Celebrating 150 Years of Music Ministry at First-Plymouth Church, Lincoln Nebraska

The Beginning

First Congregational Church, organized in 1866, was the first church to settle in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Its second church building was dedicated in 1887. One of the features of this new building was its pipe organ, one of the first in the city. Carrie Bell Raymond became the church organist and served as organist and director of music for 40 years. The largest bell in our current carillon is named in her memory.

In 1887, First Congregational Church also organized Plymouth Congregational Church. Very quickly Plymouth Congregational Church had its own distinction in the ministry of music, and one of its priorities was to have a fine pipe organ in its building. Also during the season of 1895-96, six musical events for the church and community were planned by the Plymouth Choir of that congregation. The price for all six musicals was 50 cents for a season ticket, and 10 cents per musical without a season ticket.

First Congregational Church and Plymouth Congregational Church merged in 1923, and the combined resources of the new music ministry took on an expanded role.  When the current First-Plymouth building was completed in 1931, a new pipe organ and Lincoln’s first carillon tower enabled wider outreach for the ministry of music.

Wilbur Chenoweth, who was a professor in the University of Nebraska School of Music, H. T. Rangeler and Josephine Waddell were some of the distinguished Ministers of Music at First-Plymouth Church. In 1940, Dr. Arthur Westbrook, Chairman of the Department of Music at the University of Nebraska, began a long association with the church as Director of Music.   Myron Roberts, organ professor at the University, was First-Plymouth’s organist at this time.

When Westbrook and Roberts retired, First-Plymouth began employing a full-time minister of music.  This tradition has continued. Richard Morris served as the church’s first Minister of Music until 1972.

In 1972, Rev. Dr. Otis Young was called to serve as senior minister of First-Plymouth Church. In September of 1972, he hired John (Jack) Levick as Minister of Music. During Jack Levick’s 31-year tenure, the ministry of music in the church and in the community continued to grow and expand upon the solid foundation that had already been laid.   Levick’s creative and innovative leadership led to the launch of Abendmusik: Lincoln, a beloved concert series that continues to bring people together to experience excellence in the performing arts. 

Following Jack Levick’s retirement, Dr. Peter Eklund, Dr. Larry Monson, Dr. John Cummins, and Jeremy Bankson led the program admirably through a time of transition.  In 2009, Tom Trenney was called to become Minister of Music to First-Plymouth.  He has worked to refresh the traditions and renew the spirit of the music ministry.  In October 2016, all the ministers of music from the past 50 years will be present to lead the 150th Anniversary Reunion Choir.


Musical Firsts

First-Plymouth became the first Lincoln church to host a professional, resident brass ensemble and the first to introduce the Christmas Eve tradition of the English "Lessons and Carols." Along with the Nebraska Chamber Orchestra, the Lessons and Carols service was broadcast before a national audience on the CBS Television Network on Christmas Eve, 1980.


Touring Choir

The Plymouth Choir has undertaken five European concert tours including the honor of being the featured choir at the International Church Music Festival at England’s Coventry Cathedral in 1994.


The Lied Organ

In 1998, First-Plymouth dedicated its 110- rank, 6000-pipe symphonic organ, built by the Schoenstein organ company. The Lied Organ, named after a major community donor, is the largest in the Midwest and one of the most significant and unique organ installations in the country.


Collaborations

Through its outreach, First-Plymouth’s music ministry today enjoys a close relationship with Doane University in Crete, Nebraska, the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Nebraska Wesleyan University, York College, Concordia University, Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra, and many others.


Music Heard via Broadcasts

 

The beautiful music offered in worship at First-Plymouth is shared with many listeners throughout Nebraska and Iowa via the church’s weekly television ministry—Reach Out and Live. Thousands of people experience the hymns and anthems sung at First-Plymouth on the church’s popular YouTube channel. Recent recordings of the choir have been featured on Nebraska Public Radio and on national public radio’s Pipedreams, With Heart and Voice, and Sing for Joy.