Music Lovers Find the ‘Golden Section’ at Smithfield Church

The Greek Revival architecture of Smithfield Church in Amenia, N.Y.,  has welcomed worshippers since it was built in 1847, identical in appearance today to when it was erected. Designed by Nathaniel Lockewood, it is an example of the pure “Golden Section” of perfection in balance and symmetry, and it stands today on a hill at the bend in Smithfield Valley Road.

For a reason lost to history, that country corner, its abrupt curve in Smithfield Valley Road and the hill came to be known as “The City.”

Fans of authentic architecture will find much to appreciate in the church detail, including the antique whale oil chandelier and the original vibrant paint colors. The tracker pipe organ, a gift from the Kent Congregational Church, fits right in, musically and architecturally.

As a bonus within today’s 1847 structure, the Golden Section creates superb acoustics for the Bang Family Concert Series, a series of remarkable public performances by the Smithfield Church Chamber Orchestra.

The Bang Family Concert Series

The church is well known for its Sunday worship and enjoys a reputation as one of the fastest-growing churches in the Hudson River area. But visitors are also attracted by the Bang Family Concert Series, endowed by a bequest from the late William Bang, father of Susan Bang, who is a church member.

Susan Bang’s father was a lifelong amateur musician on the string bass and the tuba. An oboist herself, she recalls that he was fond of quipping that he was a child prodigy who never got any better.

Music ran in the family, although her father’s career was in publishing, notably with the Hearst Corporation in New York City and later at publications in California.

“The concert series was his idea. We worked to create a concert series to allow local musicians to have a venue for their talent,” Susan Bang told me recently.

“He was considerate and generous to the end,” she added, noting that he was a founding member of the New West Symphony, an orchestra that still performs today. His philanthropy tended to focus on small enterprises where funding would make a difference.

“The Smithfield Church is so important to me,” Susan said. “I came because of the annual Christmas Concert and then started coming to worship services regularly. I came first for the music and stayed for the church. I found my faith again.”

Concerts in a true chamber setting

“We have our own orchestra,” the Rev. Douglas Grandgeorge, Smithfield Church pastor, said as he welcomed concertgoers to the Bang Concert on Sunday, May 29.

He spoke of the rarity of a small church having a chamber orchestra, especially one versed in all musical tastes from classical to pops.

The orchestra on May 29 featured nine members including a string quartet, two clarinets, one trumpet, and two flutes. At the very last moment, Laura Thompson stepped in to fill a vacancy in the flute section when the call came that the scheduled flute player had tested positive that morning for COVID-19.

Matt Finley is the orchestra’s director. His credits include 60 years as a jazz wind and brass musician with emphasis in Brazilian jazz. He said he had a similar musical experience to that of William Bang.

“I was a child prodigy by the time I was 14, and then plateaued [in his estimation], except for arranging music, a talent that has continued to develop.”

During the May 29 concert, Finley demonstrated the art of arranging. First the string quartet played Gustav Holst’s 1918 composition “Jupiter,” as written. The piece had earned wide acclaim in various forms, including this one. Then the orchestra played an arrangement that Finley created for the ensemble, broadening the tonal experience while staying true to the composer.

“It’s months of work that come to fruition with each concert,” Finley said, “and tremendous fun,” for the performers certainly and for the audience.

The plan for the Bang Family Concert Series has always been to offer a concert on the first Saturday of each month. The pandemic interfered, Finley said.

If COVID permits, a fall concert offering is in the works. The orchestra will certainly perform for the annual Christmas Concert and Tea, already scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 3, Finley said.

For more information about the church and its music program, including a video of the May 29 concert, go to www.thesmithfieldchurch.org.

The Smithfield Church Chamber Orchestra performed their spring concert as part of The Bang Family Concert series on Sunday, May 29. An enthusiastic audience enjoyed a Memorial Day weekend concert featuring classical to Broadway to pops at the historic church. Photo by Leila Hawken

Since 1847 the Smithfield Church’s Greek Revival edifice has stood on the hill overlooking Smithfield Valley Road in Amenia. Concertgoers on Sunday, May 29, were treated to another in a continuing series of musical performances by the Smithfield Church Chamber Orchestra. Photo by Leila Hawken

The Smithfield Church Chamber Orchestra performed their spring concert as part of The Bang Family Concert series on Sunday, May 29. An enthusiastic audience enjoyed a Memorial Day weekend concert featuring classical to Broadway to pops at the historic church. Photo by Leila Hawken

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