Thursdays.
"We want variety. We want them to be eclectic. They are a mixture of both sacred pieces you would hear if you came to church here, as well as secular pieces for the season,” Dooling said. “For the first time we have a bluegrass band to end the series. We have women's voices next week. We always feature Jae in some way."
Ha plays both organ and piano, and sometimes both at the same time.
“I came here about 2003...so that makes 16 years I guess?” he said.
Softspoken Ha said he believes music can have a higher purpose other than just being pretty sounds.
"I open their heart, through the music, and give them a chance to meet God through the music,” he said.
Dooling said that over the years these concerts have become must-attend holiday events for many.
"We easily have people coming today who will have come 15 or 20 years ago," he said.
Church Member Karen Gabrielson has been coming for quite a while.
"I've been a member of this church for almost 20 years. I wouldn't miss them for anything,” she said. “This is just the way to get in the mood and the spirit of the season."
Wiladene Wilming has been coming since the program started.
"I've been a member of ‘First Pres’ since about 1983,” she said. “We love these Noels that we have three Thursdays in a row in December."
If you're thinking a full bore concert in the middle of the day is something you can't fit in, Dooling wants you to know they're not actually concert length.
"We make them short. They generally run about 30 minutes, 40 minutes tops," he said.
That way business people and downtown workers can take a relaxing respite from the breakneck holiday pace. Near downtowner Rachel Lake’s seen a lot of these concerts.
"I always try to invite as many co-workers as I can. So two years ago when I was working downtown I was able to get four or five of my co-workers at that time to come with me and they all really enjoyed it,” Lake said. “Some of them have been coming back each year."
And Dooling said these lunchtime concerts actually make lunch available.
"We do this lavish hot lunch that's $10. We do a box lunch of a sandwich that's $4," he said.
Lake continued his point about the box lunches:
"...so you can grab those as you're leaving, and you know, I eat them on my way back, or at my desk."
Dooling says Midday Noels work in different ways on different people.
"...that will inspire them musically, that will give them a little lift, a little bit of a break from the hustle and bustle, that will hopefully move their minds to higher things," he said.
And we could all use a little lift.
IF YOU GO
What: Midday Noels
Where: First Presbyterian Church
When: 12 p.m. Thursday 12/12 and 12/19