River Road Church, Baptist’s music program embraces a wide variety of musical styles. Regular worship services include the “greatest hits” of composers such as Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Faure, selected late 19th-century and early 20th-century English composers such as C.V. Stanford, John Stainer, Herbert Howells, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the best from more recent church music composers such as William Mathias, John Rutter, Craig Phillips, and David Briggs.
River Road Church’s music program is not an accident. It was greatly expanded starting in 1970 when Carl Freeman came to River Road Church as Music Minister. By demanding the best from everyone, he put together a program that is one of the most admired in the Richmond area.
In August 2011, Dr. Robert P. Gallagher joined the church staff as the Minister of Music. He continues to develop the unique and thoughtful musical vision of River Road Church.
Over the years, the music program has grown to include three children’s choirs; a youth choir; the adult Chancel Choir; two bell choirs; the Sanctuary pipe organ installed in 1970; a smaller Chapel organ installed in 1989; and a music suite, built in 1999 as part of an extensive facility expansion that contains three practice rooms, two robing rooms, and a music library. The River Road Church Concert Series has featured such artists as Olivier Latry, principal organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, such groups as the Manhattan String Quartet, and such choirs as the Wake Forest University choir.
The Chancel Choir
The River Road Church, Baptist Chancel Choir consists of 45-50 adult singers (college age or older) forming the backbone of the church’s music program. Most have musical backgrounds, and many gravitate to River Road Church, Baptist from other churches where the music has become exclusively contemporary. Extensive musical training not a prerequisite. If you can hear and hit a pitch, you can sing at River Road Church, Baptist. Because of the extensive amount of material covered in a reasonably brief rehearsal time, the ability to read music is helpful though not required.
- Rehearsals are Thursday nights, 7:30 – 9:30 p.m.
- One intensive Saturday rehearsal each fall and spring
- Advent/Christmas and spring concert performed with orchestra (with dress rehearsal the day before)
- Brass quintet and timpani for Easter
The Chancel Bell Choir
The Chancel Bell Choir, directed by Charles Todd, is a group of ringers, college age and above. They bring music to regular and special services throughout the season.
- Consisting of 15 church members, ringers use Whitechapel and Schulmerich church bells
- Rehearsals are held on Wednesday evenings from 6:30 until 7:30 p.m.
The Youth Choir is for singers who are interested in learning a wide variety of sacred music ranging from the Renaissance to gospel and contemporary. Rehearsals combine work, learning, and fellowship. Members of the Youth Choir receive training that will enhance their appreciation of great choral music and its application to and relevance in worship.
Regular rehearsals are held on Sunday evenings from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. in conjunction with other Sunday night activities for youth.
Youth Bell Choir
Youth Handbell Choir is directed by the Rev. Paul Honaker, who served for 38 years as Associate Pastor for Worship and Music at Bon Air Baptist Church. River Road Church is very fortunate to have a handbell choir director with Rev. Honaker’s extensive knowledge and experience. This choir is open to 5th through 12th graders.
Youth Choir JAM
Youth Choir JAM is a weekend (Friday and Saturday) of music workshops and fellowship with students from youth choirs around Virginia and North Carolina, including Richmond, Hampton, Blacksburg, and Roanoke. It is traditionally scheduled for the weekend before Thanksgiving. The event ends with a Saturday afternoon concert, which is open to the public.
In addition to helping lead worship on Sunday mornings, the children’s choir present the Christmas Story with the youth at our Christmas Eve Family Service, and a staged musical/drama in the spring.
Regular rehearsals are held on Wednesday evenings from 6:00 to 6:45 p.m. in conjunction with our Thoughtful Faith Community programming.
Cherub Choir (grades Pre-K–K)
Activities designed to develop an awareness of music.
Preparation of music for special music services during the season.
Carol Choir (grades 1 – 2)
Instruction in the hymns used in church worship.
Preparation of anthems for worship one Sunday morning a month.
Crusader Choir (grades 3 – 5)
Instruction in music theory and ensemble voice production (Voice for Life).
Preparation for worship one Sunday morning a month.
River Road Camerata & Voice for Life
The River Road Camerata is comprised of young singers who are willing to learn challenging choral music. They have become familiar with choral and vocal repertoire by composers such as Bach, Tallis, Byrd, Mozart, Schubert, and Elgar. Participation is by audition or invitation, and requires a continuing commitment to and a light blue ribbon in Voice for Life. Please contact Bob Gallagher for more information about the Camerata and Voice for Life.
Sundays, July – Labor Day Weekend
The Chancel Choir welcomes adults, youth, and children who can learn a simple anthem fairly quickly to join in singing for our worship service. Warm up begins at 10:30 a.m., but anyone who would like more practice is welcome at 10:15 a.m. Please email Bob Gallagher (email@example.com), or fill out the form below with the Sundays you’d like to sing, by Saturday noon (before the Sunday you wish to sing) so that he can be sure to have a robe and a copy of the anthem are available for you.
E. Carl Freeman Concert Series
The Concert Series was started in 1970 both to gain full benefit of the then-new sanctuary with its great acoustics and to reach out to the surrounding community. The Series remains a welcomed regular feature of musical life in Richmond’s West End. Past performances have included organ recitals by some of the best practitioners of the art such as John Scott, Organist-Choirmaster, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London and Frederick Swann, former organist at Riverside Church, New York; vocal and instrumental recitals by such artists as Eugenia Zuckerman, and performances by well-known chamber ensembles such as the Shanghai and Manhattan string quartets.
The E. Carl Freeman Concert Series at River Road Church is open to the public with free admission unless noted otherwise. The dates for special services with music can also be found below. Directions to the church can be found here.
Current Series and Concert Information
The Choirs of Boys and Girls of Washington National Cathedral
Michael McCarthy, Choirmaster
Monday, August 28, 2017
7:00 p.m., Sanctuary
Organ Dedicatory Recital
Sunday, September 17, 2017
4:00 p.m., Sanctuary
Thierry Mechler (Cologne, Germany)
Sunday, October 22, 2017
4:00 p.m., Sanctuary
J.S. Bach – Clavierübung, Part III
(Lutheran Organ Mass)
Advent/Christmas Choral Concert Chancel Choir with Orchestra
Sunday, December 10, 2017
7:30 p.m., Sanctuary
J.S. Bach – Magnificat and Cantata 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben
Violin and Piano Recital
Violaine Michel, violin
Hope Armstrong Erb, piano
Sunday, February 11, 2018
2:00 p.m., Sanctuary
Katelyn Emerson (Boston, MA)
Friday, March 9, 2018
7:30 p.m., Sanctuary
Co-sponsored by the Richmond Chapter of the American Guild of Organists
Classical Guitar Recital
Francisco Roldan (Mannes College of Music, New York City)
Sunday, April 15, 2018
2:00 p.m., Chapel
William Dameron, Tenor
Robert Gallagher, Accompanist
Sunday, May 20, 2017
3:00 p.m., Sanctuary
Spring Choral Concert
Chancel Choir with Orchestra
Sunday, June 10, 2018
7:30 p.m., Sanctuary
W.A. Mozart – Requiem
Organ Voluntary Series
Four Sundays, 7:00-8:00 p.m.
Robert Gallagher, Organist
A review (sometimes a preview) of organ music played before and after River Road Church’s worship services.
If you missed one of our voluntaries, you may wish to come back to hear it. Perhaps you would like to hear a piece for a second time – in a recital format. If you are not a regular worship attendee at River Road Church, join us on a Sunday evening to hear some of the music that inspires those who worship here each week.
Organ Voluntary Series Dates:
November 12, 2017
December 31, 2017
February 25, 2018
April 29, 2018
Special Service with Music
While not a concert, this service features a significant choral work as an integral part of worship and may be of interest to those who attend our Concert Series.
Reformation Sunday Worship
Chancel Choir with Orchestra
Sunday, October 29, 2017
11:00 a.m., Sanctuary
J.S. Bach – Cantata 80, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott
The Sanctuary and Organ
Church sanctuaries are not ordinarily considered musical instruments. River Road Church’s Sanctuary is unique. From a musical and acoustical perspective, it is reminiscent of the great European cathedrals. When funded in the late 1960’s to accommodate a growing church, the design of the Sanctuary focused on the soaring aspect of a cathedral-type space that directed attention to the heavens. A classic pipe organ and complementary acoustics would assist in this effort. The church chose the well-known American pipe organ builder, the M.P. Möller Organ Company of Hagerstown, Maryland, to design and install a 65-rank, four-manual pipe organ (Opus 10590) that remains one of the finest examples of Möller’s work. The result was a great improvement on the portable pump organ used at the church’s founding in 1946!
The Sanctuary of River Road Church is ever God’s house. In 2014, it was our time to continue, with vision and sacrifice, what a prior generation began. It was our time to evaluate our Möller organ, so essential to every service in our Sanctuary. As this instrument began to show signs of age we needed to consider the possibilities: new organ vs. restoration and renovation. The church decided to engage an objective and independent consultant to not only evaluate the Möller organ but also to aid us in making crucial decisions about its future. Jonathan Ambrosino was an obvious choice. The broad scope of his expertise in the field of pipe organ building and restoration has made him the most sought-after expert in the United States. As an outcome of Mr. Ambrosino’s detailed report on the state (and style) of our organ in 2013, we decided that a new organ was not necessary. Rather, the entire organ deserved to be restored and renovated. We chose Emery Bros. of Allentown, Pennsylvania for the project – this firm had lovingly and competently maintained the instrument for many years. We decided to have a new console built by Richard Houghten of Milan, Michigan and Joseph Zamberlan of Wintersville, Ohio, retaining and restoring the keyboards and keycheeks of the original console. Only 61 pipes (out of more that 3000) were discarded and replaced (the Choir Cromorne 8′) – and this decision was made unanimously by the Ministers of Music (present and emeritus), Mr. Ambrosino, and Emery Bros.
The new, moveable, mahogany organ console, includes modern solid-state mechanisms for setting combinations, was constructed and installed in 2016. The installation included a lift and related modifications to the left of the chancel allowing the console to be raised from the organ pit and moved to the center of the chancel for occasions such as concerts.
The organ restoration included removal, cleaning, restoration, re-installation, and regulation of all existing pipes. Some components were refurbished in place. Internal mechanisms such as leather pouches, tremolos, and all original wiring were replaced. The work included the addition of five new ranks or sets of pipes, as well as some re-voicing of existing pipes.
Please click here to see the stop list.
The Chapel Organ
The chapel, originally built in 1950 as the first formal worship space at River Road Church, is still used for small worship services, weddings, and funerals. In 1989, the late Elizabeth Gottwald gave a second, smaller Moller Pipe Organ, this one with two manuals and five ranks, for use in the Chapel.
River Road Church has been blessed to have in its inventory of instruments four grand pianos, each given to the church by members (individuals and a board) who have recognized through their generosity the importance of the church’s music ministry as follows:
The Steinway model B grand piano in the Sanctuary, a gift from Hannah Coker in honor of her mother.
The Baldwin model L grand piano in the Main Rehearsal Room, a gift from Sarah and Charlie Drummond.
The Steinway model M grand piano in the Youth Rehearsal Room, a gift from Willard Alley (early chair of Music Committee) and Willie Reams at the time of the completion of the Sanctuary.
The Boston model B grand piano in the Sanctuary, purchased through a grant from the Endowment Board in 2007.
All these instruments were fully reconditioned in 2016 by David Hughes as a result of the Rejoice & Give Thanks capital campaign.
College Music: River Road Church, Baptist Choral Scholars
Please complete the application below to schedule an audition.
The River Road Church Choral Scholars program offers choral scholar positions to Richmond-area college students for the academic year. The positions provide a stipend and allow students the experience of singing with an accomplished church choir, hopefully fostering a lifelong involvement with church music. Choral Scholars are encouraged to be active in the ministry of the church, enjoying the support of a “home away from home” church family.
Choral Scholars must be actively enrolled in a degree program at an area college or university. Scholars become full participating members of the Chancel Choir at River Road Church, Baptist.
Participation requirements include a weekly rehearsal on Thursday evenings from 7:30 – 9:30 p.m., Sunday morning worship from 10:30 a.m. – 12 noon, plus a Saturday retreat in both the fall and spring. The Choral Scholars schedule for the academic year begins the first Thursday of September after Labor Day and extends through the second Sunday of December. Following Christmas break, rehearsals begin again the second Thursday of January extending through the last Sunday of April. Scholars are also offered the opportunity to sing two seasonal concerts (with additional stipend) in December and June, which fall outside the academic calendar. For the academic year, a total of 6 absences from rehearsals and 6 absences from services will be permitted.
Choral Scholars receive a stipend of $40 per rehearsal and $40 per service, offering the potential of about $2,000 total for the academic year. Payments are made to students monthly through direct deposit.
Choral Scholar applications are now being accepted. An audition appointment will be made with each applicant upon receipt of an application. Audition requirements include sight reading and aural evaluation.
For more information, please contact Bob Gallagher, Minister of Music, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.