A man with a harmonica is helping to save a historic church in the heart of Elmhurst.
Harmonica virtuoso Jiayi He was named as the latest installment in an ongoing concert series to raise money for the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown, which needs to undergo crucial restorations following Hurricane Sandy.
Michael Perlman of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council said the concert would help address repairs to things like the church’s slate roof, which took a beating after Hurricane Sandy. He has been working alongside church historian Marjorie Melikian to drum up innovative ways to bring in new funds.
“The church’s slate roof is in need of a major overhaul,” Perlman said. “Second in line is the need to paint the interior walls, which are flaking. Third in line is the need to repair the bulging and occasional cracked Tiffany-designed stained glass windows.”
Perlman has been helping to book artists at the church for months and said he was promoting its history, architecture and performers
as a means to increase the potential for restoration. Raising money to save things like its historic Tiffany windows were crucial to the integrity of the church, Perlman said.
“These windows are truly unique and we don’t want them to undergo and further damage to the point that they are beyond repair,” Perlman said. “Cracks and missing stained glass elements subject the church to the elements.”
The church kicked off its concert series back in February with award-winning harpist Tomina Parvanova.
His performance was scheduled for May 4 at 1:30 p.m. inside the church with a $10 admission fee at the front door. The performance will also be a special world premiere of composer Michael Isaacson’s “Cantabile for Solo Harmonica and Woodwind Quintet,” which was written solely for He to perform, Perlman said.
He, a world-class harmonica virtuoso with honors and awards dating back to the ‘80s, said he would be performing alongside a woodwinds quintet including Abbe Krieger, Suzette Jacobs, Aaron Abramovitz, David Moldenhauer, Kukiko Otani and Jenny He.
To date, Perlman said the fund-raising efforts have already helped in restoring the church’s Gothic wooden front doors from 1895.
“They were on the verge of being replaced since they were significantly corroded,” Perlman said. “I encouraged their restoration for five years, and that contributed to a renewed grand entryway to one of our city’s most historic churches.”
English settlers founded the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown in 1652, but its Elmhurst home is its fifth building since the congregation was established. The current church was built in 1895 and has become most known for its stained glass windows made by British craftsmen Sellers & Ashley and its church bell, which dates back to 1788.
The Landmarks Conservancy chose the building as one of the city’s most storied and sacred sites last year and put its architecture on full display for a weekend-long open house in May.
Anyone else looking to donate funds can also send money to the church itself at 54-05 Seabury St. in Elmhurst.
By Phil Corso