By Zach Collier
Shortly after Dave Lewis began attending the Provo Community Congregational United Church of Christ, word started to get around that he played the organ. “It didn’t come from me,” he says. He then adds humorously: “A friend had a big mouth, apparently.”
After some time had passed, Lewis was asked to fill in for the Church’s organist. Eventually the organist was let go and Lewis was asked to fill in until they found a permanent replacement. Being June, he asked when that might be. The answer was August, or perhaps September, as they typically pulled from BYU’s music department once school was in session.
Two weeks went by and Lewis was offered the job.
“I hesitated to agree because I was not committed to being there at that point,” he says. “I wanted an escape if I chose. I asked if I could think about it, since they said they wouldn’t be hiring someone ’til fall anyway. They agreed. Every Sunday for weeks the pastor or a council member, or multiple, would ask me if I decided yet. I finally agreed, with the caveat that I wouldn’t have to run the choir. They agreed.”
Several months went by, but as the holiday season neared, Lewis was asked if he could help the choir learn a few numbers for Christmas. The rest is history. Dave Lewis is now the Music Director and Organist for the Provo Community Congregational United Church of Christ. He also helps with other roles around the church as well. He handles public affairs, manages the building, helps with repairs. He’s also the director of the Provo Interfaith Choir.
“The choir came into being about three and a half years ago,” he says. “I was approached by St. Mary’s – our neighbor across the street – and a Young Single LDS Stake about the idea of forming the choir. The culture here is so heavy-handed LDS that those who are not [LDS] often feel brushed aside and not important – some embittered. We wanted to show that despite differences, we can be friends and celebrate what is right in the world through music.”
Since that time, the choir has been involved in several events. Most notably, they were invited to sing at Orem Summerfest’s National Day of Prayer, held at UVU this past June. Upcoming events include an interfaith concert entitled, United We Sing!, held at PCCUCC and tentatively scheduled for October; and the 38th annual Carols by Candlelight, held the second weekend of December. Other events are yet to be announced.
Running the choir has been no easy task. Lewis says it is a challenge to get regular and frequent attendance at rehearsals. He cites Provo’s high residential turnover rate as the source of the issue. “We would like to have people of all ages in the choir, see it grow, and be a steady influence in Provo and Utah Valley,” he says. “I personally would love to see the choir grow to forty or fifty plus consistent members. Our goal is to enjoy singing and sharing it with others in the community.”
Lewis has made sharing classical music with the community a huge focus during his time at PCCUCC. The burning of the Provo Tabernacle and its restoration as a Mormon Temple was a huge blow to the community as far as the higher arts are concerned. The Provo Tabernacle was a cultural hub. It hosted concerts, community events, funerals, and speakers. One of the most notable concerts at the Provo Tabernacle was when legendary classical composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff performed there in 1938. Now that the building is closed except for Mormon adherents, its function as a cultural center has entirely ceased. PCCUCC is hoping to position itself as that new center for classical music in the community.
“That is exactly what we would like to see at PCCUCC, a place for the community to gather,” says Lewis. “The Church had partnered with a developer to reinvent the southwest corner of University Ave and 200 North. We had grand plans of creating a mixed use property encompassing a better part of the north end of the block with housing, store fronts, new space for the church made way by tearing down the older part of the church complex, and updating and improving the 1956-57 portion to be a draw for such events as well as worship. Plans included an art glass window installation and a large pipe organ, as well other improvements to update the space and structure.”
Unfortunately, after over two years, it became apparent to the Church that the project was not something that was possible with their current developer and the two agreed to part ways. Lewis says it was very painful and heartbreaking to himself and the Church members, since they worked so hard to make the project a reality.
“Going forward, the Church is still interested in partnering with a developer if the fit is right and we have a similar vision,” says Lewis. “The Church wants to remain downtown and be a vital part of the community. It wants events and beautiful music to ring through its amazing sanctuary for all to enjoy. As part of that effort the Church has made a push to revitalize its tired exterior with new landscaping the past two years.” Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of the north part of the building’s dedication – the iconic A-frame.
The building is currently available for use. All a group or organization looking to use the space has to do is apply. Rates are affordable, and after covering basic expenses like utilities, all money received goes back into maintaining and improving the building and its grounds “so it may be a welcoming place for all.”
PCCUCC is inviting all members of the community, regardless of faith tradition or background, to come and join the choir. There are no auditions, and the choir is open to anyone regardless of skill level.
“Seeing people come together, singing, interacting, feeling and showing love and respect for another despite differences – those are the highlights of directing this choir,” says Lewis.
The Provo Interfaith Choir rehearses Sundays from 7-8:30PM at the Provo Community Congregational United Church of Christ, located at 175 N University Ave. The Church Office is open Tuesday through Thursday from 9AM to noon. For a building usage request form or more information about using the space for community events, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more about the Provo Interfaith Choir by visiting their official website here.