The roar of songbirds and cicadas form an inescapable cacophony in the springtime.
Just under that low and monotonous hum, something else could be heard near Pilot Point’s Central Christian Church on Tuesday: soft and plucky melodies drifting throughout the sanctuary, expertly improvised by a world-class musician.
Inside the church, Francis Vidil leisurely performed upon a 19th century square grand Weber piano, crafted ornately from Brazilian Rosewood, a rare commodity illegal to import into the U.S.
Complete with ivory keys and heavy wooden foot pedals, the rare instrument is a relic of the Romantic era.
Vidil recently purchased the piano as part of what he called “a rescue mission” dreamt up to aid Central Christian – a worship space near and dear to his heart.
“I’ve played in many places all over the world,” Vidil said in a thick, dulcet French accent. “When I arrived [in Pilot Point], I played services here. I never saw such a beautiful performance theater. It was, for me, something very deep and important to be part of.”
Central Christian’s historic sanctuary sits on the corner of Liberty and Church streets, tall and white, with dazzling stained-glass windows and stooped, high-rising rooftops.
In March, the church’s dwindling congregation was forced to abandon the century-old structure, unable to pay its monthly expenses.
Now, the building’s fate is uncertain.
“The congregation hasn’t decided what to do yet,” church member Joyce Wood said. “But we can’t keep paying the bills.”
With the ultimate decision yet to be made and the church’s future hanging in the air, Vidil and his wife Marie Pierre-Ware wanted to help the congregation. Quick.
They had the idea to throw a benefit concert inside the historic sanctuary, and thus the idea for Pilot Point’s first Victorian Piano Festival at 7 p.m. Saturday was conceived. The premier event’s focal talent? Vidil himself.
He began playing piano when he was just a baby, the festival founder said.
The son of an organist, Vidil started performing in front of crowds before he was 10 years old. It took no time at all for the prodigy to discover his deep connection with music and the spiritual connections it evoked. He worked hard to hone his natural ability, and he soon became a respected musician worldwide.
Throughout his career, Vidil has traveled the globe playing concerts for millions of people.
In the aftermath of 9/11, he performed in the Chopin Festival of New York City. He’s been a tenured professor at the Versailles Conservatoire for over two decades and serves as a guest professor in Russia and Switzerland, traveling multiple times throughout the year to play concerts and teach. He also taught in America for three years as a guest professor at Penn State.
No stranger to decadent sanctuaries, Vidil has performed in famously mesmerizing locations such as the Moscow Cathedral and Notre Dame. And yet, there is something about the sanctuary at Central Christian that sets his spirit on fire.
“This church needs to be registered as a very important historic part of the United States,” Vidil said. “Not only Pilot Point, not only Texas. Really, this is an American historical beauty.”
Now that the church could be put up for sale, Vidil said he is very worried. His wife agrees.
“It would be a historical and architectural disaster if this church disappeared and was replaced by something modern,” Pierre-Ware said.
Though they were never officially members of the church, Vidil played services for the congregation when he and his wife first came to town four years ago.
“We fell in love with Pilot Point,” Pierre-Ware said, “And the first picture when we arrived by the road was this church. It looked like a church that you would find in a Hollywood movie.”
Using the space as a performance hall Saturday evening goes hand-in-hand with the spiritual significance of the sanctuary, Vidil said.
“Please help us,” he said. “We are fighting to keep this church alive.”