Sacramento’s sonic sanctuary

Westminster’s popular noon concerts provide an urban musical oasis

Brad Slocum is the man behind Music at Noon concerts, every Wednesday, at Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Brad Slocum is the man behind Music at Noon concerts, every Wednesday, at Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Photo By ryan donahue

Lights dim, the music begins to swirl, and for one hour every Wednesday, Carol Ludington can remember the joy she used to feel when she and her late husband would attend the symphony, or the opera.

“Oh, this is the best kept secret in Sacramento,” she says of the free concert series known as Music at Noon, held at historic Westminster Presbyterian Church, across from the Capitol, at 13th and N streets.

Ludington travels from the “People’s Republic of Davis,” as she says with a grin, to make a day of it with her girlfriend, which includes the concert, lunch and a movie.

The brainchild of Westminster organist Brad Slocum, Music at Noon began in 2002, with a simple idea: Bring talented local musicians to downtown Sacramento to perform noon concerts, with a wide variety of music styles, every Wednesday, and always free of charge.

This day’s baroque ensemble is called Camerata Capistrano, under the leadership of pianist/harpsichordist Dr. Lorna Peters, a Sacramento State professor. The repertoire includes some of the most famous compositions of Bach, Handel and Vivaldi.

The audience, about 150 this day, is a cross section of citizens—there are young mothers with children in strollers, state workers, retirees. Many eat their lunch in the sanctuary while taking in the music. Others, like Al Arana, can be seen quietly “conducting” to themselves, absorbed in the music.

The 50-year-old Arana, who walks over each week from his Caltrans office, says he eats his lunch prior to coming to the concert, so as not to interfere with his enjoyment of the music.

“I’m a lover of music,” Arana says, “and I can hear music from all over the world here. It’s wonderful.”

With more than 100 artists in its musical stable, Slocum’s program offers a wide range of musical styles, from classical to jazz to pop to opera.

Indeed, the program’s success can be measured in large part by the number of performers committed to the series. MAN is currently booked two years in advance, and holds 50 concerts per year. “We have so many artists, it takes a couple of years to fit them all in,” Slocum says.

Peters says that she and other artists keep coming back in large part because of Slocum, and the atmosphere he creates for the musicians.

“Brad Slocum is a gem,” says Peters, “He appreciates music of all kinds, and he’s a very fine musician himself. … He makes it look so easy, but it’s not.”

“The audience, too, is just so great—just so appreciative—they’re just wonderful. Any musician is going to appreciate that,” Peters adds.

MAN gets no funding from Westminster or from any other source other than from audience donations. As a result, there is no annual “budget.” More than 90 percent of audience donations go back to the performing artists each week.

Average weekly attendance is about 175—up from the first concert’s audience of 50.

Slocum attributes the success of the series to a number of factors, including: talented performers, superior acoustics, a beautiful performance space and an appreciative audience.

“The programs are high enough quality to fill every seat, all 900, every week. I see it growing every year, and the program’s diversity is growing all the time.” Slocum says. “If you haven’t attended, you might not realize the quality that’s being played out here every week. It’s very satisfying.”