Roy Perry: Musician and Organ Builder

Copyright © 2013 Neal Campbell

at 1173 old console

Background

Were it not for the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival Roy Perry’s name might be relegated to a footnote among students and enthusiasts of Aeolian-Skinner history and folklore.  But what an enduring footnote it would have been, all the same.

A happy confluence of events led to the appointment of Lorenz Maycher to Roy Perry’s former Kilgore post in 2010, and it was his inspiration and vision that established this festival, honoring the life and work of Roy Perry and the Williams family of organbuilders from New Orleans, featuring five organs which Perry finished and had a hand in designing, and which the Williams installed and maintained for approximately 30 years. For the first festival in November 2011 I was asked to present a talk about Roy’s life together with remarks about the music associated with Opus 1173, and that is largely what is given here in narrative form, using many of the same photographs I used in the live talk.

Introduction

Roy Perry’s association with G. Donald Harrison and his role and presence in the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company during the years just prior to and following Harrison’s death was significant, and there are several reasons for this:

First, his own larger than life personality and musicianship yielded an impressive list of sales for the company.  And, it must be said, at that time Aeolian-Skinner was the preferred organ of most organists, even of those couldn’t afford it or could not wait for the three-year backlog of orders. Roy often said that the organs sold themselves: once prospective customers heard his home organ at First Presbyterian Church, Aeolian-Skinner’s Opus 1173 or it’s sister organ in the First Baptist Church in Longview, one opus number younger, they were hooked.

By his own reckoning he was responsible for about 25% of the company’s sales during his time with the company. Part of this was because he shared the sales territory commissions, as well as the work of installing and finishing organs, with the Williams.  For a fuller account of this, see Nora Williams’ Interview.  And it’s really impossible to appreciate and assess these organs without understanding the family like association between Roy and the Williams family which, for most of his career, consisted of father and son, T. J. “Jack” and J. C. “Jim” and their wives Sally and Nora. It was a real family enterprise. By the time I came to know Roy in 1972 Jack and Sally had died, but Jim and Nora continued the family business in taking care of these organs and many others throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.

Left to right: Nora, Jim, Sally, and Jack Williams in the Kilgore organ ca. 1966.

Left to right: Nora, Jim, Sally, and Jack Williams in the Kilgore organ ca. 1966.

Second, the Perry sound. A few years ago a graduate student consulted with me about his proposed dissertation about Roy Perry; he wanted to see all of the organs with which Roy had been associated, taking measurements and obtaining empirical information in his attempt to identify the uniqueness of Roy’s organs (and I suppose to defend his findings before a panel of examiners)—a noble undertaking reminiscent of Donald Harrison’s first trip to Germany wielding calipers and other measuring tools in an attempt to gather definitive information which would enable him to replicate the sounds of Silberman et al.  But the real sign of GDH’s genius was in quickly giving that up in favor of just listening and absorbing the sound, ambiance, and ethos of these historic organs so that when he arrived back in America, he could incorporate what he had heard in creating his own instruments, which may have been informed by the past, but were uniquely modern.

Trying to quantify or define the uniqueness of Roy Perry’s organs presents a similar difficulty. In Donald Harrison’s own words, writing to Willis in England in 1955 about Roy Perry, he says

He is a top notch finisher and during my periodic visits to Texas I cannot remember a time when I have had to suggest that something might have been done a little differently. He just has that kind of organ sense.

Better than any other analysis, this explains how Roy’s organs bore the original stamp which is hard to miss by comparison with Aeolian-Skinner’s many other fine organs.

Lastly, his work as a practicing organist and church musician was well-known within the region of East Texas and was recorded for posterity in the Aeolian-Skinner King of Instruments series of recordings, many of which have been reissued in modern formats.  See Review of Aeolian-Skinner’s “King of Instruments” series of recordings, Volumes 1-3 remastered by VTOA | Neal Campbell–Words and Pictures.  These, and the few private recordings of Roy’s playing that exist, are tangible reminders of the color and personality which were imbued in his playing over his forty-plus years as a church organist. Also, Roy’s understanding of the physical attributes of the churches in this part of the country and his forthright dealings with his colleagues and clients also figured prominently in the effectiveness of his work.

Then, of course, there is the not inconsequential work he undertook with Jim Williams apart from the company in the later years of Aeolian-Skinner’s existence, most of which still exists.  His final statement and undoubtedly his most highly visible work was the renovation of the organ in Washington Cathedral from 1973-76.  This large-scale project was indigenously complicated and was a committee-driven project occasioned by the cathedral’s unique physical properties and its liturgical and logistical requirements, all of which was undertaken just as the Aeolian-Skinner company ceased operations.  Ostensibly designed by Joseph Whiteford, who oversaw the work from his home in California, he never made the trip to Washington to see either the work in progress or the final outcome. Roy’s official title was supervising architect and finisher, but in practical matters, he was the boss of the job.

Early Life  

The details of Roy’s early life are sketchy, at best.  He was born on September, 27, 1906 in Indian Bayou, Vermillion Parish, Louisiana, near Lake Charles. Most of what we know comes from an autobiographical piece Roy wrote himself as a mature adult titled Poor Bob’s Boy, the title of which refers to the fact that his father (Bob) died some time before Roy was born. He had an unstable home life. I’ve not been able to find out the circumstances of either his father’s death, or any biographical material about his mother or step father, except anecdotal suggestions that the step father drank too much and was abusive. It seems that as a boy Roy was passed around to be reared by assorted women of his extended family, notably his grandmother and particularly his Aunt Jenny, his father’s sister, who first recognized his ability. It was she who provided anything resembling a continuing family presence and he kept in touch with her and even visited her in July 1964. He did have a half-sister who lived in California whom he visited at least once as an adult.

In elementary school Roy had a music teacher, Mrs. Ora M. Reams, who came to his school once a week, teaching the elementary principles of solfège.  Roy was naturally bright,  possessed a keen intellect, absorbed everything around him, and grasped information quickly. In his mid-teens he was already self-sufficient and had jobs playing in a Jewish temple and a movie theatre near Lake Charles. At this point he did take some formal lessons with Mrs. Reames.  By the time he came to the attention of anyone in Kilgore, he was the organist of St. Cyprian’s Church and The Pines Theatre, each in Lufkin, some thirty miles south of Kilgore. And at some point he was confirmed in the Episcopal Church.

Oil Boom, the Crim Legacy, and the First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore

Roy’s coming to Kilgore in 1932 at age 26 was simultaneous with the East Texas oil boom and his own life was quickly intertwined, inextricably so, with the Crim family, the owners and beneficiaries of the largest tract of oil-producing acreage in what came to be known as the East Texas Oil Field.

In the organ chamber, 1939

In the organ chamber, 1939

Lou Della Crim, also known as Moma Della, was the matriarch of the family.  Her husband, William Robert Crim, had long since died by the time of the boom. The local history books tell of how Moma Della’s father, Captain John Martin Thompson, amassed a large lumbering enterprise in East Texas and it was his intent to bequeath the land to his sons. As John T. Crim tells the story:

When my grandfather decided to give his children their portion of his assets, he called them together and offered them gold dollars or the land. The boys decided they would take the gold dollars. Miss Lou Della, trying  to be helpful and please her father said ‘Oh, Papa, just give me the land for my part.’[1]

And it was on this land that oil was found, and in a big way!

A4.Lou Della Crim on her front porch 2

W. R. and Moma Della had four children: J. Malcolm, Pauline Florence (later, after her first husband died, Pauline MacIntosh) John Thompson Crim (later, John T., Sr. after the birth of his son; Roy, who had a nickname for everyone, called him Santa Claus), and Liggett, the youngest, who was always interested in things theatrical.

LN Crim and Knox LambEach of the Crim children was in various ways devoted to the newly incorporated town and their family church, the First Presbyterian Church. In 1931 Malcolm became the first mayor of Kilgore, and Liggett owned a chain of movie theaters in Kilgore and the surrounding area. Managing this chain of theatres was a man named Knox Lamb, who—in various ways as time went on—also made his living in and around the theatre, including a long period on the technical staff of Kilgore College.

The First Presbyterian Church of Kilgore had its beginnings in the mid-19th century in a settlement just south of present-day Kilgore called New Danville and was known as the Gum Spring Presbyterian Church. A circuitous series of events having to do with the expanding railroad and property belonging to Constantine Buckley (Buck) Kilgore led to the founding of a new town. At a meeting of the church congregation in 1874 it was voted to move the church four miles into the new town, using the name New Danville Presbyterian Church, commemorating its original location. By the end of 1885 they had built a new church at the corner of South and Rusk Streets in Kilgore. The Crims were devoted members of the church.

The Crim family.

Lou Della Crim, center, John T. Crim to her left, Leggett Crim to his left (in sun glasses), the Rev. Shirley Guthrie, far right.

In 1930 rumors began to surface about the possible presence of oil in the area. The speculative wells drilled on the Crim farm were not the first to come in, but when they did, in late 1931, they produced the largest share of what became known as the East Texas Oil field.  Moma Della was in church on the Sunday the wells on her property came in.

At this time the area surrounding Kilgore consisted largely of rural cotton-producing farms, all of which were caught in the grips of a devastating drought. No sooner had the oil wells come in than Malcolm Crim, owner-operator of a his family’s local general store, with whom everyone in town did business, declared that all debts were forgiven, and he invited his customers down to the store where he tore up their IOU papers into scraps and burned them saying “we’re wiping the slate clean, we’re even with everybody.” He knew what conditions were like for his fellow citizens and he knew immediately how the discovery of oil would change all of their situations for the better.  It was also an early example of the many similar charitable acts for the good of the community that the Crims performed in the following years.

The story of life in Kilgore in the earliest days of the oil boom is a fascinating tale beyond the scope of this article, but it is integral to the church story to recall that in May 1931 the East Texas Railroad Commission tried to control oil production and to ration amounts to be produced. Chaos ensued resulting in what was later known as the Great Oilfield War, which caused the governor to declare martial law. Oil which had been priced at $1.15 per barrel before the discovery, fluctuated afterward to as low as $.02 per barrel!

Downtown Kilgore at the height of the oil boom.

Downtown Kilgore at the height of the oil boom.

In the midst of this frenzy of events, an incendiary fire broke out in Kilgore—probably arson, though never proven—which destroyed the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. The rumor that circulated was that it was disgruntled oilfield workers who had started the fire because they were angry that they had lost their jobs because of the ration order which shut down too many wells.

B4.one derrick

The new First Presbyterian Church, with one lone derrick in view, shortly after it was built at South and Rusk Streets.

In short order a new church in a modest Gothic style was built on the same site, which came to be known as the First Presbyterian Church. It was outfitted with a six stop organ built by Pilcher. It was to this church and this organ that Roy Perry came to Kilgore to be the organist and choirmaster in 1932.  The new church had no organist, and the story is told that Liggett Crim mentioned this casually to Knox Lamb, the manager of his chain of theaters, and it was Lamb who suggested to Crim that he consider the organist of his theater in Lufkin. Nora Williams tells the engaging story of waking Roy up in the middle of the night, more or less commanding him to go over to the Pines Theatre to “audition” for Liggett, only to find that the building was locked. So, Lamb just kicked the door in and then went in and we assume the audition was successful. Nora Williams Interview  So it was that Roy Perry moved to Kilgore, initially living with Liggett Crim and his wife Tincy Elder.  Beginning then and there, Roy’s life was closely linked to those of the extended Crim family for the rest of his life, and he ultimately was even buried in the family cemetery, Thompson Cemetery at Laird Hill, just outside of Kilgore. Roy immediately set out to make improvements and additions to the modest Pilcher organ, enlisting the assistance of Jack Williams whom he had known in Lufkin. Williams was an independent service man, but he did a lot of work for Möller, and he installed the new organ which Möller built around the small Pilcher. This was during the time the noted English voicer Richard Whitelegg was associated with the company, although it is uncertain that he had any influence on this relatively obscure job.

B9.McAmis at Kilgore flyerIn 1935 Roy established a recital series at the church on the new organ and brought noted organists to town, including Hugh McAmis, the civic organist of San Antonio, and a youthful Virgil Fox, then 23 years old. Virgil and Roy remained friends and Fox played and visited several times in Kilgore over the years.  Roy composed a piece titled Lamento for Fox’s 1936 debut in Carnegie Hall in New York, although the piece was not listed on the program.

Study in New York

The Crims financed Roy’s education in sending him to New York for two extended periods of time, where he went to study with Hugh McAmis, by then relocated to New York. I’ve not been able to ascertain precisely what connection led him to seek out McAmis, other than their previous association in Kilgore.  McAmis at the time would have been 36 years old, and tragically died in 1942 shortly after being drafted into the Army and reporting for basic training duty.

Notations in the printed music Roy used in his New York study indicate that he got a good overview of the basic repertoire of Bach, Widor, etc.  Roy’s handwritten notation also show his address as 160 West 73rd Street, the same building as McAmis’ apartment and studio.  Hugh McAmis Studio

Two other events of great significance also occurred during this New York interlude: Roy heard his first Aeolian-Skinner organ and he met David McK. Williams.  The organ in the Anglo-Catholic Church of St. Mary’s the Virgin was Aeolian-Skinner’s Opus 891. http://www.nycago.org/Organs/NYC/html/StMaryVirgin.html Even though the organ was unfinished as it stood, it was uniquely positioned to exemplify the organ building revolution in America at the time. Combined with the spacious acoustic environment, its sophisticated music program (many of the organ works of Messiaen had the first performances in America at SMV), and its location in the heart of New York City, it seems natural that Roy would have visited it on his rounds through the city. He was known to have said “That’s the sound I want!”

David McK. Williams, the legendary organist of St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue, was at the height of his powers and was very popular and influential among organists in New York. Hugh McAmis was very proud of his friendship with David and the two of them and Roy socialized often. Roy’s accounts of some of their frolics are more reminiscent of the Jazz Age than of the lingering depression which gripped most of the country. But the one thing that David said which made a lasting impression on Roy was something to the effect of “how nice that you’ve come to New York to study with Hugh. But don’t stay here. Go back to your people and thrill them with your music, and one day I’ll come visit you.”  True to his word, David McK. Williams did come to Kilgore for a memorable visit.

David McK. Williams

David McK. Williams

McAmis was the organist of All Saints Church in Great Neck, a suburb of New York on the north shore of Long Island.  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is set in the fictional villages of East Egg and West Egg, and it is in this part of the so-called “gold coast” of Long Island where Great Neck is located.

McAmis composed a new piece titled Dreams and dedicated it to David McK. Williams.  Roy told the story of going out to Great Neck with David for the recital which included the new piece, which includes some very prominent single notes from the chimes of the organ.  David must have known the new piece, because just prior to its being played on the program he said in his well-known, inimitable, not-so-discrete stage whisper “This piece will have chimes!”  He then pantomimed the chimer pulling the ropes of the chimes at the appropriate places during McAmis’ performance, which apparently caused something of a scene.  Dreams continued to be popular in general and always held pride of place in Roy’s repertoire and on programs in Kilgore.

Hugh McAmis at the console of the Aeolian-Skinner organ in All Saints' Church, Great Neck, Long Island

Hugh McAmis at the console of the Aeolian-Skinner organ in All Saints’ Church, Great Neck, Long Island

Meanwhile, back in Kilgore, almost no plot of ground in town was left without an oil derrick pumping away at all hours of the day or night. The footprint of the new church was not immune from the boom and no fewer than five producing wells occupied the same earth as the church which weakened its foundations. Finally, the church proper was torn down, leaving the education building standing alone, where it functioned as an adjunct church facility and, later, a youth center well into the 1950s. Dave Garroway’s television program “Wide, Wide, World” even did a segment on the church in Texas that had been torn apart to make room for the rig in search of oil under its foundation.B11

And so it was that in October 1938 a portion of the congregation gathered at Main and Lawrence streets to break ground for yet another church building. In spite of the fact that the old church was but six or seven years old, it was not a particularly difficult decision to raze it and build anew, given the concentration of producing wells in the confines of downtown Kilgore.

A humorous story survives about the initial fundraising which gives us a clue to the slightly twisted humor of the minister, the Reverend Cecil Lang, and of Leggett Crim. Knowing that a gathering of men was scheduled for the purpose of raising what we would today call “leadership gifts” for the new church, Lang and Leggett had surreptitiously entered the room and wired a chair with electricity. As men gathered for the meeting, Leggett made sure that his oldest brother, Malcolm, was seated in that chair. As the Reverend Mr. Lang solemnly asked “Who’ll give the first ten thousand dollars for the building of the new church?” Leggett pushed the button releasing current to Malcolm’s chair. Malcolm, literally shocked, bolted straight up out of his chair. Lang thanked him graciously for his enthusiastic and generous contribution, and the meeting continued!

The Present Church 1939-1949

Proposal for the new church at Main and Lawrence Streets. The tower was not built.

Proposal for the new church. The tower was not built.

John T. Crim was the chairman of the committee which oversaw the design and construction of the new church, which is a fine representation of the Gothic spirit; there is even a rather elaborate rood screen separating the choir from the pulpit rostrum, a fairly unusual attribute of any protestant church, especially in this part of the country at that time. And its proportions and lack of artificial sound-absorbing materials, are perfect for organ and choral music, also something of a rarity for this time and place. It seems obvious that Roy Perry had a firm hand in this outcome, and as he told me the story in his typical hyperbole, you’d think that he had actually designed it! I imagine he was forceful and demanding in his requirements and he probably did show the committee and architect the historical precedents upon which construction was founded.  And as construction proceeded, it must have been an incongruous sight in boom town Kilgore.

C3.1939 Church under construction

Roy was drafted into the Army, but soon received a medical discharge. He was even listed in the honor roll of the men of First Presbyterian Church who were in the service of their country. Never in what would be described as robust health, Roy evidenced problems with his sight fairly early in his Kilgore days. He once had an automobile accident while borrowing Liggett Crim’s car: he said he simply didn’t see the other car and he never drove again. His eyesight was always a difficult issue.  He also developed in the mid-1950s the tremor that was to plague his playing and handwriting for the rest of his life, presumably from Parkinson’s disease, although that diagnosis has been disputed by some, so it’s hard to confirm just what was the cause of the tremor.

C2.1939 church building during construction

RP conducting the Kilgore Civic Chorus

RP conducting the Kilgore Civic Chorus

In 1945 following his discharge from the army, at the age of 39, he earned his Bachelor of Music degree at North Texas State university in a highly unusual arrangement for which the dean of the school of music, Wilfred Bain, was responsible.  Having completed a requisite amount of class work (mainly in summer sessions and transfer credits from Kilgore College), he completed credit for four years of applied organ study by examination in one afternoon! He later taught at North Texas State, at Evergreen—the summer music conference in Colorado sponsored by the Episcopal Church, and at local Presbyterian church and seminary conferences and American Guild of Organists classes. His surviving notes give an indication of a solid learning coupled with practical parochial advice, and a few hints at his outrageous humor. They also indicate something of Roy’s mature faith. A few excerpts follow:

Thus church music, like all music, is a matter of taste—and taste is simply a matter of experience.  For that reason we cannot approach the subject of church music objectively nor apply the standards which we know to be good until we have educated the taste, that is, widened the experience of our congregations; and to this slow and difficult process they offer the most strenuous and highly articulate objection.

***

I am not arguing that great music will make people religious; nor do I think that a performance of the B Minor Mass will deter a man from stealing chickens.  Music is an art, not an ethic.  But it is strangely true that the church’s contribution to the art of music has been greatest in those periods where the religious life of the church was at its highest vitality.  We shall not bring on the great return to religion by replacing a Palestrina motet for Pull for the Shore.  But we can strive when we offer up music before God’s altar (In the Old Testament sense, if you will) to make the offering the best it is humanly possible for us to get.

***

Have some positive ideal about your profession. Do not forget that you are working in a field that J. S. Bach and César Franck lifted to the pinnacle of greatness. Be constantly sharpening your tools and raising your sights. Keep in touch with the big people in your profession. When you get a vacation in New York, spend your Sundays in church instead of in bed with a hangover.

***

Now from the layman’s point of view, the most satisfactory definitions of religion are those which emphasize those elements which no wisdom can explain:

the mystery of the Godhead,

the divine ordering of the universe,

life after death,

and other queries before which reason and experience are helpless.

These things are in the realm of faith, and are felt rather than taught.  And it is exactly here, where the logic of human speech is helpless, that the imaginative factor in art and ritual and music is most eloquent.

***

Develop your sense of humor–and by a sense of humor, I do not mean a ready guffaw for parlor stories. I mean the ability to tell a big thing from a little one. Remember that the world is not bounded by the walls of your choirloft. Other people–your choir–have other things for the centers of their lives. Laugh a lot, and always hold out an ideal you cannot quite reach, work hard at your job, and you will be a perennially young institution in your church and community.

***

Special music services, if they are services should be planned with the same attention to unity and dignity as other services of the church.  The principal difference would be that in place of the sermon there is some important musical work around which all the other items center.  The minister should lead in such services, and certainly should be consulted about scriptures and prayers.

But if there is an out and out concert in your church—say a concert by a visiting choir, or an organ recitalist, place your minister in a comfortable pew and have him keep his seat.  The business of opening a concert performance with a word of prayer and closing it with a benediction is out of character, and in questionable taste.  People come to a concert to enjoy music, not to worship.  Casual and thoughtless invoking of God’s blessing on purely secular pleasures is essentially flippant and unwarranted.

***

Never, without an excellent excuse, turn down an invitation to the houses of your congregation or choir.  Choose your close friends to your own liking . . .  but do not forget that

a few flowers to a sick person,

a few minutes of your time spent in visiting a shut in old lady,

an inquiry about a new baby,

postcards to your choir while on vacation—

all these things will pay big dividends in your church’s acceptance of the program you are trying to put across.  A little thoughtfulness is a capital investment.

***

Introduction to a talk 8th District Texas Federation of Music Clubs in 1950:

I have been a Church Musician for 25 years.  I had rather live by this work than any other way I know.  I love the Church—although it is uphill work to love some of the people in it—and I believe that a musician can have no higher calling than to serve the Church, and through it, serve God and his fellow-man.

During World War II, beginning on June 27, 1942, it was the custom of the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Dr. Shirley Guthrie, to send at two-week intervals a newsletter to the soldiers from the church, which included words of inspiration and encouragement, as well as news from the church. In this day of instant email communication this doesn’t seem too daunting—perhaps even a lazy interval, but this Dr. Guthrie continued to do in hard copy format until August 22, 1945.  Roy and the music of the church were sometimes mentioned in his reports, two of which follow:

Roy Perry gave us some mighty fine music last Sunday afternoon at his first organ recital since returning from the Service. He played a group of request numbers that were simply beautiful.  January 2, 1943

I suppose that the big news as far as I am concerned is the fact that our Church is now paid for and dedicated. I wish each one of you could have been present on October 22 at our dedication service. The week before that we had gotten together enough money to pay off our indebtedness, and we all came together with grateful hearts for the blessings of God and for our beautiful church. You cannot have any idea . . . what a truly beautiful service we had. Roy and the choir brought us music such as they were not capable of bringing.   November 1, 1944[2]


Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1173 and G. Donald Harrison 1949-1956

D1When Aeolian-Skinner installed its Opus 912-A in the First Presbyterian Church in Houston, Roy had the occasion to meet G. Donald Harrison and to tell him about his desire to make some changes to the existing Möller organ in Kilgore.  But he was firm in his request that he have Jack Williams and his family install it. Harrison agreed to this as it was A-S’s practice to have local firms known to them install their organs throughout the country.  This was the beginning of Roy Perry’s relationship with Aeolian-Skinner which would last until the company ceased operations in 1972.

The organ was immediately successful, in spite of (or maybe because of!) the fact that considerable portions of the pipework and mechanical and structural portions of the Möller organ remained. However, the core of the organ bore all of the hallmarks of the inimitable Aeolian-Skinner sound: bold, yet cohesive, choruses and mixtures rich in harmonic development, and fiery chorus reeds, together with evocative imitative solo reeds and a variety of celestes and quiet foundation stops ranging from an impressive forte to a mere whisper.

Crowning the tonal development was the Trompette-en-Chamade under the chancel window.  In reality, the stop is one of the standard Aeolian-Skinner Trompette Harmonïque designs, just mounted horizontally and winded on moderate pressure. Even visually it is not particularly impressive out in the church, as it is somewhat obscured by the rood screen. But pictured close up against the stained glass window, it was an impressive icon of Aeolian-Skinner’s latest work, which they billed as the first example of a horizontal reed in America, predating their famous State Trumpet at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York by several years. It was featured prominently in the company’s sales materials and with articles in the trade journals.

D7

Perry's review of William Watkins' Kilgore recital.

Roy immediately began to showcase the organ in recitals, as he had done in the organ’s previous incarnations. Two of the first recitalists to play on the new organ were Catherine Crozier and the 28-year-old William Watkins. Watkins had recently won the first prize in a competition sponsored by the National Federation of Music Clubs which had been held in Dallas in 1949. At the time before any of the AGO competitions this was the most prestigious music competition an organist could enter; it was open to all instrumentalists and Watkins was the first organist to win. For his Kilgore recital the church was full and Roy Perry himself wrote the review that appeared in the Kilgore News Herald; it caused something of a rift in Perry’s friendship with Virgil Fox, who had played in Kilgore several times previously. Watkins’ use of it in his publicity also strained his friendship with Fox, his former teacher.

For more information on Watkins, see  http://nealfcampbell.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/obituary-william-watkins/

The King of Instruments Series of Recordings

In the early 1950s, shortly after the Kilgore organ was installed, Joseph S. Whiteford launched the “King of Instruments” series of recordings issued by Aeolian-Skinner, which were not only advertising tools for the company, but were an artistic undertaking of serious proportions, capturing the playing of the leading organists of the era on the company’s new instruments.  The Kilgore organ was featured prominently in the first two volumes, together with other recent new organs.

Volume I consisted of Harrison discussing the various stops of the modern organ together with several musical examples. Harrison sent a copy to Henry Willis III in England together with the following note dated October 19, 1955

Glad that you had another opportunity to try out the record.  The instruments used are as follows:

Symphony Hall, Boston, Mass., St. Paul’s Cathedral, Boston, Mass., Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York, First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore, Texas; First Unitarian Church, Boston, Mass. (This is Bill Zeuch’s job.)

The latter organ was used to demonstrate the romantic instrument in the second rendition of the last part of the St. Anne Fugue. There were several players used—Thomas Dunn did the examples played at Symphony Hall, Boston.  George Faxon, who was then organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston, did a major part of the examples played on that instrument and also the Trio Sonata which concludes the second side of the record.  Roy Perry played the examples at Kilgore.  There were just two of them: the opening to the reed section of the record where he used his Trompette-en-Chamade.  There is also an excerpt of the Flute Celeste played by him on the same organ.

[ed. also French Horn and English Horn in samples from Nuages of Debussy that never made it to the LP, but are restored on the VTOA CD remastering.]

Joe Whiteford played some of the examples, particularly those made at Saint John the Divine.  This included the last part of the B Minor Chorale of César Franck.[1]


[1] Callahan, Charles. The American Classic Organ: A History in Letters. Richmond: Organ Historical Society, 1990. 414.1173 King of Instruments

Volume 10, made several years later, featured Roy’s choir and organ of the First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore, together with the choir of Austin College, in an album of church music which, though fairly standard fare today, was largely unfamiliar at the time. Roy did all of the playing for the recording and generally directed the project, although the combined choirs were directed by college choir director, Robert Bedford.

The one solo organ work on the album, Bruce Simonds’ Prelude on Iam sol recedit igneous, which was particularly effective in presenting the quiet and imitative stops of the organ, and Roy was largely responsible for introducing this work to the American organ-playing public, in spite of the fact that it was written in 1928 and had previously been recorded by Catherine Crozier at the First Baptist Church in Longview. In my own listening to the individual recordings it is not clear to me who introduced the work to whom, but if I had to guess I’d say that Roy introduced the work to Crozier. Her performance on the Longview organ is similar in many ways to Roy’s recording at Kilgore, and is warmer and more luxuriantly paced than is typical of her playing, at least later in her career. On the other had, we know that Crozier was always passionate about new music and she certainly traveled a lot more than Roy, and in somewhat more exalted academic circles, so it is entirely possible that it was she who initially showed it to Roy.

1173 A-S vol XIn an example of ever-evolving tastes, David McK. Williams’ anthem In the Year that King Uzziah Died was at the time a very popular anthem which was in the music library (if not the active repertoire) of most church choirs in the country, but has passed out of fashion in recent years.  Its descriptive account of the text from Isaiah 6 and the orchestral accompaniment on the Kilgore organ made for a memorable performance, notably in the quasi-timpani effects of the 32’ Bombarde clusters under expression, which were quite a cause of wonderment. What the LP liner notes do not tell is that 32′ sound was courtesy of the Longview organ; Roy borrowed the lowest 12 pipes from it and temporarily set them up for the recording. Kilgore didn’t get its own 32′ reed until 1966.

Trip to England and France

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In 1955 Roy made a trip to England and France, his only trip abroad. On his passport for this trip he lists his occupation as Musician and Organ Builder, the occupation from which this article derives its title.  It’s a good overall description of how Roy viewed himself. Donald Harrison wrote on his behalf to Henry Willis III in England, saying

May 10, 1955

Dear Henry:

During this summer our representative in Texas, Mr. Roy Perry, will be visiting England with a friend of his and would naturally very much like to meet you and see some of your organs.  Also he would like some advice as to those instruments he should see generally in the middle and southern part of the country.

Roy Perry, or Perriola, as he is affectionately referred to in our organization, has supervised, with the aid of Jack Williams and his son, most of our important installations in Texas.  He is an accomplished organist and has a wonderful ear.  He is a top notch finisher and during my periodic visits to Texas I cannot remember a time when I have had to suggest that something might have been done a little differently.  He just has that kind of organ sense.

I think you will also enjoy him as a personality.  He knows some good southern stories and, by the way, he is an expert at southern hospitality.  I always look forward to my trips down to his neck of the woods as we have a glorious time just waiting for sundown to start on a little nourishment.

I would be particularly grateful for any courtesy you can show Perriola and with many thanks in advance.

As ever,

Don[1]

_______________

[1] Callahan, 398.

Donald Harrison also wrote a general letter of introduction for Roy to present to various local celebrities as he traveled through England and France–a typical courtesy of the era. Roy told the story of calling upon William McKie at Westminster Abbey and, as he was pulling GDH’s letter from his jacket pocket, Sir William gently pushed it away saying, “I know who you are; if it weren’t for our English policies, I would have one of your organs here in the Abbey.”  Whether he actually would have or not is open to conjecture, but the fact is known that McKie was kindly affectioned to American organists of that era, and certainly knew of Aeolian-Skinner’s work.

Post G. Donald Harrison: 1956-1972

Diapason obitThe death of G. Donald Harrison from a heart attack on the evening of  June 14, 1956 came as a shock, not only to the Aeolian-Skinner family of workers, but to the organ world in general, so greatly loved and respected was he. He was finishing his work on the new organ at St. Thomas Church in New York just weeks before the American Guild of Organists’ national convention and had to walk home in intense heat because he couldn’t find a taxi during a subway strike.  Harrison was heard to say that he considered the St. Thomas organ to be his masterpiece. Ernest Skinner, who was older than GDH by 23 years and outlived him by four years, was by this time openly hostile and vitriolic to the younger Harrison, especially so in the advertising of his own separate company and his letters to the editor in the trade journals.  Ever since being forced out of the company bearing his name, it had been a bitter pill for the older man to see his early successes one by one fall prey to advancing tonal ideals which were now favored by the leading organists of the day. St. Thomas Church, in particular, was one of Ernest Skinner’s favorite and most celebrated organs. For many years the Skinner company had an office and showroom across Fifth Avenue and Skinner and his friend T. Tertius Noble often entertained customers using the St. Thomas organ as a demonstration instrument. Harrison saw his new organ at St. Thomas to be his response to the verbal abuse which Skinner had dished out through the years, to which Harrison had never replied in print. For all of these reasons, the mystique surrounding Harrison’s death and his role as the figurehead of Aeolian-Skinner has been perpetuated, even to this day, quite apart from the organs he wrought.

Inevitably, Harrison’s death paved the way for Roy Perry to gain further prominence as he placed his own personal stamp on the body of work for which he was responsible. Upon Harrison’s death Joseph S. Whiteford was immediately appointed tonal director and chairman of the board of Aeolian-Skinner, so there was no crisis of leadership within the company, except for the fact that Whiteford was young, rich, and was seen by many of the older company employees (many of whom had been with the company for many years) as something of a Johnny-come-lately on  the scene. The work that came out of the factory at this time was of uniform quality, but varied greatly in their final tonal attributes, depending upon the local installation crew and finisher. This was particularly so in the case of the large four-manual organ in the new St. Mark’s Church (now Cathedral) in Shreveport, Louisiana, where Roy and the Williams took it upon themselves to make significant changes on the job. William Teague said in his talk at the 2011 East Texas Festival that Whiteford quipped, not entirely in jest, “it’s a Perry organ, not a Whiteford organ.” Nora Williams, in her interview referenced above, likewise tells of serious disagreements between Roy and Donald Gillett, Whiteford’s successor several years later. Roy, for his part, however, always gave credit to both men and their gifts and, while not afraid to offer suggestions and criticism boldly, he yielded to their authority, at least in principle.

Apart from the Kilgore and Longview organs, Roy Perry’s most compelling work was undertaken in the post-Harrison years of Aeolian-Skinner: Church of the Heavenly Rest, Abilene, Texas; Caruth Auditorium of Southern Methodist University (now in Saint Luke’s Church in Dallas); Temple Emanu-El, Dallas; First United Methodist Church in Houston; St. Mark’s, Beaumont, Texas; First Presbyterian Church (now Trinity-First Presbyterian), Laurel, Mississippi; and First Baptist Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee; and, of course, the Shreveport organ. Occasionally his work took him outside of his normal territory and it is known that he worked on company jobs at Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, and Trinity Church in Upperville, Virginia.

In Kilgore he made some additions to the organ in First Presbyterian Church in 1966, notably the low 12 pipes of the 32′ Bombarde, his personal memorial to G. Donald Harrison. Also the exposed pipework flanking the chancel window and Trompette-en-Chamade, consisting of a mounted cornet with separate draws for the 8′ and 2′ ranks, and a third mixture in the Great division called Plein Jeu, which was designed to cap the full organ with sound from the flue chorus, contrasting to the Trompette-en-Chamade in the reed chorus.  This was one of his signature goals when he could accomplish it in larger organs: the choruses of either the reeds or the flues/mixtures could dominate the organ as desired, or they could each contribute to a thrilling full organ sound.  He also added a high pitched tierce mixture in the Swell which he called Carillon, for use as a special effect, particularly in episodic contrapuntal music. He also added in the Choir division a new and unusual celeste stop of tapered harmonic flutes called Harmonic Spitzflöte II.

At this time the console was updated with drawknobs and a new combination action, but still within the original Möller console. These additions were made possible through the contributions of the Crim family who had given and enhanced the organ from its humble beginnings to this point. The Crim’s had also given the chancel window when the church was built in 1939 which, together with the Trompette-en-Chamde, became an icon in the printed literature of both Aeolian-Skinner and of the church.

Frederick Swann and Roy Perry, 1967.

Frederick Swann and Roy Perry, 1967.

In 1967 Roy was feted on his 35th anniversary as Organist and Choirmaster of the First Presbyterian Church, including a recital by Frederick Swann, a testimonial dinner with gifts, and a commemorative plaque in the chancel presented by the Aeolian-Skinner company. In retrospect, for want of a story with a happy ending, once could wish that he had retired then at the top of his game, but he was only 61 years old.

RP with the Rev. Dr. Shirley C. Guthrie, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, at his 35th anniversary celebration.

RP with the Rev. Dr. Shirley C. Guthrie, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, at his 35th anniversary celebration.

Post First Presbyterian Church and Post Aeolian-Skinner: 1972-1978

The demise of the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company may have caused Roy and the Williams some sentimental angst, but they probably had seen the handwriting on the wall; by this time they had built several organs on their own. Aeolian-Skinner’s fortunes had been hanging in the balance for some years. One can cite with reasonable accuracy and authority a combination of factors for the company’s inexorable fall from its once dominant place in the organ building field, including post-World War II inflation, the death of Harrison, growing interest in historical organs (for example, the Organ Historical Society was founded in 1956), and careless business practices.

One of the ideas tossed about, with some seriousness, in Aeolian-Skinner’s end game was a plan hatched by none other than Martin Wick, president of the Wicks Organ Company. It was Wick’s idea to buy Aeolian-Skinner and bring it to Longview, Texas, with Roy Perry as the tonal director.  Martin said he had no trouble with the idea of building Cadillacs in one factory and Chevrolets in another! But, if I remember the story correctly as Roy told me, Wick couldn’t get his board of directors to agree with him.

However, Roy’s unhappy separation from the church in 1972 was a devastating personal trauma which, in varying degrees, caused him pain for the rest of his life.  Like so many talented workers in the church with unusually long tenures, the very attributes that contribute to an effectiveness over a long period of time, became, in a fairly short period of time, a negative force in the climate of inevitable change. The precise series of events leading to this denouement may never be known and are really irrelevant in terms of Roy’s legacy, except to complete the poignant narrative. A talented novelist could, in all likelihood, have taken the cast of characters and circumstances as given at this confluence of events in post-oil boom, small town Kilgore, and made a compelling page turner fit for night time television without altering any of the facts.

Almost simultaneous with his leaving the church came the opportunity to do what Roy considered his greatest work. Writing in March 1973 to Frances Anderson, his former student, choirmember, and occasional substitute organist Roy said  “I have just about got a come-and-go job spread over four years as supervising architect for the rebuilding of the Great Organ in Washington (D. C.) Cathedral. That is a pretty high-keyed swan song.” And again in May of that year “. . . so music is gone for me, but . . . people are still willing to buy my brains. I go to Washington day after tomorrow.”

For a detailed account of Perry’s work at Washington Cathedral, see Roy Perry, Paul Callaway, and the Washington Cathedral Organ | Neal Campbell–Words and Pictures.

I met Roy Perry in June 1972 when I was a finalist at the National Organ Playing Competition held in conjunction with the AGO national convention held that year in Dallas. My teacher was William Watkins, and he wanted me to meet Roy and to see the organ in the First Presbyterian Church, which was his favorite and on which he had played and recorded shortly after its installation. At the time I did not know of the impending talks with Washington Cathedral, but when I did learn that Roy would be coming to the city where I lived, worked, and studied, his trips were given priority in my calendar, and I cleared the way to meet him at the airport, run errands for him, and introduce him to my friends and invite him to come to some of my services. I also had many opportunities to sit in silence as he and Aeolian-Skinner’s former head voicer John Hendricksen went through the painstakingly patient process of finishing the many ranks of new pipework for the cathedral organ. I also had the opportunity to visit a few of his friends who made their way to Washington to see him and his work at the cathedral, including Joseph Bramlette for whom Roy and Jim Williams had just completed a house organ in Malibu, California.

Roy Perry on the first page of the Style section of The Washington Post, July 4, 1976.

Roy Perry and the cathedral organ on the first page of the Style section of The Washington Post, July 4, 1976.

I left Washington in 1976 just as the work at the Cathedral was complete. By this time Roy had made something of a name for himself as a consultant and potential organ designer, and various offers and inquiries came his way, both in Washington and beyond. His last work was designing and finishing some additions to the Aeolian-Skinner organ in the Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington, where my good friend Charles Callahan was then the organist. I kept in touch with Roy via telephone and letters, and through Charlie, who had the occasion to see him frequently. Increasingly the reports of his health were not good, his various afflictions worsened, complications from diabetes escalated, and his behavior became more erratic, approaching that of dementia.

I was soon to see for myself something of the nature of this disturbing series of events. Undeterred, however, I had arranged for him to survey the Aeolian-Skinner organ in St. George’s-by-the-River Episcopal Church in Rumson, New Jersey, where I was organist. The organ, while very effective, had never been completed and it was my thought that Roy and his cathedral consortium, which he humorously referred to as Organbuilders Anonymous, might complete the organ.

I forget the exact sequence of crossed signals surrounding his visit, except that I had been given the flight number for his plane which was to arrive at Newark Airport. When I arrived at the gate I was told that the flight number he had quoted me was for a flight to LaGuardia Airport in New York.  This being the days before cell phones or hand-held email devices to confirm such details, I simply got in my rickety Volkswagen and drove from EWR  through the Holland Tunnel, through Manhattan, and out to LGA.  No Roy on any flight there, either.  So I called the secretary at St. George’s saying I had been delayed, only to be told that a Mr. Perry was waiting for me in the chancel of the church.  His flight did arrive in Newark, but was indeed assigned a different number from that which he quoted me.  So, back home I went, across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, through Staten Island, the Outerbridge Crossing, down the Garden State Parkway, to the church, now several hours later than I had planned, where—sure enough—he was at the organ.  That was enough of a snag for one day, but I only learned later, from various sources, what had actually transpired during the morning while I was driving all over Monmouth and Essex counties in New Jersey, and the boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.

When I didn’t show at EWR, Roy had confidently hailed a limousine for the only good-sized hotel near Rumson anyone could find for him, the Molly Pitcher Inn in Red Bank.   When he got there, he inquired for a room, but they told him they had nothing.  He pressed a little, invoked the name of St. George’s-by-the-River, said he was only there on business for the night, so they gave him an unused staff room—fine.

He got to his room, unpacked, called the church leaving a message for me when I called in, and decided to freshen up.  So, he undressed and got in the shower—no soap.  Traveling light, he didn’t have a robe, but he did have a Washington Cathedral stone carver’s apron in long gray canvass with the Cathedral’s iconic Jerusalem cross embroidered in episcopal purple on the front which a stone carver from the Cathedral had given him.  Foolishly (but this was Roy!) he slipped it on, and went out into the hall to find some soap and some slightly disoriented, non-English speaking women saw him naked from the back and shrieked in horror.  God only knows what he said to her, but the house security detail forced him to leave the premises immediately.

As he strode indignantly through the lobby with his belongings to find a cab to the church, he yelled at the top of his voice to no one in particular, thinking he was quoting the namesake of the hotel, Molly Pitcher,  “shoot this old gray head if you must, but spare our country’s flag, she said.”  To which some mousey anonymous tourist sitting on a suitcase said, “wasn’t Molly Pitcher said that, it was Barbara Fritchie!” Exeunt omnes!  It’s a tragic, yet humorously noble scene, and though containing obvious overtones of instability, it still causes me to laugh, even as I write this!

Shortly before this time there came to Kilgore a new organist of First Presbyterian Church named Stephen Farrow who reached out to Roy, effecting a time of calm and healing in Roy’s life which in the best of schemes might have evolved into a happy golden era. Sadly, this was not to be as Roy died by his own hand on Saturday, May 27,1978.

The Crim’s, taking the role of his next of kin, served as his pallbearers and made arrangements to have him laid to rest in their ancestral cemetery just outside of town. For his funeral in the First Presbyterian Church, where he served for forty years, Stephen Farrow played the organ, and the Rev. Dr. Shirley Guthrie, by now the pastor emeritus, presided. Later, the church placed a plaque at the foot of his grave, in addition to the actual marker, which gives the years of his service to the church, concluding with the quotation Dr. Guthrie had used at his 35th anniversary celebration, which is as good a summary of his life as any I can think of: “His Music Enriched Our Lives.”

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[1] Pirtle, Caleb III, and Terry Stembridge. Echoes From Forgotten Streets: Memories of Kilgore Texas, Oil Capital of America, 65. Dallas: Dockery House Publishing. ISBN 1 879 234 56 4

[2] Pirtle, Caleb III. Holding Forth The Word of Life: The Legacy of the First Presbyterian Church of Kilgore, 79, 84. Kilgore, Texas: by the church, 2000.

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East Texas Pipe Organ Festival 2012: Honoring the Life and Work of Roy Perry (1906-1978)

Roy Perry, ca. 1966

Roy Perry, ca. 1966

This article appeared in an abbreviated form

in the February 2013 issue of The Diapason.

Copyright © 2013 Neal Campbell

Stoplists, photographs, and commentary on the four Aeolian-Skinner organs discussed in this article are found as separate blog entries on the list in the column to the right.

Photographs, most of which may be enlarged by clicking on them, are from my archival collection, internet sources, candids I took via my BlackBerry, and from the Facebook album of Paul Marchesano, which are included with his permission and my thanks.

Background

For the second time in as many years I attended the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival held November 11-15, 2012, honoring the life and work of Roy Perry (1906-1978), featuring four organs built by Aeolian-Skinner which he designed and finished.  The rationale for such an event is best summed up in Roy Perry’s own words from a brochure he wrote in 1952, describing the organs in First Presbyterian Church and St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Kilgore, and First Baptist Church in Longview shortly after they were built:

Among musicians, only the organist seems to suffer from a chronic indecision in defining his instrument.  The pathology of this condition just about parallels the history of the organ, and is perhaps inevitable, since the factors involved in making an organ present a wider latitude of choice than those presented by the piano or the violin.  The varying fads and fashions of organ design have had their effect on organ literature; just so has the current repertoire in a given period influenced the thinking of organ designers.

From time to time in the history of this apparent confusion an artist-builder has stood out from the ranks of organ makers to stamp his aesthetic ideals on the organs and the organ music of his era, thus stabilizing for a time a concept of the organ worthy of the respect of musically educated people. Such men were Silbermann in 18th century Germany, Cavaille-Coll in 19th century France, and Father Willis in England.  Each of these men, in his own country and his own time, combined a clear historical perspective and a just appreciation of function to produce great, if differing, masterpieces of the organ builder’s art.  In 20th century America the man worthy to be named in their company is certainly G. Donald Harrison.

Mr. Harrison is personally familiar with the historical aspects of his art, having examined with a critical ear the best surviving instruments of all periods.  Just as a contemporary painter understands the techniques of Da Vinci but refrains from copying Mona Lisa, Mr. Harrison has rejected mere imitation.  He has experimented in all styles of organ building, but only to create a style of his own that is eclectic and individual at the same time.  It is his expressed aim to create organs on which all worthy organ music can be performed with the highest artistry.

A decade and a half ago the tonal design’s of G. Donald Harrison were considered revolutionary, mostly because of the considerable publicity given a few of his organs built in the so-called Baroque style.  At the present time, when tastes range all the way from extreme Romanticism . . . to the bleak austerities of the Baroque, his tonal ideas represent a temperate middle-of-the-road.  The flexibility of his thinking is well demonstrated  in the three organs considered in this booklet.  None of these organs is extreme in any direction.  They are alike only by way of family resemblance, but each in its way is a work of art.  They provide a generous education in contemporary organ building as interpreted by this great artist, and are happily concentrated in a small geographical area.

It is clear from his own words that Roy Perry considered G. Donald Harrison, and not he himself, to be the designer of these organs.  This brings up a question that has sometimes been asked of me: did Perry design these (or any other) Aeolian-Skinner organs?  Roy himself would have been the first to say it was GDH, whom he revered during their all-too-brief association which ended when Harrison died in 1956.  But it is also true that Roy had a lot of control over the organs he sold for A-S and that GDH relied heavily on his knowledge in setting initial design parameters, especially so in that during the post World War II era the company was at its busiest and Harrison was swamped with inquiries and orders.  In the last fifteen years of A-S’s existence following GDH’s death Roy’s influence over “his” organs was even greater, sometimes even surreptitiously so!

However, the real signature that manifests itself in each of Roy’s organs is the result of the finishing process in which he and the Williams family of technicians brought the factory-completed instruments to their full flower through installing and tonal finishing on site.  William Teague, long-time organist of St. Mark’s Church (now Cathedral) in Shreveport, tells of seeing Roy and Jim Williams spend hours on a given stop or pipe to insure its perfect speech, dynamic strength, and blend.  Multiplied over the span of his 20 plus year career with Aeolian-Skinner the musical imprimatur on Roy’s organs is hard to miss, although difficult to quantify by means of scientific measurement.  Writing to Henry Willis III in 1955 Donald Harrison says that Roy

  . . . has supervised, with the aid of Jack Williams [sometimes known as T. J.] and his son [Jim or J. C.], most of our important installations in Texas.  He is an accomplished organist and has a wonderful ear. He is a top notch finisher and during my periodic visits to Texas I cannot remember a  time when I have had to suggest that something might have been done a little differently.  He just has that kind of organ sense.

Roy Perry at Opus 1174 during its tonal finishing, 1950

Roy Perry at First Baptist Church, Longview, during the tonal finishing.

Festival Itinerary

There are, of course, many examples in this country and overseas of festivals centering on some unifying theme: a composer, musicological practice, or some other cause.  Unlike the AGO conventions and denomination specific conferences and their smorgasbord of activities with which I personally have been involved, these East Texas festivals were my first experiences with such topic specific conferences and the rewards for those who love these organs were enormous.  The fact that all of the playing was world class and that the organs were in excellent condition made for a memorable week of organ music. [For an account of last year’s festival readers are referred to Michael Fox’s review published in the February 2012 issue of The Diapason.]

As with all conferences, the only way to completely and truly grasp the entire event is to swallow it whole, so to speak, and make it your mission to take in every event in its entirety.  My complete participation was somewhat compromised by having to play church in Connecticut on Sunday morning, so I missed the pre-Festival recital by Bradley Welch on Sunday evening in Longview.  Further, part of my mission in attending was to provide transportation and note-holding for organ technician Stephen Emery.  But I did make all of the recitals on the four featured Aeolian-Skinner organs—the three in Kilgore and Longview, and one in Nacogdoches. And I had the opportunity to play and go through each organ at some length, a great bonus of being the organ tuner’s helper!

Through recitals by a variety of artists these four organs were put through their paces during the festival week and provided an excellent opportunity to see, hear, and compare four distinct, unique Aeolian-Skinner organs that have the unifying characteristic of being installed and finished by the same artisans, Roy Perry and the Williams family.  In addition to honoring the legacy of Roy Perry, this year the life and career of Alexander Boggs Ryan, noted teacher and performer from Longview, was also commemorated in the Wednesday afternoon and evening sessions in Longview when the routine departed from its A-S centric (and even its organ centric) scheme in an organ recital and a program of harpsichord music in Trinity Episcopal Church, the Ryan family church and organ.   There was also a display of memorabilia on the lives of Perry and Ryan at the Gregg County Historical Museum, and a talk by family members, which I had to miss owing to my note holding duties.  Each day also included ample social opportunities at meal times and the nightly “Afterglow” receptions which concluded each day—or began the next morning!  I was sorry to have also missed most of these convivial gatherings owing to Steve Emery’s tuning schedule.

Steve Emery at St. Luke's showing the organ to 300 school children, also part of the festival plan.

Steve Emery at St. Luke’s showing the organ to 300 school children, also part of the festival plan.

Incidentally, just as no discussion of the of these organs in their earlier generation would be complete without mention of the Williams family of organ technicians from New Orleans who installed and maintained them, so the work of Steve Emery was central to the success of this festival.  For a week prior to the festival, and throughout the actual week of events, Steve gave these four organs the type of careful, knowledgeable, sympathetic attention that has earned him his high reputation as an expert on the maintenance and restoration of these types of organs.   In my personal case, Steve and I worked together for 21 very happy years maintaining and restoring the organ in St. Stephen’s Church, Richmond, Virginia, Aeolian-Skinner’s Opus 1110, an organ of four manuals and 70 ranks which he still maintains, traveling several times a year from his shop headquarters in suburban Philadelphia. In fact, this circuit rider approach to organ maintenance is not unlike what took place in the years following these organs’ initial installations, and on other Aeolian-Skinner installations throughout the region: the Williams— T. J and Sally, Jim and Nora, or some combination—would arrive on site, check into a motel and stay for a week or ten days—once a year at most! to do a thorough tuning and some planned repairs.  Between these visits Roy Perry assisted by local organists, choirmembers, and Sonny Birdsong (son Mabel Birdsong, the organist of First Baptist, Longview) would do spot tunings and make minor repairs and adjustments.

Monday

Before the festival officially opened with the evening recital, there was an opportunity in the afternoon to gather in St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Kilgore for a demonstration of the organ and for some reminiscences and conversation with Charles Callahan and Larry Palmer on composers they had known and with whom they had worked.

Charlie demonstrated the great versatility and color of the organ, one of the larger two-manual organs Aeolian-Skinner built. Of the four organs featured in the festival St. Luke’s obviously has the least favorable acoustical environment for organ sound and Charlie made the point that it was more difficult to build an effective organ in an acoustically dead room, such as this, than in more resonant ones.  The organ has always been a favorite of mine and is a notable success within its given parameters.

Larry offered remembrances of his several commissions from and first performances of the works of Gerald Near and Charlie told of his encounters with Leo Sowerby, David McK. Williams, and Thomas Matthews.  Of particular interest, however, were his remembrances of visiting with Alexander Schreiner, pupil of Widor and Vierne, who we know primarily as the organist of the Mormon Tabernacle immediately prior to and following the installation of Aeolian-Skinner’s legendary five-manual Opus 1075.  But Schreiner’s Ph.D. degree was in composition and he composed a lot of organ music, most of which is unknown.

The opening recital of the festival was given by Thomas Murray at the First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore on Monday evening and was the second annual recital honoring James Lynn Culp, organist emeritus of the church.  At the mid point in the evening a plaque was shown honoring Jimmy’s thirty years of service to the church which will be placed in the chancel along with those to Roy Perry and G. Donald Harrison.

Lorenz Maycher, organist of the church and founding director of the festival, made the point several times throughout the week that it was interesting to see and hear first hand how different players approach the same organ. Tom Murray’s use of the organ was the most conservative of the week and the organ obliged completely and effectively in replicating a sound more typical of the house of Skinner in its pre-Harrison days, even in his hefty dose of Bach.   The rest of the program, and particularly the Franck was obviously informed by a 19th century aesthetic.  In the scherzo, in particular, Professor Murray’s solid and assured technique was put to good use.  There was a large crowd, filling the church, including many young people which I was told were from nearby Kilgore College.  All told, an encouraging opening to the week.

Thomas Murray, Organist

The Second Annual Recital in Honor of James Lynn Culp, Organist Emeritus

First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore

Concert in C major (in one movement), BWV 595—Bach

Four Sketches for Organ or Pedal-Piano, Op. 58—Schumann

C minor; C major; F minor; D-flat major

Two Welsh Folk-Tune Arrangements—Vaughan Williams

Romanza “The White Rock”

Toccata “Saint David’s Day

Passacaglia, BWV 582—Bach

Intermission—Presentation to James Lynn Culp

Carillon, Op. 75—Elgar

Grande Pièce Symphonique—Franck

Picture2

First Presbyterian Church, view from the nave

Tuesday

The morning recital was again at First Presbyterian Church and could not have been in greater contrast to the use of the organ the previous evening.  I had not heard Walt Strony previously, although I had known his name and—erroneously, as it turns out—had assumed he was strictly a theatre organist.  What I quickly learned was that his approach, technique, and style sort of defies description in typical academic terms and he seems completely at home in concert, theatre, and church settings.  It must have been this type of all-commanding wizardry put to solid musical principles that led throngs to hear Edwin H. Lemare and Archer Gibson in the early 20th century. This was a wonderfully satisfying morning of creative music making.

He used the organ in all of its permutations and possibilities.  The standard groupings of organ tone and registration were clearly evident, but the imaginative exploitative quest for color and drama was always also evident, and tastefully so.  Walt’s biography in the program booklet says that he has written a book on theatre organ registration which has become a standard reference work for theatre organists.  I wish he would write one for classical organists, too.  We have a lot to learn from him, especially those who attempt effective transcriptions.

Walt’s program was an eclectic mix of original works for the organ, transcriptions, paraphrases of classical standards, and some dazzling arrangements of his own.  His hymn arrangements made me ache for the days when the organ was still the instrument of choice in the evangelistic churches in the pre-praise band era.  I particularly liked his inclusion of the arrangement of Fats Waller’s pieces, reminding us that Waller was an organist and knew Dupré!  His performance of Lemare’s transcription of the Liebestod easily stood its own with Virgil Fox’s recording at Wanamaker’s.   The Carmen Fantasy and closing Kismet suite were organists’ counterpart to a standard 19th and 20th century piano virtuoso’s staple—the symphonic paraphrase.  And in this case Walt struck me as being the Horowitz of the organ!  Richard Purvis’ music captured the essence of the Kilgore organ which is easily the equal of its slightly older and larger cousin organ, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, the organ for which Purvis’ music was conceived.

I was impressed most of all by the fact that Walt Strony seemed comfortable in stepping aside and letting the organ take center stage in its own right.  He did not try to mold it into his preconceived notion, or filter it through any established aesthetic.  He didn’t attempt to make it sound like a theatre organ, or a so-called symphonic organ, or a classic organ, although elements of each were clearly present.  It was simply the modern American organ playing music—and, using a word Roy Perry liked to use in describing this very organ, it was “deluxe!”

Someone who had grown up in First Presbyterian Church asked me what I thought Roy Perry himself would have made of the program—a natural question considering that during most of his years at the church (1932-1972), particularly the early ones, Roy was perceived as being strict, even doctrinaire, in his approach to and selection of sacred music.  Given the times and lack of any developed religious musical aesthetic in the community, he saw himself as a missionary in paving the way and setting standards of worthy church music, and was often colorfully demonstrative in his opinions of the sacred versus the profane.

But I think Roy would have loved this program.  It fully showed off his “banjo” and everyone had a good time.  After his retirement from the church most of Roy’s professional life was taken up working on the renovation of the organ in Washington Cathedral which required him to make periodic trips to Washington, sometimes for several weeks at a time.  During these visits he always made a point of going to the Alexandria Roller Rink with Bob Wyant, the foreman for the Newcomer firm who took care of the Cathedral organ.  Here the very talented Jimmy Boyce presided over a re-installed Wurlitzer and played regular sets to accompany the skaters.

Roy reveled in this flip side of the church organ and was himself a theatre organist at one time.  He had been the organist of The Pines Theatre in Lufkin, Texas, before coming to Kilgore.  In fact it was Knox Lamb, the manager of the theatre in Lufkin, who suggested Roy Perry to Liggett Crim, the owner of the chain of theatres and also a pillar of the First Presbyterian Church, who was looking for an organist for the new church in Kilgore in 1932.  Yes, he would have liked this!

Walt Strony, Organist

First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore

Walt Strony at the console of 1173

Walt Strony at the console of 1173

Sinfonia from Cantata #29 “We Thank Thee, O God—Bach

Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde—Wagner

Capriccio on the Notes of the Cuckoo (from Three Pieces)—Purvis

Thanksgiving (from Four Prayers in Tone)—Purvis

Two Hymn Arrangements—Strony

    His Eye is on the Sparrow; Joyful, joyful

Intermission

Tico, Tico—Zequinha de Abreu

Carmen Fantasy—Bizet, arr. Strony

Two Improvisations—Strony

      Over the rainbow—Harold Arlen; On the Sunny Side of the Street—Jimmy McHugh

Ain’t Misbehavin; A Handfull of Keys—Fats Waller

Bess, You Is My Woman from Porgy and Bess—Gershwin

Medley from Kismet—Borodin ( arr. Robert Wright, George Forrest)

The Trompette-en-Chamade and exposed Great upperwork

The Trompette-en-Chamade and exposed Great upperwork.  Photo Copyright © 1980 O. Rufus Lovett. 

Tuesday afternoon the conference moved to Longview, about a ten minute drive from Kilgore, and was devoted to a visit to Trinity Episcopal Church in Longview, the Ryan family church.  Jeremy Bruns demonstrated the Ryan Family Organ built by Ross King, and Larry Palmer played a harpsichord recital featuring several works one is not likely to hear on a recital program featuring this historic instrument—modern works by Near, Howells, Martinu, and arrangements of Duke Ellington—which I was particularly sorry not to hear, but Steve Emery and I had our work cut out for us in tuning the large organ in the First Baptist Church.

First Baptist Church in 1955

First Baptist Church in 1955

The history and aesthetic of the First Baptist Church in Longview is the stuff of legend.  Its complete story is far too rich to adequately tell here.  Suffice it to say that as it played itself out, it could only have taken place at the confluence of three important and independent factors: the oil rich location in East Texas, the population boom of the post World War II era, and the visionary leadership of its pastor from 1945-1971, the Rev. Dr. W. Morris Ford.

The Rev. Dr. W. Morris Ford

The Rev. Dr. W. Morris Ford

Unlike some so-called “high” ecumenical Baptist churches in the south with impressive music programs and facilities to match, such as Myers Park in Charlotte, or River Road in Richmond—or even Riverside in New York, First Baptist in Longview was more or less a typical Southern Baptist church.  Their services centered on preaching at Sunday morning and evening services, they had prayer meeting on Wednesday nights in the chapel, the men’s bible class met on Sunday before church, and a softball team competed in a church league in the summer.  The music was weighted toward participation as a holy offering, as opposed to musical erudition.  And, though always courteous and “playing well with others,” they were not overtly ecumenical.  The previous church, across the street from the present one, seated some 800 people including horseshoe shaped galleries, and was an American adaptation of a domed classical structure which had served the congregation since 1902.  Mabel Birdsong had been the organist since 1920, playing a two manual Hillgreen-Lane organ.

Dr. Ford singing with the choir

Dr. Ford singing with the choir

Dr. Ford was a cultured man with an earned doctorate, a love of music, and a fine singing and speaking voice.  He sang both as soloist and with the church choir, and it was he that infused the church and its services with an innate sense of classical dignity in all things, which was his authentic response to the calling of the Gospel.  This he did without diminishing the essential tenets or manifestations of the Baptist tradition.  He brought Dr. Glenn Farr to Longview as the Minister of Music to work together with Miss Mable, who continued as organist until she retired in 1970.

Dr. Glenn Farr, choir director, and Mable Birdsong, organist from 1920-1970

Dr. Glenn Farr, choir director, and Mable Birdsong, organist from 1920-1970

When it was decided to build a new church the vision was big and bold.  The local architect B. F. Crain, who trained at Harvard and designed several notable buildings in the area, was selected and the style of the new church was determined to be “Modern Gothic.”   To be frank there is little that is Gothic about it in the textbook sense, but the scale and towering spaciousness—even its domination of its local surroundings—is obviously inspired by the Gothic aesthetic stripped to its essential unadorned lines.  It seats 1,700 persons, the interior height is 93 feet, and it was designed with the organ’s success in mind from the beginning.  Taken in this light, the 87-rank organ seems almost modest, at least on paper.  But its tonal impact is comprehensive and monumental.  Writing about the organ when it was new Roy Perry says

Although this organ leans toward the Classic style, it affords five pairs of strings, a Vox Humana, and percussions, not to mention the wonderful flutes and small reeds. It will do justice to any music, even the humblest; in grandeur it holds its own with the great organs of the world.

The interior of First Baptist Church

The interior of First Baptist Church

The organ seems to have suited the needs and vision of the church perfectly and was appreciated as an asset to the community and was played by the great organists of America and Europe.  Virgil Fox inaugurated the organ and ultimately played there several times, and Catherine Crozier made two notable LP recordings on it which were iconic in publicizing and documenting the organ when it was new.  The only reason I can figure why they are not better known is that they were recorded in monaural just before stereo recording technology was coming into its own and they have never been never reissued.  And why Aeolian-Skinner never featured this organ on their King of Instruments series of recordings may be one of the mysteries confined to the ages.

In the ensuing years recitals and concerts regularly took place in the yearly round of church services and activities, including a performance of the Bach St. John Passion sung in 1962 by the Robert Shaw Chorale, for which by this time Dr. Ford’s son, David, was a member.  The church may not have styled itself as anything but a typical Southern Baptist church, but during Dr. Ford’s tenure as pastor there were many opportunities to be presented with world class music, in ideal acoustical surroundings, by well-known recitalists and ensembles—many more than a typical church of any denomination for miles around.  So, although there was a recital here on last year’s festival, it was of particular interest to me that three full-length evening recitals on Opus 1174 were included this year’s activities.

As is typical of most Baptist churches these days in this part of the country, the organ in First Baptist is not now the primary musical instrument used to lead the music of their services; its role is more that of a collaborative player with a band.  Impacting the organ’s tuning is a modern computer driven heating, cooling, and ventilation control system which many large spaces rely on these days.  By digital means, which are predetermined and programmed into a computer, the heating and cooling systems are used in tandem to create a precise temperature at a precise time.  Nothing could be of greater aid in the efficient control of the temperature in so large a building.  And nothing could be of greater hindrance in tuning the organ!  Steve said that up in the organ chamber heat might be coming out of one vent and cooling out of another in no apparent time pattern, seemingly at random, determined by the pre-programmed computer formula.

The staff of First Baptist were helpful in accommodating the unusual (to them) requests to override the systems for a set period of time to stabilize the temperature long enough for tuning and recitals.  The result was that we had to wait for a while until the temperature was approximately that which Steve had left it last.  Then, just as it was right, he went to work and all would be well, until such time as the automatic controls took over again.  There was a definite window of opportunity for optimum effect, not unlike an immediate flight departure in order to gain a take off spot before a storm prevents your landing slot in a city a thousand miles away.  And, according to Steve, we were just barely within that window!

Richard Elliott, Steve Emery, and Charles Callahan in the choir loft of First Baptist Church

Richard Elliott, Steve Emery, and Charles Callahan in the choir loft of First Baptist Church

Richard Elliott, organist of the Mormon Tabernacle, played the Alexander Boggs Ryan Memorial Concert at First Baptist Church on Tuesday evening.  The recital featured several pieces of varying eras and genres which presented the organ to good effect.  Ryan had played at the church in a 1959 program which included several pieces sung by the Rev. Dr. Morris Ford.  Three of these songs were here sung by David Ford, and it was good to hear the organ in the role of accompanist, which role was a significant part of the organ’s duty in the normal round of services.  Richard played the technically demanding program with the ease and confidence audiences are accustomed to in his weekly broadcasts from The Tabernacle.  The concluding work was the familiar Carillon de Westminster, which was characterized by an intense rhythmic drive throughout, and the gradual building up of dynamic forces which continued throughout the piece until the very end—saving something for the final the final few measures.  He obviously knew how to elicit the most drama out of the organ.  Many an organist wouldn’t be able to resist pulling out all the stops too soon; here the various climaxes were gauged and measured, saving something for the final few bars.  It reminded me of the old Columbia recording of Schreiner playing this work at The Tabernacle, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Richard had patterned his scheme from it.

David Ford, left, and Lorenz Maycher

David Ford (left) and Lorenz Maycher

Richard Elliott, Organist

David Ford, Bass

The Alexander Boggs Ryan Memorial Concert

First Baptist Church, Longview

 *Chaconne—Louis Couperin

*+Toccata in F, BWV 540—Bach

+The Heavens are Telling, from Six Songs, Op. 48, No. 4—Beethoven

+O Lord, Most Holy (Panis Angelicus) from Messe solennelle—Franck

+Recessional—Reginal De Koven

Cantilena—John Longhurst

Every Tim I Feel the Spirit—Spiritual, arr. Elliott

*Variations sur un Noël—Dupré

*Adagio Cantabile from Symphony No. 3 in C minor—Saint-Saëns

*+Carillon de Westminster (from Pièces de fantaisie, 3ème Suite)—Vierne

Note: Works marked with  * were frequently performed by Alexander Boggs Ryan.  Works marked with + appeared on the June 9, 1959 recital at First Baptist Church, Longview, featuring the Rev. Dr. W. Morris Ford (father of David Ford) and Alexander Boggs Ryan.

Wednesday

 The first event of the day was a delightful program by Charles Callahan at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church which consisted of lesser known gems by Bach, Fiocco, Charles and Samuel Wesley—honoring our host denomination, Peace, Wolstenholme, and three of his own compositions.  The program was carefully chosen to highlight the great variety and nuance of this remarkable organ, and was played with charm, grace, and lyricism.  I sat in the back of the full, completely carpeted church and the organ had remarkable presence in the room, which itself was completely devoid of reverberation.  This is the real testament to the success of the organbuilder’s art.

CC and Frances Anderson

Charles Callahan and Frances Anderson at St. Luke’s

Charles Callahan, Organist

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Kilgore

 Prelude and Fugue in C  (Misc. keyboard)—Bach

Adagio and Rondo—Joseph-Hector Fiocco

Air and Variation—Charles Wesley

Voluntary in G—Samuel Wesley

Allegro all Marcia—Albert Lister Peace

Pastorale in D—William Walstenholme

Three Pieces—Callahan

Lauda Sion (from Gregorian Suite)

Prelude on Jewels (from Kilgore Suite)

Trumpet Tune (from Suite in D)

Before lunch we walked the few blocks to First Presbyterian Church for Ann Frohbieter’s well chosen program, which, with the exception of Houston composer Michael Horvit’s The Red Sea, consisted of more or less standard organ repertoire.  But the playing was anything but standard!  Each piece was thrillingly played with an obvious affinity and understanding of the inherent beauty and resources of this organ.  To me it was the perfect foil to Strony’s program the previous morning, showing the same vivid approach to the organ via the repertoire.

Ann Frohbieter, Organist

Ann Frohbieter

Ann Frohbieter

First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore

Introduction and Passacaglia—Reger

Allegro (Concerto in A minor, BWV 593)—Bach-Vivaldi

The Red Sea—Michael Horvit

Variations on AmericaIves

Adagio for Strings—Barber

Impromptu (from Pièces de fantaisie, Book III, Op. 54)—Vierne

Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H—Liszt

Program note:  The Red Sea.  Michael Horvit is a well-known contemporary composer, who for many years was Chairman of the Department of Music Theory and Composition at the University of Houston, and was Director of Choral Music at Congregation Emanu-El.  In this composition for solo organ, Dr. Horvit has depicted the Biblical drama of the escape and deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians through the Red Sea.

After lunch we walked back to St. Luke’s for a recital by Christopher Houlihan.  The program was heroic for so small an organ and room, but consistently well played from memory.  It was interesting to hear his interpretation of the Bach Passacaglia on this organ, having heard Tom Murray play it Monday evening and I would have to say that this offering sounded more at home in this setting, than did the other.  Houlihan has made a specialty of the Vierne symphonies, playing all six in marathon sessions around the country.  He put down three movements from the Sixth, including the Final, but after arriving and playing the organ he substituted three movements from the Second, which was a wise move.  I particularly liked the Bach trio sonata and his Debussy transcription, each of which captured an intimate chamber music aesthetic and was ideally suited to this organ and this room.  On the whole, the playing was both elegant and exciting.  Christopher is certain to have a bright career ahead, and it was good to have someone from the younger generation on the festival roster.  Incidentally, there were a good number of young people throughout the festival at individual events, and Joby Bell’s entire studio from Appalachian State University in North Carolina attended the whole week.

Christopher Houlihan, Organist

Christopher Houlihan at the console of 1175

Christopher Houlihan at the console of 1175

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Kilgore

Toccata—Sowerby

Trio Sonata in C major, BWV 529—Bach

Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582—Bach

Intermission

March on Handel’s “Lift up your heads,” Op 15—Guilmant

Andantino, from String Quartet, Op. 10—Debussy

From Symphony II—Vierne

Choral

Scherzo

Allegro

Brett Valliant at St. Luke's where he and Steve Emery demonstrated the organ to local students.

Brett Valliant at St. Luke’s where he and Steve Emery demonstrated the organ to local students.

Wednesday evening was movie night at First Presbyterian Church as Brett Valliant accompanied the silent classic “The Phantom of the Opera.”  A large screen was placed in front of the chancel rood screen for the showing of the film and, aside from some opening commentary placing the silent film genre in context for the many younger members of the audience who probably had never have encountered it, the evening was devoted to the sounds of the organ and the visuals of Lon Chaney and the cast in the Paris settings of the Opéra and Notre-Dame.  Brett’s accompanying score was lyrical and lush and may have been inspired by the threatre organists of the past, but it—like Walt Strony’s program Tuesday morning—was simply the Kilgore organ rising to yet another musical task with completely satisfying results.

A full First Presbyterian on movie night

A full church on movie night

Thursday

 Thursday morning we moved to Nacogdoches where the smallest of the four Aeolian-Skinner organs of the festival was featured.  The worship space at First Baptist Nacogdoches is slightly larger than St. Luke’s in Kilgore and the factors involving the acoustics are much more favorable, in fact almost ideal: hard wood floors, a minimal amount of sound-absorbing materials and a generous height to width ratio.  The entire organ is enclosed in two chambers on either side of the stage-chancel, with openings into the stage-choir loft, and out into the congregation. Greatly enhancing the versatility of the organ is the ability to make the swell shade openings into the congregation operable or not, as desired.  The organ is a model of careful voicing, scaling, and finishing, is ideally suited to its surroundings, and is entirely satisfying on its own, in spite of its small size.

Steve Emery and Scott Davis at First Baptist in Nacogdoches

Steve Emery and Scott Davis at First Baptist in Nacogdoches

The program began with Scott Davis leading the audience in singing a hymn, with his improvised introduction, interlude and concluding stanza.  Scott also concluded the program with an extended multi-movement improvisation in the style of his late teacher Gerre Hancock.  These—the hymn singing and improvising—were the only nods during the festival to the liturgical effectiveness these organs also possess.The centerpiece of the program was another of Charlie Callahan’s signature programs of interesting, lesser known works which were carefully selected and performed to present the organ in its most favorable light.  Charlie also played two recent compositions of his own: Alleluia  (an energetic miniature, similar in feel to his more virtuosic Fanfares and Riffs) and Festival Voluntary on “St. Anne” for Horn and Organ which received its first performance.

Charlie also spoke at some length about Roy Perry, Jim and Nora Williams, and some of the other Aeolian-Skinner personalities he has known over the years, particularly Arthur Birchall, for whom as a young man he held notes on tuning and finishing jobs in the Boston area.  This was a valuable spoken addition to the basically auditory nature of the week’s events.

Charles Callahan at the console of 1153-A

Charles Callahan at the console of 1153-A

Charles Callahan, Scott Davis, Organists

Rebecca Robbins, Horn

First Baptist Church, Nacogdoches

 Festival Voluntary on St. Anne for Horn and Organ—Callahan

Memories—Clarence Dickinson

Adagio Cantabile (from Cinnamon Grove Suite), 1928—R. Nathaniel Dett

Fireside Fancies, Op 29 (1923)—Joseph Clokey

          A Cheerful Fire

          The Wind in the Chimney

          Old Aunt Chloe

          Grandfather’s Wooden Leg

Melody in Mauvre—Purvis

Alleluia (2011)—Callahan

Improvisation—Davis

Interior, First Baptist Church, Nacogdoches

Interior, First Baptist Church, Nacogdoches

Back to Kilgore for the afternoon recital by Christopher Jennings for what was anticipated as a highlight of the week: a complete performance at First Presbyterian of Clarence Dickinson’s Storm King Symphony, in what was among the first complete performances ever of the entire work.  We know that Dickinson played individual movements from among the five, but there is no documentation of his (or anyone else’s) ever playing the entire work, and this was one of several times this season when Christopher has played all five movements in their entirety.  The same screen that was used for the movie the previous night remained in place, and Christopher had arranged for still photographs of various scenes to be displayed at the appropriate points in the movements.  This was helpful in negotiating the impressionistic, programmatic nature of the work.  The program notes told us that the symphony “reflects impressions made on the composer by the varying moods of the stately Storm King mountain, which stands guard, as it were, over the Highlands of the Hudson” near Dickinson’s home.

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It is a pity that in most circles Dickinson’s compositions aren’t taken very seriously today.  He wrote so many small works and carol arrangements that are so easily accessible that the larger forms such as this, which require significant technical prowess, remain unknown.  Taken as a whole, the entire Storm King symphony could easily supplant the ethos of either the Reubke sonata or Liszt Ad nos on a recital program.

Christopher’s use of the organ was informed by the early 20th century organs which Dickinson would have known, but in a commanding and vivid way that did not sound retrospective.  The natural power and expressiveness of the organ was entirely satisfying and there was not the impression that he was under-using the organ, even though he elected to leave out most of the upperwork.  On occasion he used the famous Trompette-en-Chamade in chorus, Bombarde wise, and it was very effective.  The sound is not so ferocious as it looks, at least out in the church.  In truth, this stop is one of the standard Aeolian-Skinner Trompette Harmonïque designs mounted horizontally, on reasonable wind pressure, which can, in fact, function as a chorus reed capping the full ensemble when called upon to do so.

I regretted that I could not stay for the second half of the program, which was also by New York composers; Steve Emery and I had to get over to Longview to do further battle with the computerized heating-cooling system at First Baptist Church!

Christopher Jennings, Organist

First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore

 Storm King Symphony—Dickinson

Allegro Maestoso

Canon

Scherzo

Intermezzo

Final

Intermission

Fanfare—Alec Wyton

Five Dances—Calvin Hampton

      The Primitives

      At the Ballet

      Those Americans

      An Exalted Ritual

      Everyone Dance

Toccata—Gerre Hancock

Ken Cowan played the concluding recital of the festival at First Baptist Church.  In advance publicity on the Festival’s Facebook page, Lorenz Maycher wrote “on the questionnaire, where his manager asked what kind of program we’d like, I put HEAVY DUTY.  That’s exactly what we got. I love it when that happens!”   There’s really not a lot that I can add after the fact to that.  It was a huge program, played from memory, characterized by effortless technique in the service of the music, and impeccable use of the organ’s vast resources.  It was epic and (sorry Virgil Fox) I don’t recall a better organ recital in my life.

I had not heard Ken play his version of the Saint-Saëns” Danse Macabre.  It was of the same symphonic paraphrase style à la Horowitz of which I spoke previously when writing about Walt Strony.  It was truly astounding, and—fun!  Totally new to most in the audience was John Ireland’s Elegiac Romance, an expansive work written for the organ, but symphonic in scope.  For his encore, Ken played George Thalben-Ball’s  pedal etude Variations on a Theme of Paganini, which—with all due respect—makes the brief Middleschulte pedal etude, which Virgil Fox used to routinely use as an encore, sound trivial.

When the Kilgore organ was new, one of the first players to present a recital on it was William Watkins, who was not yet 30 years old.  He had just won the Young Artist Award of the National Federation of Music Clubs—a $1,000 award in 1949—at the time the most prestigious competition to which any young musician could aspire; it was open to all instrumentalists.  The competition had been held in Dallas, Watkins was the first organist to win it, and Roy Perry wisely brought him to play the new organ in Kilgore to a full church.  The review in the Kilgore News Herald of February 17, 1950, which Watkins used in his publicity for a many years was written by Roy Perry himself, and concluded “This boy is one of the great interpretive artists of the century.”  The same can easily be said of Ken Cowan in this century.

Ken Cowan greeting the audience after his stunning program.

Ken Cowan greeting the audience after his stunning program.

Ken Cowan, Organist

First Baptist Church, Longview

Sonata No. 1 in F minor—Mendelssohn

Allegro moderato e serioso

Adagio

Andante, Recitative

Allegro assai vivace

Danse macabre—Saent-Saëns, arr. Cowen

Suite, Op. 5—Duruflé

Prélude

Sicilienne

Toccata

Intermission

Étude Héroïque—Rachel Laurin

Elegiac Romance—John Ireland

Fantasy on the Chorale How Brightly Shines the Morning Star, Op. 40, No. 1—Reger

Joby Bell, second from right, and his class from Appalachian State University in North Carolina, at the console of the Longview organ after Ken's closing recital.

Joby Bell, second from right, and his class from Appalachian State University in North Carolina, at the console of the Longview organ after Ken’s closing recital.

Neal Campbell at St. Stephen's, Richmond, Va., A-S Op. 1110

Neal Campbell

NEAL CAMPBELL has been the Director of Music and Organist of Saint Luke’s Parish, Darien, Conn., since 2006.  Prior to that he held church, synagogue, and college positions in Washington, Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia.  Growing up in Washington he was a student of William Watkins, and he first met Roy Perry in 1972 when he was a finalist in the AGO National Organ Playing Competition in Dallas, and he continued his friendship with him during the years Roy Perry presided over the work at Washington National Cathedral. He has played and recorded on the Kilgore organ several times.

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First Presbyterian Church Kilgore, Texas

1173 Chamade 3
Aeolian-Skinner Organ, Opus 1173     1949

Revised in 1966 by Roy Perry, Aeolian-Skinner

The memorial gift of Mrs. Lou Della Crim, her daughter Pauline McIntosh, and her sons J. Malcolm Crim, John T. Crim, and Liggett Crim.

1173 Console Detail

The left jamb. Copyright © 1980 O. Rufus Lovett.

16       Spitzflöte

8          Principal

8        Flûte Harmonïque

8          Bourdon*

8         Spitzflöte

4          Octave

4          Flûte Octaviante

4          Flûte Couverte

2 2/3  Quint

2          Super Octave

2          Blockflöte*

II         Jeu de Cornet*

The Williams family during the 1966 work.  L to R Nora, Jim, Sally, T J (also known as Jack)

The Williams family during the 1966 work: (left to right) Nora, Jim, Sally, T J (also known as Jack)

IV        Fourniture

III-IV Cymbel

III-V  Plein Jeu*

8           Trompette-en-Chamade*

4           Trompette-en-Chamade*

8           French Horn

8           English Horn

Chimes

Tremulant

*exposed

SWELL

8          Geigen

8          Rohrflöte

8           Viola

8           Viola Celeste

8           Flauto Dolce

8           Flute Celeste

View from the console

View from the console, Copyright © 1980 O. Rufus Lovett.

4           Principal

4            Flûte Triangulaire

2 2/3   Nazard

2          Flûte à Bec

V           Plein Jeu

II           Carillon

16          Bombarde

8            Trompette

8            Hautbois

8            Voix Humaine

4           Clairon

Tremulant

View from the nave

View from the nave

CHOIR

16         Gamba

8           Gamba

8           Gamba Celeste

8          Concert Flute

8          Gedackt Pommer

8          Harmonic Spitzflöte II

4          Montre

4          Koppelflöte

2          Prinzipal

1 1/3  Nasat

1          Oktav

IV        Scharff

8           Trompette-en-Chamade (Gr.)

8           Posaune (Ped.)

French Horn and English Horn

French Horn and English Horn. Copyright © 1980 O. Rufus Lovett.

8           Cromorne

8          Bassoon

Celesta

Tremulant

PEDAL

32         Untersatz

16         Principal

16        Flûte Ouverte

16          Bourdon

16        Spitzflöte (Gr.)

16         Gamba (Ch.)

8            Octave

8          Flûte

8           Bourdon

8          Spitzflöte (Gr.)

4          Choral Bass

4          Spillflöte

II         Mixture318427_2270955375739_1304251601_32174178_1511540682_n

32        Bombarde

16         Posaune

16         Bombarde (Sw.)

8          Posaune

4          Klarine

In a church where a typical music list will include the names of Healey Willan, David McK. Williams, and Leo Sowerby, an extremely retrospective (i.e., Baroque) organ would be inadequate if not useless.  The aim here has been rather to produce what might be called the Classic-Romantic organ, and judging from the results, one might well add the words “de luxe.”  In the primary choruses, both reed and flue, all the elements of a fine and flexible ensemble are generously present.  In addition, the secondary flutes, strings, and small reeds are here in such quantity and beauty of color as to give this organ a unique and enviable appeal.

The manual and pedal flue choruses are musical and satisfying in almost any way they are built up.  The quality is brilliant but not aggressive, and not a single pipe ‘sticks out.’ The chorus reeds color the flue mass without dominating it, and although they are made with open schallots, their rather broad scale gives them more of an English effect than French.  The unenclosed manual reeds, including the brilliant trompette-en-chamade, are not intended as part of the chorus, but are to be used tuba-wise against the organ.  The trompette-en-chamade is the first modern example of this particular pipe construction, and has attracted international notice to this organ. It is a spectacular success.

Especially notable is the eloquent chorus of strings and celestes.  These are carefully graded to build from the merest whisper to a rich and impressive forte, and the transition to the normal buildup can be made imperceptibly.  Nothing could be of greater value in choral accompaniment.  The great flutes and small reeds have the advantage of a swell box and a tremulant, so that in quieter music this manual can function as a solo organ.

The acoustical environment in First Presbyterian is unusually kind to both organ and singers.  The factors involved – shape and size of the room, building materials, position and layout of the organ – impart to every sound a warm and sympathetic quality often wished for but seldom realized.  The organ has been carefully finished to take full advantage of this happy situation.

–Roy Perry, from a pamphlet he wrote describing the organ, together with those in First Baptist, Longview, and St. Luke’s Methodist, Kilgore, shortly after they were built.

Trompette-en-Chamade and exposed Great Upperwork.  Copyright 1980 O. Rufus Lovett--please do not reproduce.

Trompette-en-Chamade and exposed Great Upperwork. Copyright © 1980 O. Rufus Lovett.

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First Baptist Church, Longview, Texas

FBC interior front

Aeolian-Skinner Organ, Opus 1174    1951

The Rodgers Lacy Memorial Organ

GREAT598365_3997052807096_2102010609_n

16        Quintaten

8          Principal

8         Flûte Harmonïque

8         Spitzflöte

4          Octave

4           Flûte Couverte

2 2/3  Twelfth

2           Fifteenth

VI         Fourniture

IV         Cymbel

               Chimes

               Harp

               Celesta

T. J. Williams tuning Opus 1174

T J Williams tuning 1174

SWELL

16          Gedackt

8             Geigen Prinzipal

8             Gedackt

8             Viole de Gambe

8              Viole Celeste

8              Flute Celeste II

4             Principal

4              Flûte Triangulaire

2 2/3     Nazard

2             Octavin

III          Plein Jeu

III           Scharf

16            Bombarde

8              Trompette

8              Hautbois

8             Vox Humana

4            Clairon

                Tremulant

CHOIR

Nora Williams during the installation of 1174

Nora Williams during the installation of 1174

8           Concert Flute

8           Viola

8           Viola Celeste

8           Gamba Celeste II

8           Dolcan

8           Dolcan Celeste

4           Spitzprinzipal

III        Kleinmixtur

16         Fagot

8           Trompette

8           English Horn

4          Cromorne

             Tremulant

             Harp

             Celesta

POSITIV

8             Cor de Nuit

4             Nachthorn

2 2/3     Nasat

2             Blockflöte

1   3/5    Tierce

1             Sifflöte

BOMBARDE

1174 Bombarde

1174 Bombarde division

8           Trompette Harmonïque

4           Clairon Harmonïque

VI          Cornet

GALLERY

8           Bourdon

4           Principal

IV         Fourniture

              Chimes

PEDAL

32         Bourdon

16          Contrebasse

16          Bourdon

16          Contra Viola

16         Gedackt (Sw.)

16         Quintaten (Gr.)

8           Principal

8           Bourdon

8          Spitzflöte

8           Viola

8           Gedackt (Sw.)

4           Choral Bass

4            Nachthorn

Pipework (3), 1950 Aeolian-Skinner, Opus 1174, First Baptist Church, Longview, Texas

1174 Great division

III          Fourniture

32           Bombarde

16           Ophicleide

16            Bombarde (Sw.)

8               Posaune

4              Clairon

16             Gallery Bourdon

8                Gallery Bourdon

It has been remarked that the famous European organs owe a good part of their success to the vast and resonant Gothic buildings in which they stand free and open.  Present day building costs have put great Gothic churches out of reach, but in Longview’s First Baptist Church the architectural firm of Wilson, Morris & Crain has preserved the Gothic spirit in line and proportion within the comparatively moderate cost levels of contemporary style.  They have created a lofty and spacious church of real architectural distinction; and they offered the organ builder an ideal set of conditions, most of which he himself was allowed to specify.  All matters of acoustics were put into the hands of Messrs. Boldt, Beranek & Newman at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the requirement that the finished building must be entirely satisfactory both for speech and music, with Mr. Harrison to have the final say on the latter.  This difficult aim has been perfectly realized.  Furthermore, the organ was given a commanding open location, with the organ builder’s wishes followed to the letter.  Under these conditions Mr. Harrison has created a truly great organ in the French Cathedral style, but with a refinement and finish the French builders never dreamed of.

 There being three reed choruses, the full organ has the fiery brilliance one associates with French organs, but the reeds in no way outshine the splendor of the flue work.  The great Principal, for instance, has a lovely singing quality which this remarkable room preserves and delivers to the ear even at the back wall 220 feet away.  This quality is present in all the stops singly and in any combination, so that the tone is fresh and vital to a superlative degree.  Even the mouth characteristic of the pipes is clearly audible (this made extra careful regulation mandatory) so there is no question of anything less than complete clarity.

 The lavish provision of mixtures and mutations yields a tone of fascinating complexity, in which every sound interlocks without confusing pitch lines.  An additional small flue chorus is located in the gallery, not as an echo organ, but to bolster congregational singing.

 Although this organ leans toward the Classic side, it affords five pairs of strings and quasi-strings, a vox humana, and percussions, not to mention the wonderful flutes and small reeds.  It will do full justice to any music, even the humblest; in grandeur it holds its own with the great organs of the world.

–Roy Perry, from a pamphlet he wrote describing the organ, together with those of First Presbyterian, Kilgore, and St. Luke’s Methodist, Kilgore, when the organs were new.           

Roy Perry at the console during the tonal finishing.

Roy Perry at the console during the tonal finishing.

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St. Luke’s United Methodist Church Kilgore, Texas

67610020
Aeolian-Skinner Organ, Opus 1175

1952, revised 1977-78 by Roy Perry and J. C. Williams

GREAT

16       Quintaten

8          Principal

4          Octave

2 2/3  Twelfth

2            Fifteenth

IV         Fourniture

IV         Cornet

ENCLOSED GREAT

8      Concert Flute

8      Flauto Dolce

8      Flute Celeste

4      Koppelflöte

8      Cromorne

         Tremulant

SWELL

8          Gedackt

8          Viola

8          Viola Celeste

4          Principal

4          Rohrflöte

2 2/3  Nazard

2           Blockflöte

III-V   Plein Jeu

16         Bassoon

8            Trompette

4            Clairon

                Tremulant

8             Trompette-en-Chamade (Unenclosed)

PEDAL

16          Contre Basse

16          Gedackt (Sw.)

16          Quintaten (Gr.)

8            Spitz Principal

8            Gedackt (Sw.)

4           Choral Bass

III        Mixture

16          Bassoon (Sw.)

St. Luke’s Church presents an exactly opposite set of conditions to those at First Baptist in Longview.  Of a type all too common in the United States, the church is cozy and small, with a low pitched and padded roof, and a complete absence of “live” acoustical characteristics.  The architect provided no organ space at all.  The organ builder’s problems were manifold but not insurmountable, and, with the cooperation of a sympathetic and realistic committee, they have been solved with notable success.

The committee rejected a rather skimpy three-manual plan in favor of a very comprehensive two-manual.  This wise choice put the maximum of available funds into pipes rather than mechanism, and gave the church the distinction of having one of the largest two manual organs in the world.

The usual snag in designing a two-manual organ for church use is in the matter of swell boxes.  The great chorus suffers from enclosure as a rule, or else service playing is handicapped by the limitation of a single enclosed division.  At St. Luke’s this difficulty is solved by a split great.  The chorus is in the open as it should be, and visible; and the secondary Great voices, including a soft celeste and a color reed, are in a box.

The tonal aim was to produce a thoroughbred “Grand Orgue” effect, but on a miniature scale in keeping with the intimate character of the church.  To avoid excessive loudness on the one hand and a tonal dryness on the other, with all elements in balance, is a severe test of an organ builder’s skill.  By the use of moderate scales, low wind pressures, and very careful voicing techniques St. Luke’s organ has come off very well indeed.  It is possible to use the full organ for hymns without complaints from the congregation; the organ is smooth and flexible for choral accompaniment; and there is hardly anything in organ literature that cannot be played with complete satisfaction.

The reed chorus is exceptionally good.  A half-length Bassoon, a small scale Trompette, and an octave Hautbois provide three distinctive solo voices which unite into the intense band of tone essential to a proper Swell organ.  A little gem of a mixture goes equally well with these and with the flue chorus on a broad Viola-Gedeckt base.  An equally distinguished tone quality is present throughout the entire organ.   

–Roy Perry, from a pamphlet he wrote describing the organ, together with those of First Presbyterian, Kilgore, and First Baptist, Longview, when the organs were new.

67610015

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First Baptist Church Nacogdoches, Texas

Aeolian-Skinner Organ, Opus 1153-A        1953

GREAT67590014

8   Principal

8    Orchestral Flute

8    Gemshorn

8    Gemshorn Celeste

4    Principal

4    Harmonic Flute

IV  Fourniture

        Chimes

SWELL

8     Gedackt

8     Viola

8     Viola Celeste

4     Montre

III  Plein Jeu

16   Bassoon

8      Trompette

4      Hautbois

        Tremulant

PEDAL

16    Contre Basse

16    Bourdon (Gr.)

16    Contra Viola (Sw.)

8      Principal

8      Flute

8      Viola (Sw.)

4      Choral Bass

16    Bassoon

8      Bassoon

4      Bassoon67590011

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Honoring Judith Hancock: 2004 and 2012

In the spring of 2004 two of the happiest events of my professional career occurred within about six weeks of each other–the second a direct result of the first.

To celebrate the completion of a two-year restoration of the fine Aeolian-Skinner organ in St. Stephen’s Church in Richmond, Va., where I served from 1985-2006, we organized a weekend of events featuring Judith and Gerre Hancock, Charles Callahan, and Steve Emery.  On Friday evening Judith was presented in a full length recital  which was co-sponsored by the local chapter of the A.G.O.  Saturday was given over to masterclasses and workshops led by Judith and Gerre on pieces and improvisation topics relevent to the current A.G.O. examinations.  Charlie Callahan  talked about G. Donald Harrison and Aeolian-Skinner, and Steve spoke about the organ’s restoration and took workshop registrants through the organ.

Gerre Hancock, Richard Newman (who played in the masterclass), and Charles Callahan at St. Stephen’s, Richmond, Va., March 2004

On Sunday morning, Gerre directed the choir and played the organ, and Steve led interested parishioners on tours through the organ between services.  In the afternoon, an open rehearsal was followed by a big Evensong, for which Gerre directed and Charlie accompanied, which combined St. Stephen’s Choir, and  the choirs of St. Catherine’s and St. Christopher’s Schools–two diocesan schools whose campuses are adjacent to the church which were led by my colleagues Greg Vick and Nick Stephenson.  The repertoire included Gerre’s Responses, Charlie’s Harvard Service, and concluded with all of the choirs singing Parry’s cantata-length anthem Hear my words, ye people.  Folk in my choir were excited to be singing music by living composers in their presence! The afternoon concluded with one of Gerre’s signature symphony improvisations, the themes for each of the movements drawn from prominent themes  from the service.

A month or so before these events, at Charlie Callahan’s instigation, I had been added to the board of trustees of St. Dunstan’s College of Sacred Music in Providence, Rhode Island.  And so it was that late that Sunday evening after we had all been to dinner, Charlie said to me that he thought it would be fitting if the College awarded an honorary doctorate to Judith.  The Hancocks were soon to be leaving New York where they had served at St. Thomas Church since 1971, and Gerre already had several honorary degrees, and Charlie and I thought this was a fitting climax to our celebratory weekend.  But we kept these thoughts to ourselves for a few days.

Later that following week, I called Gerre and laid our plan out to him and he thought it was “just WON-derful!  Judith will be so pleased.”  I then suggested that I knew the ideal time to do this: the first Sunday in May.   The recital following Evensong that day was to be the Hancocks farewell recital at St. Thomas Church.   It was also the opening event of the church’s annual choirmasters’ conference and was to be followed by a gala reception sponsored by the American Guild of Organists honoring Gerre, and many from the A.G.O. national council and other visitors were to be present.  So it was agreed that at an appropriate interval during the recital I would make the presentation.  But Gerre insisted that it be kept a secret from Judy.  He wanted it to be a surprise for dramatic effect; I had practical reasons in mind!  Since this scheme was cooked up in haste, I couldn’t arrange to be away from Richmond for the Sunday morning service and Charlie was not available to be in New York that afternoon.  In short order Charlie had the diploma made up and I ordered a doctoral hood from Collegiate Cap and Gown.  Not knowing whether or not St. Dunstan’s College had a color scheme for academic regalia, I just ordered the colors of Manhattan School of Music, which they had on file.

Now, in order for me to make it up to New York following my own morning service in time for the Evensong recital-presentation, I had to make some intricate logistical arrangements at each end of the trip, and Gerre and I knew that the success of the endeavor was predicated on each piece of my travel puzzle flowing seamlessly without snags.  So we had the understanding that if I showed up in New York that afternoon, we would proceed with the plan; if not, we would do it another time.

Over the years I have made the trip between Richmond and New York many times, in all modes of transportation, land and air, and the time taken for the journey ranged from a low of a couple of hours to a 24-hour-overnight trek.  I gave this enterprise about a 50-50 chance.  But fate was on my side that day, and I knocked on the door of Gerre’s office after Evensong, collected the academic hood Collegiate Cap and Gown had drop shipped to the church, and took my place in the chancel with my other colleagues on the council.  Someone observed me toting this hood and  I simply said “don’t ask.”

There were other speeches and presentations made at the mid-point interval in the recital, of which mine was last.  As Judy told me the story later, she said she was at the console preparing for the next number and was only slightly aware of these speakers droning on, and she assumed that Gerre was receiving yet another honorary degree, and only when she began to be aware of feminine pronouns in my citation did she catch on to what was happening!  Following is the complete citation:

Photo by Tony Thurman, Development Director of the A.G.O. who organized the gala reception following the recital.

I am here this afternoon in my capacity as a trustee of Saint Dunstan’s College of Sacred Music in Providence, Rhode Island.

The college was founded in 1928 and chartered by the legislature of the State of Rhode Island in 1930 as a degree granting institution for the study of sacred music operating under the “rules of the Episcopal Church” to quote the first catalog.  Among its initial leadership was John Nicholas Brown whose idea it was for the college to function in connection with Brown University in providing courses of study leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees in sacred music studies.  It was housed in property on Benefit Street adjacent to the Cathedral Church of St. John, and its initial faculty and board was made up of leading musicians and clergy, some of whose names are still familiar today: Canon Winfred Douglas, David McK. Williams, Hugh Ross, Wallace Goodrich, Hollis Grant, and E. Power Biggs.

The vicissitudes of the Depression and World War II altered the scope of the college’s fortunes and function over the years and for many years it served as an east coast counterpart to the Evergreen conference in Colorado, with which Canon Douglas was also affiliated, and offered a certificate granting summer course of study in Providence and, later, Newport.  It also continued to publish books and music for the church, and served in an advisory capacity to churches and dioceses throughout the church.

Its activities over the years also included honoring outstanding musicians in the service of the church with the honorary degree, Doctor of Sacred Music.

This afternoon the trustees are proud to recognize a colleague who has served this parish church, the greater church, and the entire sacred music profession through her outstanding achievement as a complete church musician, especially in her role as a master accompanist to the comprehensive choral repertoire offered by the St. Thomas Choir, and through her untiring devotion to and love of the organ repertoire, and especially for her offerings of the great literature for the organ within the liturgies of the church.

Therefore, at the most recent meeting of the trustees of St. Dunstan’s College of Sacred Music, it was resolved to confer the degree Doctor of Sacred Music, honoris causa, to Judith Hancock, and we offer to her this diploma and hood as symbols of that degree, and as tokens of our affection and esteem.


Given the second day of May 2004, being the
Fourth Sunday of Easter, and the eve of
The Feast of Saints Philip and James
in Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York

Dr. Judith Hancock and her husband, Dr. Gerre Hancock, at the reception in Andrew Hall, St. Thomas Church, following their farewell recital, May 2, 2004.

Fast forward to 2012: Gerre Hancock, one of the founders of the Association of Anglican Musicians, died on January 21.  For the AAM annual conference in Philadelphia in June it was decided to honor his memory by including many of his compositions in the conference programs, and by asking Judith to play and to be present for the conference.  I was honored to be invited to introduce her at the opening banquet before she made her own remarks, and this is what I said:

The invitation to say a few words about the Hancocks this evening sent me to my files, where I found the printed order for the first service I attended at St. Thomas Church:

I was in college and it was over Christmas/semester break during the Hancocks’ first season at St. Thomas.  It was a weekday Evensong right after Epiphany, and the anthem was Sowerby’s Now there lightens upon us a holy daybreak.

Remembering from the distance of forty years, two things are still vivid:

1) The choir sounded very good—much the same in style and sound as it always has sounded and still does—obviously inspired by and molded in the English Cathedral tradition.

and . . .

2) . . . the choir was directed by Judith Hancock, the associate organist of St. Thomas Church, and wife of the new organist and master of choristers, Gerre Hancock.

Gerre was off concertizing someplace and Judith was left in command.  So my first fan letter to St. Thomas was to Mrs. Hancock, and I still cherish her written reply, which I also found in my file.

It is this pattern of family collaboration, yet individual artistry and professionalism established at the outset of their careers, that I want to recall and honor tonight.

St. Thomas being the obvious centerpiece of the Hancocks’ careers, it is easy to forget that they had a life before New York—but they did, and it was a good life!

Gerre was in charge of the music at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati—the cathedral church of the Diocese of Southern Ohio—was on the artist faculty of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music—and had already established himself as a successful concert organist, touring under the auspices of the Lilian Murtagh concert management since 1964.

In Cincinnati Judith directed the music and played the organ at her own church and they had two very young children—Deborah and Lisa.  They were not all that eager to move.  And, to be honest, St. Thomas at that time was not the obvious career move one would assume today.

But . . . once in New York it was a partnership of shared work right from the start, as evidenced by the weekday Evensong I attended that first visit.  And . . . while there was no doubt that Gerre was in charge, Judith was apt to often be at the helm in this, their highly visible position at the crossroads of the world, at Fifth Avenue and Fifth-third Street.

And . . . not just at the church.  I had just moved to Philadelphia and was present for Evensong and a concert by the St. Thomas Choir during the Third International Congress of Organists in the summer of 1977, right over at the Church of St. Francis de Sales in West Philadelphia (and at Girard College)—on that occasion Judith lead the choir and Wes McAfee played the organ.  It was immediately after Gerre’s first heart by-pass surgery, and he was in the congregation, but had not fully recovered to be able to conduct.  It was the first time I had ever heard of this medical procedure, and it seemed to me at the time that it was experimental surgery.  And Father John Andrew, in announcing Gerre’s presence, made it sound as if he’d been brought back from the dead, and we all clapped and cheered!  But it was Judith who led the music, as she would after his second similar operation many years later.

Judith’s own concert and teaching career also began to blossom: she also concertized under the banner of Karen McFarlane’s newly minted Murtagh-McFarlane management, and we all became accustomed to seeing both Gerre’s and Judith’s pictures on the back of The Diapason and The American Organist each month.

While she did all this with lots of grace and loving, wifely support, she was not incapable of sustaining her own pride of place while she was at it.  I’m sure I’m not the only one here to have heard her say in his presence:

“but Gerre, I have to practice; I play real music!”

As if to corroborate this, the Rector in his sermon at Gerre’s Requiem even said

you know, although Father Andrew and I certainly remember Judith at the console practicing, we can’t recall [ever] seeing Gerre there for that purpose!   

And I’ll never forget a scene at one of the early Choirmasters’ Conferences—back in the days when Judith was the sole associate organist and did all of the accompanying.

Other than emcee the event and visit with all of us, there really wasn’t a whole lot for Gerre to actually do, and during the rehearsal for some lengthy psalm or anthem, Judith was playing and Gerre was hovering.  The 32’ Bourdon was on and Gerre must have thought it was too much, so he reached over and took it off—while Judith continued to play!  Well—within the time span of a sixteenth rest Judy had that 32 back on, and it stayed on until she took it off!

(And, by the way, how many of us could have withstood the scrutiny of not only our musical programs, but our domestic lives played out to human view displayed the way the Hancocks did at these annual events!)

In 2004 as the Hancocks were leaving New York for the University of Texas, Judith was awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Sacred Music, the citation of which reads in part, that she is recognized as

a colleague who has served the entire sacred music profession through her outstanding achievement as a complete church musician:

. . . especially in her role as a master accompanist . . . her untiring devotion to and love of the organ repertoire . . . and . . . for her offerings of the great literature for the organ within the liturgies of the church.

          That’s as true now as then, and to it I can only add that I know there are students at the University of Texas who salute her for her continuing work as an inspiring teacher and mentor.

There is another female organ personality out there who is unofficially styled as “The First Lady of the Organ,” but—Judith, to me you will always be the First Lady of the Organ, and you are the undisputed First Lady of this Association, and it gladdens our hearts to have you here with us as we give thanks .  .  .  for your rich career as artist and teacher,  for your extraordinary role as wife and colleague of our beloved Uncle Gerre,  and especially as a cherished friend to all of us!

Judith Hancock address the AAM conference opening banquet, Philadelphia, June 18, 2012.

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