A Grand Old Lady 

Friends of Cordelia summer music series

Cordelia has been around since 1883, and has spent her life on the Palouse, surrounded by the wheat fields southeast of Moscow. She's old and well-loved, and some Palouse-area musicians are so inspired by her long history that they've jumped at the chance to serenade her with song.

Cordelia is a 18-foot by 24-foot plain white church built by Swedish Lutheran settlers from the community of Lenville, under the leadership of Swedish missionary Peter Carlson. A small group of about a dozen families constructed Idaho's first church of the Lutheran persuasion. In 1995, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But those who visit her in her rural idyll can't help but feel that this historic building is more than just an amalgam of lumber and nails.

One of those is Moscow teacher and musician Linda Edwards, a member of "Friends of Cordelia" whose recorder group, Carliol Consort, played a concert in the church in 2006.

"My son is getting married there this summer, so I discovered it last year when his fiancee's father had me check it out as a wedding venue. Then I became a 'Friend.' My first job was actually washing windows, but now I'm helping with the group's major goal, which is simply to have the building see more good use."

Edwards thinks the church, which seats 60, is a wonderful place to play.

"There's no electricity or water, and the bathroom is a double-seater outhouse, but there's an amazing amount of light, because the windows are pretty big," Edwards said. "The acoustics are great with all that wood. You get lots of sound. I thought the Carliol Consort sounded extra good at Cordelia."

Edwards and her husband even visited the church on Christmas Eve, when she played Christmas carols on the recorder.

"Even that day, there was plenty of light. I'm not a religious person, but even so, it is a nice feeling to be in there."

Edwards plans on making the Cordelia series an annual event. In this inaugural year, she's pleased to have booked very popular local acts. One of them, Hugh Moffatt, is better known in Nashville than he is in his adopted home of the Palouse.

"It was the church that sold everyone on the idea," Edwards said. "The concert series is meant to share this beautiful little church as a part of our local history, so the concerts are free, and all the musicians are donating their time."

Forgotten Freight, an old-time string band playing country, bluegrass and gospel, launched the series on May 20. Forgotten Freight is Susan Firor, a bluegrass purist on upright bass; Lenny Johnson, tenor and banjo picker; J.D. Wulfhorst on the dobro; and Tim Kinkeade on lead vocals and rhythm guitar.

On June 24, Elwood, Burkhart and Steele will play and sing traditional tunes from North America, Scandinavia and the British Isles. John Elwood, who sings baritone and will play the dulcimer and banjo for this concert, and Sally Burkhart, a soprano, are a duet in music and in life. They've been singing and playing together since the early 1970s. Many of Elwood's handmade instruments hang in art galleries, but they are as beautiful to listen to as they are to look at. For special events like this series, they team up with English saxophone ace John Steele (whose daughter is married to John and Sally's son), who can be heard on Elwood's CD Retrospective.

"We're very enthusiastic about performing there," Elwood said. "Sally hates wires and cords and amplifiers and speakers and such, so this is absolutely right up our alley. The sonic environment is such that we can fill it with sound."

Elwood and Burkhart have become "friends" of Cordelia in their own way. When Elwood visited the church earlier this spring to check out the venue, he noticed the church's torn-up old pump organ, now unusable, and hatched an idea.

"A pump organ is so appropriate for that space. It got me thinking about all the friendless pump organs around, including the one that our son Robin had restored. He was asking a pittance for it, so we bought it from him and delivered it to the church on the day before Easter, surprising the Friends who were there for their work party. It was such a perfect opportunity to do something so right."

To conclude the series, nationally known singer-songwriter Hugh Moffatt, originally from Texas, will perform tunes from his seventh solo CD, Songs from the Back of the Church. These songs express views of God belonging to characters on the fringe of Christian society.

Moffatt moved to the Palouse in 1999 after a 25-year career of professional songwriting in Nashville for stars such as Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Alabama, Merle Haggard, Kathy Mattea and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Moffatt has continued making music in the Northwest, recently writing the libretto for a three-act opera, Corps of Discovery—A Musical Journey, based on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

"The opera was written over a period of about three years by composer Michael Ching and myself," Moffatt said. "It was commissioned by the University of Missouri-Columbia's Show Me Opera Department and premiered by them in 2003. Opera Memphis mounted the premiere professional production in 2004, and the opera had its third staging by the University of Idaho in Moscow in 2005. A new opera staged three separate times in three consecutive years is pretty rare and something to brag about, so I do."

"Hugh accepted our invitation to play without even seeing the church," Edwards said. "The idea really fits with his newest CD, although he will, of course, perform his songs from the front of the church."

It is perhaps a touch poetic that none of the musicians performing in Cordelia this summer are young and starry-eyed enough to think that being a performing artist leads to a life on easy street. Likewise, the Cordelia Church has lived long—and sometimes hard—before reaching her present state of graceful, simple dignity.

"Just 20 years after it was built, attendance started to decline ... after 1913, meetings stopped entirely, and the building became neglected, a shelter for passersby, mice and bees. Hay was strewn on the floor, window glass broken, wallpaper torn. Outside, gravestones fell over, and the fence collapsed. Sadly, by 1938, the building was earmarked for destruction and put up for sale for $75," according to a 2005 article in Cornerstone, the Moscow Historic Preservation Commission's annual newsletter.

But a series of volunteer rescue efforts and generously donated funds helped the church back to its original condition in the 1940s, the article explains. Cordelia got new windows, shutters, repaired and replaced siding, fresh paint and wallpaper, a restored cemetery, and a new outhouse.

She was rededicated in May of 1948, and maintained after that by Lutheran churches in Moscow and Troy. The "Friends of Cordelia" group formed in the early 1990s, after a University of Idaho architecture student wrote his senior paper on the church, a paper that became the basis of the building's nomination to the National Register. And now, Cordelia even has a Web page: http://users.moscow.com/elc/Cordelia.

Cordelia's 124-year history is worthy material for a country song or two, but until someone pens them, she'll have to be content with hosting a series of great music.

"We just want to share Cordelia," Edwards said. "We'd like more people to know it is there."

May-July, every Sunday, 2 p.m., FREE. Cordelia Church, c/o Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 1036 W. A St., Moscow, 208-882-3915. For more information, visit http://users.moscow.com/elc/Cordelia

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