Repurpose-Driven Vision Music Teachers Hope to Keep Old Church a Center of Greenfield Community Activity

By Smith, Peter | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), December 27, 2016 | Go to article overview

Repurpose-Driven Vision Music Teachers Hope to Keep Old Church a Center of Greenfield Community Activity


Smith, Peter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


The newly assembled community choir, drawn from online connections, friends of friends and a church around the corner, sang Christmas choruses last Wednesday while the 75 or so audience members joined in on some of the carols.

As Matt and Michelle Belliston alternated between conducting, singing and organ accompaniment, they were inaugurating the new Palisade Playhouse, which they describe as a "family-friendly community theater." It all took place just two days after the couple closed on the purchase of the historic red-brick sanctuary that had served Greenfield Presbyterian Church for more than a century.

They are realizing a dream they have been cultivating since the spring - and in the process building some cooperation across church lines.

The idea arose as Mr. Bellison was finishing a master's degree in music education at Carnegie Mellon University in the spring. They had come to feel at home in the Greenfield neighborhood where they had been living, but his job applications at public schools were still pending. (He has since been teaching at Pittsburgh Lincoln K-5.)

The Bellistons, who are Mormons, took a trip to a temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints near Washington, D.C. While there, they took time to "pray and see what God wanted us to do," said Michelle Belliston. The idea emerged: "Maybe we should start a community theater."

As music teachers who have previously overseen the production of student musicals, they had some experience to make that idea a reality. "I was wanting to have a place where my kids would enjoy performances, and if it were a place they would enjoy, I thought, why not provide it to other families as well?" said Matt Belliston.

The two of them grew up in small towns - she in South Dakota, he in Utah - and met while attending different colleges in Utah. Now married for nine years, they have children ages 5 and 7. Ms. Belliston teaches music to children at her home and welcomes the chance to do so in the more spacious church's social hall.

They learned of the church's availability on the market, closed the $35,000 purchase on Dec. 19, and arranged a quick professional cleaning of accumulated soot in the sanctuary before Wednesday's concert. …

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