Historic Milford church makes musical comeback

Minister of Music Daniel Brownell sits at the organ at the First United Church of Christ in Milford last Wednesday, March 14.

Minister of Music Daniel Brownell sits at the organ at the First United Church of Christ in Milford last Wednesday, March 14.

Leaders of First United Church of Christ say the music ministry for which they were long known has returned to its former glory — and for that they are singing the praises of Daniel Brownell, minister of music.

“Dan has certainly created a spark here,” said Patricia King, a member of the church’s music ministry committee. “He has a lot of enthusiasm, he’s young,” and he got a lot going in the music arena.

The Rev. Adam Eckhart said music has been a cornerstone of the historic church since the mid-20th century. He said the church had the premier music ministry in Milford, but before Brownell came there was a turn-around in music leaders that resulted in a lull of a few years.

To bring it back, Eckhart said, they sought someone who was not only high in “musical quotient,” but also in leadership and spirituality.

“Having one (of those aspects) stronger than the other wasn’t successful,” Eckhart said. He said they wanted someone who could play the organ well and who was “charismatic to compel the musicians to get excited about the music both in worship and in concert.”

Brownell, who grew up in Hamden and lives in Wallingford, was apparently just the right fit for the historic 379-year-old church at 34 West Main St.

Brownell graduated from Hamden High School and was into so many facets of the music scene there that they made a Yearbook category for him: “The guy who was in everything.”

Growing up, he also attended the United Church of Christ in the Spring Glen area.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Ithaca College and a master of music education degree from the Hartt School of Music.

Brownell’s trademark was and still is that he can contribute in lots of different musical areas — he is a flutist, pianist, organist, and he’s played in ensembles, jazz bands, concert bands, orchestras.

He also teaches music.

“This church is almost 380 years old — this music has been a big part of it,” Brownell said. “Everything we do here is exceptional… Everything has been growing steadily.”

When Brownell started at the church, there were only three musical groups and now there are six: the adult, youth and junior choirs; a hand bell choir; Pilgrim Chorale and Meetinghouse Chorale, which consists of not only church members but also folks from the greater community.

On April 14 that community chorale group will present a concert with the theme of “great literature in music,” which will include the words of famous poets. Brownell, a composer as well, will introduce two original pieces: “Lullabalia” and “Child Said.” Every piece of music in the concert will be connected to literature. For tickets or more information email musicminister@firstchurchofm.org or call 203-877-4277.

For pre-order tickets, the price is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, $5 for kids, not to exceed $40 per family.

Brownell said there are fantastic musicians and voices in the church.

“The people are what make this place special,” he said.

Brownell said that years ago the church’s choir was so big that it had section leaders.

Eckhart said there are challenges to the church music scene in 2018, including having people interested in sacred music and the church’s proximity to New Haven’s robust musical programs, including those of Yale University.

“Dan has been able to encourage different genres of music,” Eckhart said.

Brownell said that aside from spirituality being strong at the church, its music, family involvement and community outreach are strong.

Brownell is credited with bringing the popular concert series back to the church.

The upcoming spring showcase concert is the second to last in the spring series.

Money earned from the concerts goes back into the fund to sustain the music.

Brownell said there are no auditions or music experience required to perform in a group at First United Church of Christ because “God accepts everybody.”

“Everyone is welcome to make music here,” he said.