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Make a Joyful Noise

AT FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UCC, MUSIC IS AT THE HEART AND SOUL OF OUR SHARED LIFE.  Our amazing choir, handbells, soloists, artist-in-residence program, and guest musicians all help to stir our souls. Over the years, our music ministry has been a source of inspiration and joy, enriching our worship experiences and deepening our spiritual connection. We offer opportunities to lift every voice and sing through a variety of sacred music, choirs, and special concerts. We encourage you to be part of our vibrant and vital music ministry as we come together to praise and worship.

Our Choirs

At First Congregational, our music program offers a diverse array of musical experiences, led by our esteemed Chancel Choir, which enriches the 11 am Sunday service, and our Handbell Choir, featured on special occasions.

From captivating concerts to heartfelt worship services, our music ministry serves as the soulful heart of our congregation. In addition to our talented vocalists and handbell artists, our music program benefits from the accompaniment of member pianists, violinists, and other skilled musicians, enhancing our musical offerings. With the inclusion of guest musicians, handbell and percussion ensembles, we celebrate a vibrant tapestry of musical expression, enriching our worship experience with melodies and harmonies that uplift our spirits. Join us as we unite in the joy of music and community, lifting our voices in praise and celebration together.

The First Congregational Choir with Sarah playing violin

Chancel Choir and Sarah Melcher, violinist

Greg Chestnut, Minister of Music, conducting the Handbell Choir

The Handbell Choir

The Sanctuary Organ

The sanctuary organ was built by the firm of Daniel Jaeckel of Duluth, MN in 1993 and dedicated on February 13, 1994.  Part of the dedication service was shared simultaneously with the St. Georges Church in Pontesbury, UK, making it possible to hear their six bells dating back to 1681.  The Jaeckel organ is a two manual mechanical action instrument of 23 stops and 28 ranks voiced in French Classic style.  The organ is central to the church’s vibrant worship and plays broad variety of styles.

Spirit-filled worship includes beautiful music from the Jaeckel organ in the sanctuary at First Congregational UCC
Chapel organ with pipework by Hook and Hastings

The Chapel Organ

The chapel organ was donated by the late member Ruth Upshall. The pipework is by Hook and Hastings.  Built in 1898 originally for the Unitarian Church of Brunswick, Maine, it was moved and installed in our chapel in 2001.

A beautiful glass window for the Reed Chapel was completed and installed before Easter 2002.

Chapel organ with pipework by Hook and Hastings

Minister of Music Emeritus

Greg Chestnut, who served as Minister of Music at First Congregational for the past 35 years, played a pivotal role in developing our comprehensive music program and contributed significantly to creative worship planning.

Greg holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Organ from Indiana University and is widely recognized for his talents as an organist and recitalist, having performed on concert series throughout Florida. He has also made significant contributions as an organist for esteemed orchestras such as the Sarasota Orchestra and the Florida Orchestra of Tampa Bay.

Throughout his tenure, Greg’s commitment to music ministry extended beyond our congregation, as evidenced by his involvement in national organizations such as the American Guild of Organists (AGO), American Choral Director’s Association (ACDA), and the Chorister’s Guild of America.  In addition to his professional achievements, Greg is a published hymn writer, leaving a lasting impact on the broader musical community.


Gregory Chestnut Our Minister of Music, Leaning on the Organ

As we bid a fond farewell to Greg and express our gratitude for his many years of dedicated service, we also look forward to welcoming new leadership as we continue to nurture and grow our music ministry.

Guest Artists

Forged through years of mutual appreciation and collaboration, First Congregational UCC has cultivated a close relationship with esteemed local institutions like the Sarasota Orchestra and the Sarasota Opera. This longstanding partnership brings talented guest musicians from these renowned organizations to enhance our worship services and musical performances, enriching our congregation’s experience with the beauty and artistry of their performances. Together, we celebrate the transformative power of music in our community.

Concert Series

We offer a variety of performances each season, from internationally known organists to Grammy award winning artists.  Intimate chamber music concerts are offered in Reed Chapel with candlelight and the background of our stained glass window.

Deux Voix - Trumpet and Organ/Piano Duo

Deux Voix

Established in 2014, Deux Voix (French for “two voices”) has garnered national and international acclaim for their exceptional performances. Based in southeast Texas, they have showcased their talent across 19 states in the U.S. and toured abroad in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway as guest artists for the International Organ Festival in Bergen.

Stephen and Justin, the duo behind Deux Voix, continually push boundaries by adapting works from various genres like jazz, Broadway, and opera for trumpet and organ. They’ve commissioned and premiered new works by esteemed composers such as Mark Hayes and Craig Courtney.

The Sorella Duo - cellist and pianist

Sorella Duo

Embracing their Italian heritage, Sorella (meaning sister), Natalie and Rebecca Helm have enjoyed performing together since they were young children. Both sisters are currently working as professional musicians. Natalie is the principal cellist for the Sarasota Orchestra and Founder of Upward Notes, Inc. Rebecca, pianist, is the Director and Founder of Go-Go Allegro Music School in Boston.

Piedmont University Singers

More than 35 years ago, Piedmont President James F. Mellichamp founded the Piedmont Singers with the purpose of representing the university as ambassadors to Congregational churches across the nation. Since its inception, the ensemble has flourished, expanding in both membership and artistic excellence, while remaining dedicated to its mission of musical outreach and engagement.

Artists in Residence

First Congregational UCC annually brings renowned artists and choral conductors to Sarasota including Kent Tritle and Doreen Rao, EnsemblenewSRQ, Dr. Kathy Bullock, Eric Nelson and most recently Dr. Keith Hampton.

EnsemblenewSRQ performs at First Congregational UCC


EnsemblenewSRQ strives to manifest the creativity of the current generation and inspire audiences to participate in musical culture in a profound way, through high-level curated concert experiences that sustain and transform the relevance of contemporary classical music. We are honored that they have selected our church to be in residence.

Dr. Kathy Bullock

Dr. Kathy Bullock is an educator, scholar, singer, accompanist, arranger and choral conductor who specializes in gospel music, spirituals and classical works by composers from the African diaspora.  A Professor Emerita of Music from Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, she is currently teaching, performing, and conducting workshops and other programs on African American music throughout the United States, Europe, and Africa.  In January 2022, we were  blessed in so many ways by Dr. Bullock’s light and wisdom; by her music and testimony.

Eric Nelson

Artist-in-Residence Eric Nelson is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Studies at Emory University. He is also the conductor and Artistic Director of Atlanta Master Chorale. Dr. Nelson’s choirs have performed throughout the world, including London, Rome, Krakow, Berlin, Leipzig, Prague, Moscow, Seoul, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Sydney Opera House.

Kent Tritle performs at the Jaeckel Organ

Kent Tritle

Grammy nominee Kent Tritle is one of America’s leading choral conductors and organists.  He is the director of cathedral music and organist at The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. He is Musical Director of Musica Sacra, acclaimed by the New York Times as “the brightest star in New York’s choral music world.”  Kent is also the conductor of the Oratorio Society of New York, a 200 voice volunteer chorus. In addition, he is director of choral activities at the Manhattan School of Music and on the faculty of the Juilliard School. First Congregational UCC was proud to host Mr. Tritle as Artist in Residence in 2019.

Doreen Rao Conducting

Dr. Doreen Rao

Doreen Rao is renowned internationally for her captivating concerts and impactful teaching. With a profound commitment to excellence and a passion for diversity and social responsibility, Rao’s influential work in teaching children to sing has inspired a new generation of conductors and educators worldwide. Her dedication to linking performance standards with educational goals has left an indelible mark on the choral community, empowering young choirs in schools and communities across the globe.

Keith Hampton conducting

Dr. Keith Hampton

Dr. Keith Hampton, fondly referred to as “Doc,” is a multifaceted musician known for his expertise as a conductor, composer, educator, church musician, and organ performer. Currently serving as the Director of Music Ministries and Organist/Choirmaster at Park Manor Christian Church in Chicago, IL, Dr. Hampton brings a wealth of experience to his role.

Trained in both organ performance and conducting in the classical tradition, Dr. Hampton has shared his passion for music with students of all ages, from nursery to college levels. He has held positions as Director of Music at churches of various denominations and is highly sought after as a guest conductor and workshop clinician across the United States, as well as internationally in Germany, Trinidad, and Africa.

“…as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts”  Ephesians 5:19