The loss of the First United Methodist Church in downtown Sedalia to a fire late Wednesday night is not only a loss to the community, but to the arts community in the Sedalia area.
The church for many years has played an important part in the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival. It was often a venue where the entertainers gave concerts and symposiums.
Bryan Wright, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been a performer at the annual festival for 11 years and he has performed in the church, which he said was a wonderful venue for the festival, numerous times.
“It certainly was a beautiful church both inside and outside,” he said. “It was amazing as a performer at the Scott Joplin Festival to be in a building that would have stood at the time Joplin would have been in Sedalia and composing music. To have this direct, tangible link to the ragtime era, it was a special experience to play in that church and imagine Joplin walking outside. Beyond that, it had wonderful acoustics, seated concert goers comfortably; it was just an ideal space all around.”
At last year’s festival, the church hosted on Thursday the Bryan Wright symposium: “1962: A Ragtime Year in Review,” the Dave Reffkin symposium: “Slowing the Entropy* of Your Sheet Music Collection,” the Bill Edwards symposium: “The Composer’s Case for Improvising a Printed Score: from Mozart to Gershwin,” and the Ragtime Revelations Concert: “That’s a Novel Idea.”
Friday’s schedule was also full for FUMC with the Jeff Barnhart symposium: “The Rocky Road from Ragtime to Jazz,” the Adam Swanson symposium: “Emmett Miller: Minstrel Man from Georgia,” and the Pleasant Memories Concert: “Christmas in Sedalia.”
Saturday saw two events at the church Master’s class with Richard Dowling and Legacy of Joplin Concert: “Joltin’ Joplin.”
“I find this loss heartbreaking for our historic downtown, the church family of First United Methodist, and our community,” Scott Joplin International Ragtime Director Terri Ballad said Thursday. “When I saw the remnants of the building this morning, I was in tears.
“After the shock, my mind went into planning mode for the Joplin Festival,” she added. “We will move all events we had planned there to the Liberty Center and the Furnell family has graciously made the event space at the Fox available if we need it. We have a great community who steps up in a time of need. This is just so sad to see this historic place of worship now a pile of debris.”
Wright echoed Ballard’s sentiments, saying the Festival and the community won’t be the same without First United Methodist Church.
“My heart really goes out to the people of Sedalia and the congregation of the church,” Wright said. “It really did seem like a second home while in Sedalia, coming there every summer and getting to know so many people and a number from that church. The performers’ green room was in that church building so I spent a lot of time there practicing or between sets if I needed a moment to relax and some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the festival. The hospitality of the church members, it was just such a lovely space all around and I’ve been in shock a thousand miles away these past few days thinking that it’s no longer there.
“The festival will be a very different place without it,” he added. “I’m still looking forward to attending this summer, but it will be a different experience without it. I wish the best to all of them there — from Pittsburgh and other points around the country, the historic ragtime community is thinking of them.”
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss. Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.