Music has always been at the heart of First Congregational Church of Wiscasset. But in January, the church found itself without a settled organist and started advertising using a number of channels including Facebook. Then, Pastor Josh Fitterling received a response asking if the church would be interested in someone who could fill in temporarily. That person was world-class organist Ray Cornils. The answer was yes!
In an interview on the church steps, Cornils said he answered the ad because “it was the middle of the pandemic so I wasn’t going anywhere, and I could do what they need. I thought I’d throw it out there as a possibility.” He said he was also familiar with the organ after having taught other organists there, and he loves the Midcoast.
Cornils is a bit of a Maine celebrity serving as the municipal organist for the city of Portland for almost three decades, the Minister of Music for First Parish Church in Brunswick for 30 years, and as a member of Portland Symphony Orchestra playing the mighty Kotzschmar organ. He has performed all over the world and has been playing since he was 13.
In late January, Cornils began serving as the interim organist in Wiscasset and with little interruption has played each Sunday since. Cornils has brought a powerfully beautiful sound and presence to the organ, and he conducts the church’s hand chime choir (the voice choir has been on hiatus since the start of the pandemic). Cornils said his time with the church has “given me some goals to work on through the pandemic and there’s been a real willingness to make things happen in a smooth way (at the church).”
He said the highlight of his interim time so far has been “working with Josh and the members of the music program, and coming together in a faith community.” Fitterling feels the same, saying over email, “Our congregation has been so very blessed by having Ray serve and lead among us. Not only are his offerings of music exceptional, but his kind spirit and loving heart have made him the perfect interim for this time! I continue to feel so very fortunate for the opportunity to lead worship with him and to call him friend.”
The church is still actively looking for a settled, organist/choir director and would love to hear from anyone interested in applying or aware of a potential applicant. For more information visit: https://www.uccwiscasset.org/organist-choir-director-search
In the meantime, churchgoers will revel in the incredible level of music played each Sunday by Cornils through November and also on Christmas Eve. Cornils said he has many file drawers full of Christmas music but one of his favorites is “O Holy Night,” something he’s always played on Christmas Eve. Many are familiar with Cornils through the Magic of Christmas concerts with Portland Symphony, which he’ll be playing at several times this year. Barring any changes in COVID protocols, Cornils is slated to play for the church’s Christmas Eve service, which, at least for this writer (who has attended more than 20 years’ worth of Magic of Christmas concerts) will be quite the Christmas miracle.