Guest Artist Interview with
Artistic Minister of Music, First United Methodist Church of Portland, Oregon
Jeannine: You are known as a virtuoso organist equally skilled in both traditional classical and modern/popular schools of musical performance. Your concerts have delighted audiences worldwide, yet for the past 42 years you have also served as church musician Portland, Oregon. It is that part of your busy career that I’d like to focus on today. Please share the highlights of that career.
Mr. Nordwall: I was appointed as the organist for Portland’s oldest church, First United Methodist, in 1971. By 1990, I assumed the Director of Music position and I now have the privilege of overseeing a fine music ministry. We have an outstanding Chancel Choir of over 70 members, a bell choir program, and children’s music activities. As the organist, I have the opportunity to play the Mary L. Collins Pipe Organ –an incredibly versatile instrument that is one of the largest pipe organs in the Northwest –on a weekly basis.
J: First United Methodist Church has been known for years as a church that consistently offers superb traditional worship music. How has FUMC “stayed the traditional music course” over the years?
Mr. Nordwall: It was a conscious effort over the years to provide a worship experience in our downtown church that was different than what was happening in churches in other areas of the city. Portland has over thirty neighborhood Methodist churches, so FUMC had to give people a reason – a good reason – to travel downtown to worship. Traditional worship music done very well became our focus.
J: How did the church resist the forces to move to contemporary worship styles or to add additional services? How did the church “stay the course” with one Sunday morning traditional service?
Mr. Nordwall: In my performance tours around the US, I have many opportunities to visit churches and talk with their musicians and pastors. It gives me a great way to survey what is working and what is not working for churches. That insight has and continues to help me guide the music program of FUMC. I have been encouraged to continue to do what we do best – traditional worship music in the best way possible.
We also have always had good business people on the church board who have made wise decisions over the years to support our traditional worship style. FUMC has tried various alternative worship styles from time to time. But each time when it became obvious to the board that these services were not supporting themselves, these services were ended. The board has made it a priority to support traditional worship with excellent hymn singing, a choir presenting major choral repertoire in the service, and my organ playing.
J: What advice can you give other churches that are searching for direction in their worship music style?
Mr. Nordwall: Know your market. We provide music and worship for a particular demographic. We know what our congregation not only enjoys in worship but expects as well.
Yes, we all face changes and challenges in worship and the music of worship, but in the process of facing those challenges, don’t let go of who you are and what you are doing well as a church. For example, about four years ago, we had a request from our high school department asking that we sing only traditional hymns in worship. Because these young people had grown up with excellent traditional hymn singing in worship, this is what they wanted and expected. That was a positive sign that for FUMC ,“staying the course” is important.
J: Thank you for sharing your insights. To learn more of Jonas Nordwall’s extensive background, please click here.