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Church to showcase organ with silent film show

By Lori Szepelak

HOLYOKE The United Congregational Church of Holyoke will be the setting for two events on April 12 that are being billed as "A Date with the Devil," according to organist and choirmaster Michael-Thomas Gilman.

"The church will host two major events that will be of interest to anyone who has ever asked the question, 'Why is there evil in this world, if God is good?'" Gilman said. He will serve as master of ceremonies for the evening affair.

Greg Mobley, a professor at Andover Newton Theological School, will open the afternoon's offerings at 4 p.m. with a lecture and discussion on the topic of Satan, followed by a book signing. Mobley is co-author of the New York Times best seller, "The Birth of Satan." Gilman noted that Mobley's book has been recognized by the Literary Guild and the Quality Paperback Book Club.

Mobley's event is free and open to the public.

Following Mobley's presentation, church members will host a supper beginning at 5:30 p.m. that will feature chicken, pasta, salad, and, of course, devil's food cake for dessert.

The main event starts promptly at 7 p.m. with the screening of the 1926 silent film, "Flesh and the Devil," starring Greta Garbo, John Gilbert and Lars Hanson. The screening is sponsored by the church and the Springfield Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO). United Congregational Church was one of the founding institutions of the AGO, and Dr. William Churchill Hammond, organist of United Church from 1885-1949, was one of the founders of the Guild, according to Gilman.

Roger Rideout, graduate program director of the Music Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will give a brief talk about the film prior to the screening.

"We're showing the movie that made Garbo a star forever," Gilman said, noting the experience will be enhanced by live organ accompaniment by Peter Krasinski on the Skinner organ. "Also, it is a complete work of art the men and women who worked on this were the top scenic artists, costume designers, make-up artists, lighting experts and photographers, who were given an almost limitless budget."

Gilman also talks affectionately about the Skinner organ that is one of the largest and finest in the United States.

"It was built in 1921 by legendary American organ builder Ernest M. Skinner and remains in its original condition," he said, adding, "it's a rarity for these instruments."

Gilman noted that the organ has many of Skinner's patented and famous stops, including French horn, English horn, orchestral strings, orchestral oboe, heckelphone and clarinet, plus full-length 32-foot stops in the pedal to provide a thundering bass.

"I chose these two events to be provocative, to make people think, to expose them to works of art that have something to say," Gilman said.

Gilman noted that in the best of the "silent" cinema, one can enjoy the movie more since it becomes an "interactive work of art." He added the film shows "just how racy" the cinema was before the production code came into effect in the early 1930's.

"Another reason to see this movie is to see just how shockingly amoral the title character is, without showing anything more than her eyes and hands," he said.

Ultimately, Gilman hopes the lecture and movie will help people confront the questions of the existence of evil.

"I don't think people will get any pat answers," he added. "That being said, they will at least be led to think all in an evening's entertainment."

Admission to the movie is free and open to the public, however, donations will be gratefully accepted.

"This is a church so we feel strongly that one should not have to pay to enter our sanctuary," Gilman said. "These events are our gift to the city and people of Holyoke and beyond. They also serve the function of bringing people into our church."

Gilman said any donations collected will help benefit the 16 choral scholars who are currently being supported by the church.

"The money that is donated will be used to give educational opportunities to young citizens of this city," he added.

A suggested donation is $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. Refreshments will also be available at a snack bar in the lobby.

The church is located on the block bounded by Maple, Appleton and High streets, at 395 High St., with the main entrance on Maple Street. Ample free parking is available, and the church is handicapped accessible.

For more information, as well as directions to the church, visit, or call the church office at 532-1483.