National Baptist Memorial Church, Washington, D. C., Dr. R. Stuart Grizzard, Pastor

Copyright 2020 © Neal Campbell

 

Grizzard, R. Stuart, D.D.

 

Stuart Grizzard was the sort minister that has almost disappeared from the religious landscape of the early 21st century, and really has entirely disappeared from the Southern Baptist Convention. The blurb on the dust jacket of his memoirs (published privately in about 1991, and written by his daughter) describes him as

“active in the Southern Baptist Convention and in the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. He was an evangelical, with a world view and an ecumenical perspective. The social dimensions of faith were deeply significant to him, and he took a stand for racial justice at a time when many pastors were silent. Years ago he became a champion of the right of women to be in ministry.”

Since I was a teenager when I served as the organist of his church, the subtleties of that description weren’t obvious at the time, but this describes him well as I remember him 50-plus years later. On a personal level I remember his friendship and his love of music and dignity in worship.

Dr. Grizzard was well-educated, even learnèd, but not scholarly or overtly erudite. He was from Orange, Virginia, and graduated from the University of Richmond and Crozer Seminary in Pennsylvania. Prior to National Baptist, from which he retired in 1978, he held pastorates in Orange, Norfolk and Richmond. He was friendly and easily approachable, but never glad handing or cheesy. He was a truly gifted orator, but had no idea of what it might mean to be media savvy. He spoke with the conviction and authority inherent in the subject of his discourse, not because of his own self-importance. He was a part of an era of free-thinking Baptists that also produced more famous southern preachers such as Carlyle Marney, Edward Hughes Pruden, Clarence Cranford, and Vernon Richardson, each of whom Stuart knew and counted as friends and colleagues. And, like them, his leading of public worship was of a style that evoked classical dignity in its ordering. There were no gimmicks; it was church. It was to be approached with awe—with “fear and trembling.”

My most vivid memory of Dr. Grizzard is of him in the pulpit. During services when it was time for the sermon, the house lights were dimmed slightly and he read the appointed scripture from a large Bible on the pulpit, which was front and center on the rostrum—central, but not overwhelming or imposing. When he finished the reading, he closed the large volume with an audible thump, turned off the reading light, and preached without notes for fifteen or twenty riveting minutes—not especially long by Baptist standards.

Many years later I found out from reading his memoirs that in fact he prepared his sermons carefully with painstaking study and thought. He wrote them out either in longhand or, when he had the services of a secretary, they were typed. He then memorized them and delivered them without manuscript in such a way that if you didn’t know it (as indeed I did not at the time) you might think he was speaking extemporaneously.

Stuart Grizzard was the pastor of Washington’s National Baptist Memorial Church from 1964-1978, of which church I was the organist for slightly over a year from 1969-1970 when I was in high school. I didn’t exactly report to him in my work; my boss was the choir director, John Bigbee, who was also the baritone soloist of the church. John had a pleasant voice in a slightly over-the-hill sort of way. I’ve never known if he was trained to be a professional singer. But he did sing for various organizations around town and was entirely suited to his position at the church. Some years previous he had been the bass-baritone soloist among the quartet at the church, and somewhere along the way became choir director as well. I still remember when the choir sang the trio and chorus The Heavens Are Telling from Haydn’s Creation, John would direct the choir, then when it came time for the trio to sing “the day that is coming” he would simply turn around, face the congregation to sing the trio, then turn back to the choir and more or less cue them when it was time for their entrance, which overlapped with the conclusion of the trio.

That episode epitomizes the casual, amateur approach to music making at the time, which was a slight contrast to the otherwise formal and dignified conduct of worship, which was typical of the prosperous era to which this congregation now found themselves in the twilight . . . which probably also explains why they were willing to entrust the position of church organist to a 16-year-old high school student. There were regular services on Wednesday evening, Sunday morning, and Sunday afternoon or evening. During my first weeks there was a 5:00 Sunday afternoon service.  It consisted of some hymns, a solo, and a brief, less weighty form of sermon titled simply “Message.” At some point in the service—probably after the pastoral prayer—I was required to play one stanza of “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,” (the Maker tune) on the chimes, which for some electro-technical reason would only play if the cross over the choir loft was turned on, and the only way to turn it on was from a switch in the stairwell I took to get to the organ console. It was therefore solely by my action that this important task could be accomplished.

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The afternoon services weren’t well attended and at some point soon into my tenure the church experimented with other sorts of early afternoon happenings following lunch in the church hall, including a series of “Focus Groups.” I even led one of them on “Contemporary Trends in Church Music,” about which I knew absolutely nothing. What I did know was that Washington Cathedral had recently completed the building of the central Gloria in Excelsis tower, which event was covered widely in the local press, and there was much music commissioned expressly for the dedicatory celebrations by living composers such as Leo Sowerby, Samuel Barber, Ned Rorem, John LaMontaine, Stanley Hollingsworth, and Roy Hamlin Johnson —contemporary music in its definitive textbook definition by my reckoning. An impressive album of LP recordings and an authoritative book containing the orders of service and copies of all the music commissioned for the occasion was available from the local Takoma Park library, which I seem to have checked out in perpetuity.

So this “focus group” gathered around some sort of record player in the choir room and I took them through some of the newly commissioned compositions such as Lift up your heads great gates and sing by Ned Rorem, and a setting of the Prayer Book canticle Benedicite omnia opera by Richard Dirksen. Each of these new compositions was written with the intent of being performed outdoors along the area of the south transept of the cathedral with the new tower illuminated behind and above the “stage” set up at the top of those steps leading down to the statue of George Washington. In particular, I remember the class was impressed with Dirksen’s Benedicite omnia opera, as it employed lots of woodwinds instead of the usual brass for outdoor accompaniment. That, plus the concept of every living thing, and even inanimate objects such as hail and snow, praising the Lord, as enumerated in the text of the prayer book canticle . . . all this made a favorable impression on my appreciative audience as they were being presented with my version of new trends in church music.

Dr. Grizzard attended my class, as he did everything offered in the name of the church. I’m totally unaware of what he might have been like around the office on a daily basis as a manager or “head of staff” as some places now style their spiritual leaders. I suspect he was of the same type as Marney and his other colleagues I previously mentioned, who were known to let others on their staff do their respective administrative and secretarial ministries. His concentrations, from all I could gather, were on study, sermon preparation, writing, and visiting. I know that while I was there the church hired a third full-time clergyman whose title was Minister of Administration; John Bigbee selected the hymns and seemed to have total control of the music of the church. But, Dr. Grizzard was as big presence, though I doubt anyone would call him a micro-manager. For the few social things I attended, like church luncheons or suppers, he was always there. His was not a secluded ivory tower existence.

John Bigbee had a secular job as manager, maybe even owner, of a printing company in Washington. The only reason I know this was that his outfit printed the weekly church bulletins and orders of service. So, I saw John only on Sundays, because he was there only on Sundays! I was in high school, and had a fair amount of control over my schedule by that point, and had already established myself as a young church musician with a clear and advancing path ahead of me, and I actually spent quite a bit of time around the church practicing after school hours on weekdays, and almost all afternoon each Saturday preparing for the service on Sunday. At my request, I even had an office at the church which had recently been vacated by the director of some ancillary counseling service that had vacated the premises. It was on the second floor, Columbia Road side of the church near the entrance to the gallery. It had a couple of nice slender windows, one of which looked down Columbia Road toward Sixteenth Street with a view of the impressive Mormon chapel across the street. Dr. Grizzard’s office was directly next to mine and in the typical goings and comings, we actually saw a lot of each other—usually just brief hallway chats about things, my studies and musical activity.

I do remember once being in his office, which was spacious and comfortable. On his desk was a large cigar still unopened in its wrapper. It may have been the first time it occurred to me that a man of the cloth might indulge in such worldly pleasures. Stuart confesses in his memoirs, which he wrote as he approached retirement, that he did indeed enjoy an occasional cigar or cigarette, but said he was thankful not to be a slave to tobacco. I don’t think it was uncommon in that era, especially among clergy from the south. A friend who went to Baylor University remembers that when Carlyle Marney came for a campus series of lectures he always smoked a cigar openly. An unusually devout and precocious young man came up to him and questioned its appropriateness and Marney retorted contemptuously “grow up kid! Haven’t you got anything else to worry about.”

Picture1National Baptist is located at a prominent site on Sixteenth Street, just north of Meridian Hill Park at the confluence of the neighborhoods of Columbia Heights, Adams-Morgan, and Mount Pleasant. Its architect, Edgerton Swartwout, formerly of the McKim, Mead & White atelier, designed an imposing tower taking advantage of the triangular site at the top of Meridian Hill created by the gradual incline of Sixteenth Street as it works its way north. As a result of this site location and the architecture of the surrounding area, it is every bit the equal of the more prosperous neighborhoods of Embassy Row or Dupont Circle. At one time I believe it was even planned for Sixteenth Street to be named something more descriptive than its generic numeric appellation. It is a long wide avenue stretching directly north of the White House all the way to the Maryland state line in Silver Spring, and there are many churches of varying denominations, and one or two synagogues along the complete length of the thoroughfare. At Columbia Road, the center of Columbia Heights, there are three churches of significant, prominent architectural interest with spires or towers to match: All Souls Unitarian Church, the former Washington Mormon Chapel (now the Unification Church), and National Baptist.  At Meridian Hill Park, just south of Columbia Road, Sixteenth Street takes a dramatic downward incline all the way to the White House. In fact, Meridian Hill Park itself it characterized by an upper park at level grade, and a lower park featuring a fountain feeding into a series of pools descending down the hillside.

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Sixteenth Street stretching north from Lafayette Square in front of the White House. National Baptist Memorial Church is visible on the right after 16th Street passes Meridian Hill Park.

Likewise, the drive from the Maryland state line to Columbia Road is also slightly downhill. Driving south from our home in Takoma Park, as I did regularly, one can see the three towers at Columbia Road rather prominently on the horizon. In the neighborhood of National Baptist there are apartment houses of significant architectural proportions and several embassies, including those of Spain, Mexico, Italy, and some of the smaller African nations.

National Baptist was founded in 1906 as Immanuel Baptist Church and assumed the present name when it was decided to build a new national church in Washington sponsored by both American and Southern Baptists as a memorial to Roger Williams and religious liberty. President Warren G. Harding broke ground in 1921, and the cornerstone was laid by Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes the following year.

Swartwout’s design placed seating for the main portion of the congregation under a large circular rotunda. When combined with additional space from the original church, it provided a combined seating for some 1,100 persons. There was a large partition which could be drawn to separate the seating under the dome from that of the original church, which created a smaller seating area when desired. This was the standard configuration for services by the time I arrived, but on the few occasions when the entire area was open it was an impressive space.

Picture3The organ was Austin’s Opus 1403 containing 42 ranks spread over three manual and pedal divisions, and was built in 1923 for the new church. It was installed in the lower portion of the tower directly above the choir loft. There was nothing especially distinguishing about the sound, but it provided a good variety of stops and was fairly complete. It was my main practice instrument and I learned lots of repertoire on it as I continued my studies with William Watkins and prepared for various student recitals and competitions. Also, preparing the accompaniments for the various anthems, oratorios, and solos required lots of practice time. In a holdover from the past tradition the church employed a quartet of soloists, some of whom were quite good and were generally on the choral scene in Washington. The typical drill on Sunday morning was for there to be a solo and a choral anthem at each service, in addition to hymns and some choral responses. The choir also presented an oratorio once or twice a year and it was here that I first learned Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s The Creation, and portions of Elijah by Mendelssohn. The organ suited these accompaniments well. Once or twice I had my lessons at the church if I were preparing something special, but by this time figuring out the layout and use of a moderately large organ was not a foreign task for me, and I played as much repertoire as I could for services.

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National Baptist Memorial Church on the left at 16th Street and Columbia Road, N.W., All Souls Unitarian Church on the same side of 16th Street at Harvard Street, and the Washington Mormon Chapel, the white marble structure in the foreground.

At 18th Street and Columbia Road, two longish blocks from the church was a bustling neighborhood center that later became known as Adams-Morgan. I would occasionally walk down there from the church to get coffee or lunch, or go to the People’s Drug Store. In the same neighborhood was Gartenhaus Firs, Avignone Frères Catering and Dining establishment, a local branch of Riggs National Bank, and the rather imposing First Church of Christ, Scientist. To a high schooler such as myself, it really did feel big time. I’d just gotten my driver’s license and drove to the church on Sundays, but during the week when traffic was heavier and parking space rare, I would frequently take the bus from Takoma, transferring somewhere around Petworth to get over to the church and would explore the neighborhood during practice breaks.

The reasons for these neighborhoods’ slow decline are many, and are far beyond this the scope of this remembrance, but a cursory understanding of the scene helps describe something of the remarkable ministry of Dr. Grizzard at that critical juncture in the history the church and the city. For a 16-year-old it was all quite heady and was my first serious foray into church life, and I felt that I was a central participant in it all. The congregation may have already seen its glory days, but there is no doubt that the riots of 1968 following the death of Martin Luther King cemented its fate for many years to come. On Good Friday 1969 when I played for the three-hour service many people recalled the vivid memory of the previous year when the service was cut short as the riots were fully underway a block away on 14th Street.

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Fourteenth Street and Park Road, N.W., one of the centers of the 1968 riots. The spires of the three churches at 16th Street and Columbia Road are on the upper right.

One Sunday morning in October 1969 National Baptist was visited by representatives of the Black United Front of Washington demanding reparations from the church. I was generally unaware of the political ramifications of race relations at the time, although I vividly remember the rioting following the assassination of Dr. King and the resulting general unrest throughout the nation. National Baptist was well represented by both Afro-Americans and Africans and other foreign nationals attached to the nearby embassies and everyone seemed to get along just fine.   Of course the memory of the previous years’ riots and the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 were still very fresh, as were the physical manifestations of the riots in our immediate neighborhood.

Quoted in John Wann’s history of the church Dr. Grizzard said “One of our most growing experiences was the confrontation with the Black United Front and their demand for $250,000 in reparations in October of 1969.” The previous May an incident at The Riverside Church in New York made the news. James Foreman invaded the morning service making demands which not only interrupted the service, but actually ended it in chaos immediately after the opening hymn. I’ve never known if the incident in New York inspired the local representatives of the Black United Front, but it was very much on Dr. Grizzard’s mind.

Before the service he came up to the organ loft and told me that he was not going to let the service end in chaos as it had at Riverside. He instructed me to, if things got out of hand, play a hymn as loudly as I could until either he gained control of the service or everyone left while I played. He specified which hymn I was to play, and I wish I could recall what it was—something familiar and strong like “The church’s one foundation” I suspect. In the end it was not necessary, and I remember being both disappointed and relieved! The representatives of the BUF said they came in peace, and their actions bore that out. They had their say, remained for the rest of the service, and visited at lunch afterward. But I’ve never forgotten the tension the incident induced in me. That it mirrored a prominent recent incident at the famous New York church made me feel like a very central participant in weighty matters, which in a way I was, and so was the church.

In closing, it’s worth recounting in full Dr. Grizzard’s reply to the representatives of the Black United Front. The full text appears in John Wann’s history of National Baptist Memorial Church, and was also entered into the Congressional Record of the House of Representatives by the Hon. Joel T. Broyhill on Thursday, October 30, 1969. Dr. Grizzard resided in Broyhill’s congressional district.

Reparations, Restitution and Repentance—October 19, 1969                                                 (read by Dr. R. Stuart Grizzard)

II Corinthians 5:17—If any man be in Christ he is a new creature . . . all things are become new. Revelation 21:5—Behold, I make all things new.

Introduction

Since the Black United Front has come to us and presented these demands for what they call reparations, it seems fitting that I, as Pastor, should make some reply to them.

We do appreciate the fact that they told us they were coming and that last Sunday, when they wanted to come, they were considerate enough to postpone their coming because we had a service of ordination for Mark Tracy, which involved six ministers, and it would have lengthened that already long service unnecessarily.

In time of revolutions, as in war, the first casualty is truth. Revolution has a logic of its own but common sense, objectivity, reasonableness, is turned aside for passionate emotion, confrontation and chance, whether it is purposeful or not. The voice of moderate progressiveness, which tries to keep the fabric of life from being torn apart during change is not heard. Yet, I will be heard on this for I know that ultimately it is the voice of reason that will prevail.

I quite understand the emergency of black nationalism. It is a needed corrective for the intransigence of a stubborn racism that is inflexible in granting simple human rights to people. But that kind of separation will only result in a polarization of society, which will continue animosity that will perpetuate hostility forever. We are going to have to learn to accept one another and live with one another with mutual respect.

Evidently we have been selected because we are designated as the National Baptist Church and, therefore, representative of all Baptists. Perhaps through us you hope to reach other Baptists. We are not the oldest, richest, largest or most Caucasian of all Baptist churches as I shall show in the course of these remarks.

A Baptist church, in structure, is a democracy. I cannot speak for the church. I can only speak to it. This obtains not only for this occasion but for all. What I am to say does not officially represent a reply by this church or by Baptists. It does represent the deep feeling of my own heart, given after prayer and study. The demands, as presented, will be received and acted upon by the church itself at a later meeting.

Evidently, those who composed these demands know little of this particular church. I would not, for anything, defend the past history of prejudice or inequities on the part of the white  majority in this country in its relationship with ethnic minorities. It is writ in a record of shame that brings blushes to the cheek, and in this record the Church of Christ has not acquitted itself too well in trying to right these wrongs. Let it be said, however, that always there were those, laymen and ministers, who did speak out against the evils of racism and slavery. But these voices and examples were not heeded.

The indictments brought here today are not always correct as far as this church is concerned. A candor and sense of fairness makes it necessary to set the record straight.

I do not want to be misunderstood in this. Our church is by no means perfect in its adjustments to these revolutionary days. We have done a great deal but what we have done and are endeavoring to do should be set forth.

I fully realize that we are just beginning to get ready, to commence, to start. Most respectfully, I ask that you know of what we have done and are doing.

1. We are an open, inner city church. 

We have, for more than 7 years, gladly received all who will come into our fellowship and qualify for membership in our church, without concern for racial, cultural or national background. Our only concern is that they accept Jesus Christ as Saviour and pledge to serve Him as Lord of Life. Not only are there scores of black children in our Sunday School, there are about 100 people who are internationals from all over the world who have affiliated with our church. At least half of the people who now join our church are black. Many of thee are now assuming places of leadership and responsibility. If you look around you today you will see that approximately one-third of this congregation is black. Here are some of the community involvements of our church.

a. The Columbia Heights Church Community Project.

This is a structure of community churches to do community work in which we have put about $15,000 in the past four years. For three years the director of it was a black woman of great charm, accomplishment, education and compassion. This project has concerned itself with clothing distribution, push-cart Bible program, teenage clubs, tiny tot clubs, and a day care center which meets in our church. During the riots in 1968, along with other churches of this area in the project, we attempted to alleviate suffering through the providing of food, clothing and housing.

During the Poor People’s Campaign we made available a part of our property as a registration center and groups within the church ministered to the needs of the poor people.

b. The five houses in the next block were purchased for the purpose of doing community work and the hope that we could upgrade the community.

c. Recently, part of our reserve money was placed in the Change Credit Union, a black-owned and operated institution to provide blacks with business opportunities and capital.

d. The church will consider soon our participation with responsible groups in the rebuilding of our burned out area.

e. Last summer, two members of the staff of this church, one part-time and one full-time, were black ministerial students.

Of course we have not done enough to minister in these difficult days. But we are open and we are earnestly trying to be relevant to our situation in the name and spirit of Christ.

2. Reparations is not a Christian concept.

It is a legalism which is antithetical to the teaching of Christ. It seems to say that the payment of money can make right the past. I must repudiate this concept because it becomes ridiculous in application.

If all the injustices of past centuries are to be dealt with in this way, we will never settle the score. Should the descendants of the Indians, who reputedly sold the island of Manhattan to the Dutch for a measly $24.00, be properly compensated now? Shall the descendants of all the Union soldiers who were killed in the Civil War, fighting to free the slaves, be remunerated now? Shall women, white and black, until recently the most discriminated against group in society, be paid for their generations of servitude as the minions of man?  I do not think this can be done.

If you are going to play this game, I have what seems to me to be a just complaint. My saintly father, the latches of whose shoes I am not worthy to unlace, preached for 40 years for Baptists in Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana. Early in his sixties he had a stroke and was never able to function very well after that. There was no provision for his retirement, disability or support. I was forced to leave this city, interrupt my education, go home, work in the cotton mills in Danville, Virginia, and on an ice truck to support the family. This I was glad to do, but it shouldn’t have been necessary. Baptists should have provided for that contingency. They could have and should have.

Reparations never catch up with injury. It cannot by its nature do so, and it heals nothing.

3. Restitution is a Christion concept.

In this, by requesting and granting of forgiveness, relationships are healed and one tries to make up to the injured for wrongs done him. This is accomplished by love, sympathy, and perhaps by material things, too. It is done to the person wronged and not to his descendants.

4. Repentance is a Christian concept.

In fact, this is the beginning of forgiveness. One is genuinely sorry for his sins, for his acts that were wrong, for his hateful attitudes. In genuine contrition he turns from them, asks forgiveness of God and the people he has wronged. It is God’s grace that makes it possible for there to be healing and a new beginning. His grace makes it possible to forgive each other.

5. Renewal

Renewal comes from repentance and forgiveness. “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17). Then we are told in Revelation 21:5 as God speaks, “Behold I make all things new.”

The greatest injustice of all time, the cruelest also, was the rejection of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who, as a result of rejection by those he came to save, was crucified. In this foul act, God, through Christ, became completely identified with sinful man and, through the suffering of Christ on the cross, made possible man’s redemption from his sinful nature. God vindicated Christ by raising him from the dead. Each of us by an act of faith may appropriate the salvation of our souls and lives through trust and acceptance of Christ.

There is a positive lesson that we in this church must not miss. Demands like these should forever disabuse this and every church of the illusion that we can shut ourselves up behind our cloistered walls and lose ourselves in obscurantism while social change whirls around us. We are going to have to become more and more supportive of these forces that are trying to bring meaningful chance into our world.

Racism is a rejection of persons as persons and is a grave sin against people of God. I am resolved, so help me God, to continue to stand out against racism of any kind, as I have endeavored to do for 30 years.

Here in this church we are dedicated to what is regarded by many militants as passé, but we believe in it. We are committed to a belief that in the local, parish church people of differing ethnic, social and national backgrounds can come together under the Lordship of Christ, accepting Him and each other on the basis of our hopes, to serve Christ and our day as the community of the concerned. In this fellowship we will, ever, strive to change as led by the Holy Spirit of God to be God’s instrument in this place for the betterment of all His people.

(Signed)  R. Stuart Grizzard

John Wann’s history of the church indicates that the members of the Black United Front remained after the service for “Christian fellowship” and then left peacefully, and that the church accepted Dr. Grizzard’s reply as “fitting and proper.”

As of this writing it has been 51 years since Dr. Grizzard wrote these words, and the topic of reparations has been renewed in several progressive places. Many institutions have taken definite steps to make restitution. For example, the Virginia Theological Seminary, an Episcopal seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, has taken a very public stand in admitting its racist past and has established an endowment fund, the proceeds of which benefit  descendants of the slaves who built the seminary.

In his written remarks Dr. Grizzard admits that his approach may appear passé to the militant progressives, and I imagine it might seem so today. I’m not enough of a theologian or anthropologist to effectively argue the point one way or the other, and I certainly wasn’t in 1969. But my remembrance of this great man was that he was acting on his convictions, and he was eloquent in his presentation, which was based on scripture and his understanding of Christian principles.

In the fall of 1970 I accepted another job of increased responsibility, professional standing and scope . . . and salary. In reflecting on my relatively short tenure at National Baptist, I’m put in mind of some of those contemporary pieces of art consisting of several overlapping geometric designs, where each resultant space is filled in with a different color. Usually it is in these smallest spaces that the colors stand out most brilliantly. At any rate, it is with that brilliance and vividness that I recall my brief tenure at National Baptist Memorial Church and my friendship with Dr. R. Stuart Grizzard.

 

Bibliography and Sources

Bigbee, John Chapman. Obituary in The Washington Post, January 17, 1991.

Carey, John J. Carlyle Marney: A Pilgrim’s Progress. Mercer University Press, Press, 1980.

Grizzard, R. Stuart. Obituary in The Washington Post, February 23, 1989.

Grizzard, R. Stuart. Sweeter As The Years Go By. Private Memoir, publ. 1991.

Walker, J. Samuel. Most of 14th Street Is Gone: The Washington, D. C. Riots of 1968. Oxford University Press, 2018.

Wann, John L. A History of the National Baptist Memorial Church, Washington, D. C.  Private Publication, 1976.

 

Additional Photographs

1970

 

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Map of the principal sites of the riots of 1968. National Baptist Memorial Church at 16th Street and Columbia Road is marked with a circled cross.

 

Meridian Hill Park 16th St

The lower section of Meridian Hill Park which follows the downward slope of 16th Street to Florida Avenue.

 

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Dr. R. Stuart Grizzard, Pastor, 1964-1978

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Church Christmas card 1969

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Panoramic photo of 16th Street showing NBMC’s tower and circular auditorium, and the triangular site at Columbia Road. All Soul’s Unitarian Church is to the right at Harvard Street.

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Columbia Road looking east toward 16th Street

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Sixteenth Street looking north, with some of the embassies in the neighborhood.

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The church from the Columbia Road side looking toward 16th Street. Dr. Grizzard’s office was on the second floor directly above the entrance, featuring the large circular window. The slender window to its left was my office.

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Holy Comforter Lutheran Church, Washington, D. C., The Rev. Franklin G. Senger III, Pastor

Copyright 2020 © Neal Campbell

 

Senger, Rev Franklin G 1968 directory

The Rev. Franklin G. Senger, III

The Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter at Alabama and Branch Avenues in Southeast Washington, D. C. was an unusually devout and unusually modest community. The congregation met in a fairly dreary adapted space that was built in the 1950s to be the parish hall once the church was built, which it never was. It was typical sturdy-but-cheap cinder block construction with institutional tile floors. As you entered the front hall it had the smell of a well-used, but well-maintained multipurpose building redolent of daily cleaning and a slight tinge of candle wax and incense.

The worship space itself was outfitted modestly but traditionally with as many beautiful things as the congregation could manage. I don’t recall any stained glass windows. In fact, the most beautiful effect in that regard was that through the frosted glass of the (liturgically) west facing window where one saw a handsome row of slender evergreen trees outside which occasionally swayed gently in the wind. The chancel was arranged in a traditional divided manner with the altar against the wall facing eastward. The organ was a Möller Artiste of four ranks.

But this is where any acquiescence to modesty ended. The services were conducted with great solemnity and color, with all the resources the small parish could muster, but were entirely devoid of pomposity. A significant portion of the service was sung which caused more than one congregant to quip that the pastor’s name was apt, as he did indeed sing as much of the service as possible.

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A recent picture of the altar in its reconfigured location, with shades installed over the window so you can’t see the row of evergreens outside.

I had substituted at the church around Thanksgiving and Advent of 1968 so I was known around the place when the permanent job became vacant the first of the next year and I was appointed. I was a high school student and had yet to obtain my drivers’ license. I was nothing approaching a prodigy in the textbook sense, but the fact that I was good, competent, and reliable at that age was cause for comment and a certain amount of adulation. The all-volunteer choir was small and of moderate ability, but I recall we sang anthems of enough gravitas that I still know and use some of them—things of the caliber that are in the Oxford Easy Anthem Book, which more than one wag has dubbed the Oxford Not Quite Easy Enough Anthem Book!

Holy Comforter Luth Choir 1968

The choir from a church directory. I remember each of these singers and what their voices sounded like, but recall only the name of Jeanne Shuey, an alto, second from the right on the front row.

I only served the church for about four or five months, but this was my first regular position—the first instance where I was the organist (and in this case, also choirmaster) of the church. The services were elaborate by any measure, especially so in my experience, even though I had been to a few services at Washington Cathedral by this time. They consisted of various combinations of what we would now call Morning Prayer and/or Eucharist. They may even have used the terms MATINS and MASS. The full complement of Holy Week services beginning on Palm Sunday, the Maundatum ceremonies on Maundy Thursday, the Good Friday liturgy, and the Easter Vigil were all done in their entirety. So, before I was old enough to drive a car, and continuing throughout my career, the intricacies of any service I’ve been presented with has not been an impediment, and I always felt at home in the services of varying denominations, and in varying forms and styles.

Pastor Senger was thorough and precise, but in no way was he what we would today call a Type A personality. He was genuinely devout and conducted the services in a way that left no doubt that it was the most important thing in the world for him to be doing at that moment. Typically, we had a few moments of socializing between the two morning services each Sunday and that pretty much is the sum of my recollection of our interaction. He would inquire about my school and organ studies; by this time I was studying regularly with William Watkins and playing in competitions and student recitals around town.

The job required me to be present for choir rehearsals on Thursday evenings and two services on Sunday morning at 8:00 and 11:00. Since I did not drive, the arrangements were somewhat intricate, but it worked and the side benefit was that I got used to relying on the D. C. Transit bus system—this being in the years just prior to the Metro. On Thursdays after school, I would take the bus from the Takoma terminus down to Federal Triangle, and then change to a bus that went down the length of Pennsylvania Avenue SE, across the Anacostia River, get off at Branch Avenue and walk several blocks to Alabama Avenue where the church was located. Then, after choir rehearsals on Thursday nights, my father would meet me in the car from his second job which was somewhere on East Capitol Street. Then, on Sunday mornings, we would reverse the plan: he would drop me off at about 7:30 a.m. and then continue on to his job.

The real fun came when I would take the bus home after Sunday services around noon. I would explore the city sometimes not arriving back home in Takoma Park until dark. I would have lunch at any number of places I discovered on Pennsylvania Avenue in the neighborhood of the church or in downtown Washington, such as Reeves or the Hot Shoppes on 14th Street not too far from where Metro Center is today. I would check out any church along the way that looked interesting. Sunday afternoons usually included taking the bus from downtown, through Georgetown and up Wisconsin Avenue to the Cathedral for Evensong, and from thence up to Friendship Heights and change to a bus that went along Western Avenue to Silver Spring and ultimately Takoma. It boggles my mind to think of doing this as a young teenager today—no cell phones or text messaging to check in. I do remember always planning to have enough change for the bus and a pay phone, which were then plentiful.

The only conversation I actually recall with Pastor Senger had to do with the parish finances in general. One Sunday there had been a typical stewardship address which included plans for the eventual building of a proper church. At our visit over coffee between services I recall him saying he wasn’t worried in the least about the outcome. He said if it was God’s will it would happen and it was out of his hands. There was nothing about him that indicated he had the sort of ambition to be anything other than the shepherd of this congregation, or that he had any sort of planned career path in mind. In fact, he never left Holy Comforter, finally retiring from there in 2009. I remember on my last day as their regular organist after Easter when he saw me he just said “it’s a sad day.” In retrospect, I’m sorry I didn’t experience a couple of complete liturgical seasons with him. I learned a lot.

In 1987 this church did a modest renovation of their worship space which included reorienting the layout. The altar was now under the frosted windows at the opposite end of the church with the evergreens, now larger, still gently waving in the breeze behind the altar. The choir and a new Karl Wilhelm organ was at the opposite end of the room where the altar had been previous. I was highly honored to be asked to come back and play one of the dedicatory recitals. It was in October 1987 that I went up on a Sunday after church in Richmond to practice and play a late afternoon recital following Evening Prayer. Upon walking into the front hall, that familiar distinct aroma greeted me, as did a few familiar faces from some twenty years previous, including Jeanne Shuey from the choir. Pastor Senger was still there presiding, greeting, infusing the place with warmth, dignity, and lots of pride in the new organ.

In the cursory research for this remembrance I found out that Pastor Senger died on July 20, 2018 at a facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and his funeral was from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church also in Gaithersburg. He was 90 years old, and retired from Holy Comforter in 2009 after serving as its pastor for 50 years. Apparently, he attended Good Shepherd regularly, and I found a YouTube clip of the celebratory observance of his 65th anniversary of ordination held there in 2016.

The bishop presiding over the extended presentation, which took place before the Prayers of the People at the regular morning service, and he related some of Pastor Senger’s accomplishments which were many. He had been a leader in both the religious and the political community in Southeast Washington. He also was commended for his leadership in growing liturgical awareness within the Lutheran Church in America. Apparently, the observance of the Easter Vigil at Holy Comforter was among the first to take place in that denomination in the country. Perhaps it was even the one for which I played my one Easter with them!

In this YouTube footage Pastor Senger was in a wheelchair and spoke only a very brief word of thanks toward the end, but his voice was unmistakably resonant and clear, though considerably weaker than what I remember from the vigorous 40-year-old from whom I learned so much during the first few months of 1969.

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From the website of Holy Comforter Lutheran Church in 2020 which I found as I was preparing this article:

The Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter was founded in 1945, and for most, if not all of its existence, we have been strongly committed to worship in the liturgical tradition. During the fifty year pastorate of The Reverend Franklin Gwynn Senger III, who retired in 2009, Holy Comforter was active in the Society of the Augsburg Confession, which worked to promote a greater appreciation of the western liturgical tradition, and it was one of the first Lutheran congregations in the Washington area, to offer the Eucharist every Sunday.

Holy Comforter has always had a strong involvement in the community, and, in the early 1960’s, was active in the successful movement to integrate the Hillcrest area and eliminate the system of real estate covenants that excluded persons of color. Holy Comforter helped in the formation of the Hillcrest Civic Association, and has been and still is the meeting place for several community organizations.

Holy Comforter was never a large congregation. Although attendance averages twenty to forty people a Sunday, we have a core of active and committed members. The congregation was integrated by the 1960’s and roughly half the membership are white and half are people of color. Our members are scattered all over the area. Some live in the neighborhood, but others come from as far away as Columbia, Maryland and Reston, Virginia.

 

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AAM@50: The 2016 Fair-Chester Conference

These sketches were published in the February 2016 issue of The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians. 

For almost three years prior to June 2016 my local colleagues and I worked regularly as we prepared to host the 50th anniversary conference of the AAM held in Westchester County, New York, and Fairfield County, Connecticut. For this reason the conference became known as the Fair-Chester Conference.

One of my tasks was to prepare brief sketches on the conference venues and organs for the Journal, a very enjoyable job as there are many significant examples of each in the area, and part of the conference intent was to showcase the differing styles of architecture in which we worship and make music. Terry Byrd Eason was a featured conference personality as he took us through significant details at each venue. 

As preparations and schedules emerged it was with regret that the committee had to cancel plans to visit the churches in New Canaan and Mt. Kisco but I’ve included details here of these architecturally significant churches.

Copyright 2016 © Neal Campbell

 

St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Greenwich, CT

Established in the early 1950s St. Barnabas was admitted to the Diocese of Connecticut as a parish church in 1967, and was designed by Greenwich architect Philip Ives. Richards, Fowkes & Co. installed its Opus 1, there in 1991.

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Richards, Fowkes & Co., Opus 1

 

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Stamford, CT

The original St. John’s Lutheran Church was formed in the mid-19th century by Swedish immigrants who moved into the area from Bridgeport. The present building, inspired by the New England meeting house style, was built in 1954.

The organ was built by Richards, Fowkes & Co. in 1995

Stamford St John's Lutheran Organ

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Stamford. Richards, Fowkes & Co. organ

 

First Presbyterian Church, Stamford, CT

Known colloquially as the “Fish Church” because of its appearance in profile and floor plan, the First Presbyterian Church is generally considered to be one of the most significant ecclesiastical structures of the 20th Century. Designed by Wallace K. Harrison it was dedicated in 1958 and is unique in its combined use of precast concrete slabs together with thick faceted glass designed by Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France.

The organ is Visser-Rowland’s Opus 87. The carillon in the tower was built by Gillett & Johnston in 1947 and amended by Paccard in 1968.

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The “Fish” Church, Stamford

 

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Stamford, CT

The parish traces its history to the pre-Revolutionary War era and originally included what is now Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, and New Canaan, and is the mother church of Anglicans in Fairfield County.

The present building, the third for the parish, was designed by noted Victorian Gothic architect William Potter who designed many churches in New York and academic buildings on the campus of Princeton University in the latter half of the 19th century.

The new church was opened for worship in 1891 and originally contained a Roosevelt organ. In 1917 Skinner installed its Opus 277 and it served the church until the 1960s when a new McManus organ was installed in the gallery.  In 1990 the church installed the present organ, essentially a new instrument incorporating selected pipework from the previous organs. In an unusual arrangement, the church functioned as general contractor for the new organ and farmed out work according to its specifications, all under the direction of Craig Ferguson, chairman of the organ committee and vestryman of the parish. Tonal work was facilitated by Bruce Schultz and mechanical, engineering, and structural design was completed by the Foley-Baker.

In the late 1980s the church began plans to develop its property into an innovative design which came to be known as Canterbury Green, a mixed use complex consisting of apartments, retail stores, parking, pedestrian arcades, and a park-like garth surrounding the church, all of which was given the New York State Association of Architects Award in 1995.

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Canterbury Green rising around St. John’s Church.

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Chancel of St. John’s Church, Stamford

 

Christ Church, Greenwich, CT

Established as a parish in 1749, the present church building was built in 1910 to a design by local architect William F. Dominick. The noted parish Choir of Men and Boys was established in 1934 and has since been joined by the Choir of Girls, a mixed adult choir, a training choir, and a Compline Choir.

The church has recently undergone an extensive restoration. The large Austin organ was installed in 1976.

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Christ Church, Greenwich

 

Christ Church, New Haven, CT

From 1895-98 Henry Vaughan directed the work of building the present Christ Church specifically for the purposes and needs of Anglo-Catholic worship, and it is considered to be a masterpiece of his style of parish church architecture.

With close ties to Yale University and the Institute of Sacred Music, the music of Christ Church attracted considerable attention under the leadership of our colleague Rob Lehman, and was among the first churches on college campuses to introduce Compline into its rota as an offering targeted to the student population. In addition to his position as Professor of Organ at Yale, Thomas Murray is the organist of the church.

Lively-Fulcher installed a new organ in 2005.

 

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Antique print of Christ Church, New Haven

 

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Console of the new Lively-Fulcher organ, Christ Church, New Haven

 

Trinity Church-on-the-Green, New Haven, CT

Trinity Church, one of three churches on the largest town green in New England, was designed in 1813 by Ithiel Town, who developed his version of “Gothick Style” some twenty or thirty years before what has come to be the accepted beginning of the Gothic Revival in America.

Trinity maintains one of the oldest choirs of men and boys in America, having begun in 1885. The church has since established a parallel program for men and girls, and adults. Walden Moore recently observed his 30th anniversary as Organist and Choirmaster of the church, following in the lineage of Stephen Loher and G. Huntington Byles.

The organ was built by Aeolian-Skinner in 1935 and is maintained by Joseph Dzeda of the Thompson-Allen Co., also curators of the organs at Yale University.

 

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Aeolian-Skinner Opus 927, Trinity on the Green, New Haven

 

Woolsey Hall, Yale University, New Haven, CT

Woolsey Hall is the principal auditorium on the campus of Yale University and is used for a variety of academic and community performances and events. It is part of the Bicentennial Building Complex built in 1901 which also includes the Memorial Rotunda and the University Commons. It was designed in the Beaux Arts style by the noted New York firm Carrière & Hastings and seats some 2,600 persons. In it is contained what is generally considered to be one of the great organs of America, if not the world: the Newberry Memorial Organ, the work of the Skinner Organ Company in 1928, incorporating pipework from two previous organs. Unique as the organ is, even more rare is the fact that so large an organ, now almost 90 years old, is maintained in perfect working condition under the care of the Thompson-Allen firm.

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Console of the Newberry Organ, Woolsey Hall, Yale University

 

Christ Church, Bronxville, NY

Christ Church Bronxville is a parish in the Diocese of New York which has long expressed its worship life through music and liturgy in a “high church” tradition. Known for its local adaptation of Sarum traditions, the parish was the host for the first AAM American Sarum regional conference in 2010.

Christ Church is the last parish church with which Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue was associated. It was Goodhue, together with his partner Ralph Adams Cram, who revolutionized the Gothic landscape of America in the first quarter of the 20th century. Goodhue supervised the siting and general plans but died before the church was completed.

The organs in Christ Church have been represented by some significant American builders. During the extraordinary 45-year tenue of Robert Owen the Aeolian-Skinner and Gress-Miles organs became well known through his concerts and recordings. As the vicissitudes of wear and tear took its toll, the organ was ultimately replaced after a long series of modifications and repairs by a new organ built by Casavant in 2010.

 

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A service in the mid-1950s . . .

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. . . and a recent celebration, Christ Church, Bronxville.

 

Glen Island Harbour Club, New Rochelle, NY

One of Westchester’s unique jewels, Glen Island was originally created in 1879 as a summer resort for a business representative named John H. Starin. In 1923, Glen Island Park and Casino was acquired by Westchester County.

The Glen Island Casino was a springboard to success for several noted bands during the 1930’s Big Band Era, including those of Ozzie Nelson, Charlie Barnet, Claude Thornhill, Les Brown and the Dorsey Brothers.

In March of 1939, Glenn Miller and his orchestra got their big break when they were chosen to play a summer season at the prestigious Glen Island Casino.

The casino was closed in 1978, but reopened in December 1983. The original shell of the building and the dance floor in the second-floor ballroom, where the bands played, were retained.

The club is now a premier event facility with stunning water views and award-winning cuisine and hospitality.

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Glen Island Harbour Club, New Rochelle, New York

 

St. Mark’s Church, New Canaan, CT

Anglicans have worshiped in New Canaan since pre-Revolutionary War times; the original St. Mark’s is now St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in the center of town on God’s Acre, the original portion of the village set apart for its houses of worship. The present church, opened for worship in 1961, was designed by Stamford architect Willis N. Mills and draws its inspiration from Medieval principles applied to mid-twentieth century styles and techniques. The rood screen iconography is the work of Clark B. Fitz-Gerald and features sculptures of wood and metal.

St Mark’s takes its place among the other ecclesiastical and domestic designs in New Canaan that make the town a showplace for the American modern architectural movement of the 1950s, inspired by the European Bauhaus developed by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer and their students, among whom Philip Johnson was the best known.

Austin installed a new organ when the present church was built and has recently made some additions and modifications. The carillon in the tower is by Paccard.

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Altar Screen designed by Clark B. Fitz-Gerald, organ and choir behind. St. Mark’s Church, New Canaan

 

St. Mark’s Church, Mt. Kisco, NY

Dating from 1909 St. Mark’s was one of the earliest churches designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. Goodhue was proud of this church, writing about it in 1910 to Montgomery Schuyler

At Mount Kisco, we have almost completed the best . . . church I have so far done; and though the tower isn’t on, the various details have been so carefully carried out and the atmosphere is so much that of an English church of the “right” period, that it would give you a better idea of my dreams and my gods (architecturally speaking) than anything else.

Among the details Goodhue oversaw was commissioning Hildreth Meiere to paint the altar triptych, her first professional work.

The present organ was built by Aeolian-Skinner as its Opus 1201 in 1951, and was designed by G. Donald Harrison, who placed his signature plate on the console. The organ became widely known via a recording by long-time organist Edgar Hilliar on the Aeolian-Skinner “King of Instruments” series of recordings.

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St. Mark’s Church, Mt. Kisco, New York

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St. Mark’s, Mt. Kisco. The Positiv organ is suspended from the ceiling at the entrance to the chapel across the chancel from the main organ.

 

On Friday following the conference proper an optional tour visited these four outstanding venues in New York City.

 

The Church of the Intercession, at Broadway and 155th Street, once a chapel of the Parish of Trinity Church, is located in the midst of Trinity Cemetery where several notable New Yorker’s are buried, including Clement Clarke Moore, long-assumed to be the author of A Visit from St. Nicholas (’Twas the night before Christmas). Each year in December there is a procession to his grave and a candlelight reading of the famous story. Former New York mayor Edward I. Koch, himself Jewish, requested to be buried there, and he is.

From an architectural standpoint the church and parish buildings are the most complete ecclesiastical work of architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. It was Goodhue’s favorite of his church buildings and he is buried near the font in the north transept in a tomb given by his architectural colleagues, containing reliefs of some of his famous buildings as rendered by sculptor Lee Lawrie.

Pictures of the organ case designed by Goodhue found their way into several books in the 20th century. Its use of en chamade pipework is probably the first instance of that in America, although the pipes themselves are non-speaking. Goodhue traveled to Mexico and it is thought that he was inspired by organ cases there containing reed pipes en chamade. The first organ in the church was built by Austin. The present organ is comprised of the Aeolian-Skinner organ formerly in St Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Parish, installed by Schlicker with additional new pipework and console.

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Church of the Intercession, Broadway and 155th Street, NYC

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Case of the original organ designed by Goodhue.

 

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine is the largest Gothic church in the world and is the seat of the Bishop of the Diocese of New York. Following a competition which saw submissions from several architects in a wide variety of styles, construction began in 1892 to a design by Heins & LaFarge, who submitted the winning entry in the Byzantine-Romanesque style. When Heins died in 1907 the first phase of construction ended with the apse and choir complete. A “temporary” dome, still in place, was built by the Guastavino firm and Ralph Adams Cram was called to complete the cathedral in the Gothic style. Although Cram’s entire design has never been completed, the length of the nave was opened in 1941, a length of 601 feet.

The original organ was built by a young Ernest Skinner in 1906 as his Opus 150. It was extensively renovated with much new pipework by Aeolian-Skinner in 1951 to a design of G. Donald Harrison, including the famous State Trumpet at the west end. The organ was restored by Quimby and Douglass Hunt in 2008 following heavy smoke damage from a fire in the gift shop in the unfinished north transept.

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A recent diocesan event.

 

St. James Church at Madison Avenue and 71st street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side is an unusual amalgamation of styles. Began in 1884 to a Romanesque design by R. H. Robertson, it placed the altar at the west end of the church, at the Madison Avenue side so that no new construction would block the sunlight on the apse windows surrounding the altar. The main entrance to the church was mid-block on Madison Avenue.
In the 1920s as the high Gothic style of ecclesiastical architecture was gaining favor throughout the country, and in New York in particular, the vestry of St. James engaged Ralph Adams Cram who essentially designed a new church using the existing structure as the footprint of the design to save money. A new chancel and elaborate altar reredos was created at the east end of the church, and a new entrance and tower was created opening on to Madison Avenue. This work was completed in time for services on Christmas Eve 1924.

There have been previous organs by Austin and Möller, and the present organ by Schoenstein contains complete chancel and gallery divisions.

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St. James Church, 1884

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The chancel of St. James Church, showing the organ facade and the reredos designed by Ralph Adams Cram.

 

Grace Church at Broadway and 10th Street was founded in 1805 in lower Manhattan just a few blocks from where several Episcopal churches were located, near where Trinity Church stands today. The present church was completed in 1846 and is the work of James Renwick, Jr., who was 24 years old at the time. Although his later design for St. Patrick’s Cathedral is better known, Grace Church is considered his masterpiece. The site on which the church stands was originally the farm of Henry Brevoort and legend has it that as the town fathers were extending Broadway north onto his farm, he stood guard with an ax threatening anyone attempting to build a road through his property. It is for this reason that Broadway takes an abrupt turn westward at this very point in its progress uptown. And as a result, Grace Church is the focal point of a commanding view appearing at the head of Broadway from over a mile downtown.

Grace Church has had a succession of fine organs and organists. The church for many years maintained a choir school, the first in the city (now a parish day school from which choristers are drawn), founded by James Morris Helfenstein. The choir and school flourished under the direction of Ernest Mitchell who was an “organist’s organist” in the early-mid 20th century. Both Tournemire and Vierne dedicated compositions to him, and many organists “of a certain age” will remember the picture of Mitchell at the imposing console of the 1928 Skinner organ which appeared in the World Book Encyclopedia in the 1950s and 60s. The console is now on display in the music office of the church.

The present organ by Taylor & Boody dates from 2013 and has been lauded as a tonal and engineering masterpiece.

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An antique card picturing Grace Church in the 1920s.

 

Ernest Mitchell at Grace

Ernest Mitchell at the console of Skinner Opus 707, a photo which appeared in several editions of the World Book Encyclopedia in the 1950s and 1960s.

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The Taylor & Boody organ.

Much of the information contained in these paragraphs is based on material found on the website of the New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists in the pages developed by Steve Lawson on the individual organs of the city: http://nycago.org/Organs/NYC/index.html

 

Several pictures from the conference:

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Nick Thompson-Allen, John Boody, and Joe Dzeda

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Jim Litton and Patrick Fennig

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Philip Moore at the garden party at Christ Church Greenwich.

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Conference committe chairman Geoff Smith, John Boody, Suzanne MacDonald, and Judith Hancock at the garden party on the grounds of Christ Church Greenwich.

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Gregory Eaton and David Hurd at the Glen Island Harbour Club

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Philip Stopford, Christopher Wells, Anne Timpane, and Geoff Smith, present and past organists of Christ Church, Bronxville.

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Fr. Carl Turner in the pulpit at St. John’s in Stamford.

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Bp. Keith Whitmore, with Rob Lehman and Sonya Sutton at the Glen Island Harbour Club.

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Nick Andrews, Terry Eason, and Doug Hunt on the steps of St. John the Divine.

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Barry Rose and Murray Sommerville at Grace Church, NYC.

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John Boody at the tomb of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, Church of the Intercession, NYC.

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A memorable week draws to a close.

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A Brief History of St. Stephen’s Church, Richmond, Va., and Its Aeolian-Skinner Organ

This article was commissioned by Emery Brothers and appeared in the December 2017 issue of  The Diapason.

Copyright 2017 © Neal Campbell

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Thomas Richner: Organist, Pianist, Teacher, and Composer

I presented the following paper at the

Boston AGO convention in 2014:

Thomas Richner: Organist, Pianist, Teacher, and Composer

American Guild of Organists National Convention 

June 26, 2014    Boston, Mass.

Copyright 2014 © Neal Campbell

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1. Brief Introduction

Thomas Richner was not part of the “organ scene” of Boston musical life in the way that—say—George Faxon or Francis Snow were. Indeed, he never maintained a permanent residence in Boston, but rather commuted from his home on Long Island or his apartment in New Brunswick for his duties in Boston, where he had an apartment in the Prudential Center.

But from 1971-1993 he was the organist of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, The Mother Church, in Boston and in that capacity he was one of the most visible and best-known of Boston organists, and—indeed—of American organists in general.

Contributing to this was the fact that

a) he was already a well-known concert pianist and professor at Rutgers University,

b) The Mother Church, as the headquarters church of the denomination, was well-known, services were broadcast internationally, and it provided instant name recognition, and

c) the organ was already famous as the largest Aeolian-Skinner ever built.

2. Biographical Information

Born November 4, 1911 in Point Marion, PA, “where the Cheat River and the Monongahila River come together—that’s the point!” as Uncle T would say.

And, lest you think I’m being overly familiar in referring to Dr. Richner as Uncle T—believe me—to anyone who was in his presence for more than ten or fifteen minutes, Thomas Benjamin Richner was Uncle T at his own insistence.

There was not a lot of musical incentive growing up, but he did develop an early interest from local musicians and he eventually earned the B.Mus. degree from West Virginia University.

He found his way to New York to study with Dora Zaslavsky who, together with her husband—the famous painter John Koch, quickly became family to him. Later, he even lived across the street from them in Setauket, a lovely village on the north shore of Long Island, when they told him of a bungalow that was for sale. Uncle T was even represented in one of Koch’s paintings. It was Koch’s custom to use friends and colleagues as subjects in the paintings of his and Dora’s life together in New York.

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“Summer Party” by John Koch. Tom Richner is depicted looking out the window next to the woman  gesturing outside.

Tom won the Naumburg Award in 1940, sharing the prize with pianist Abbey Simon, and violinist Harry Cykman—and his significant performing career was launched, including a debut recital in New York at Town Hall for which the reviewer in the New York Times declared that he was a “born Mozart player,” an appellation that stuck for life.

He earned masters and doctors degrees from Columbia University, where his dissertation titled Orientation for Interpreting Mozart’s Piano Sonatas was turned into a standard reference book of the era. He taught at Teachers College from 1946-68, and at Rutgers University from 1959-86.

During his early years in New York he converted to Christian Science, and for the rest of his life he remained a devoted follower, but he was never ridged, doctrinaire, or proselytizing about it. It was just a natural part of his life.

In the 1950s Tom became the organist of the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, in New York, an influential branch church which inhabits the lower floors of a mid-town office building near Grand Central Terminal which had an old Skinner organ. It was rebuilt by Aeolian-Skinner in 1955 when he and G. Donald Harrison set about turning it into a deluxe instrument for playing services, as well as for repertoire, including double antiphonal expressive divisions which T used to great effect in the “tapers” at the conclusion of the hymns and other passive portions of the service. While retaining all of the solo and color stops of the old organ, it exhibits all of the classic hallmarks of Harrison’s post WW II organs—cohesive independent choruses on all manuals, and fully developed Positiv and Pedal divisions. It is truly a great organ desperately in need of restoration or relocation.

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Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, New York City

All of which brings up T’s organ playing and study. He was essentially self-taught. But he regularly went to the Sunday afternoon services at St. Bartholomew’s Church played by the legendary David McK. Williams, and T emulated much of Williams’ style in accompanying and service playing. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that DMcKW’s playing had the single most influential effect on T’s own organ playing. T talked about David and his playing until the end of his life—almost with tears in his eyes. He said it was that beautiful and he was that moved.

Tom later received the honorary D.Mus. from Colby College, where he directed the Richner-Strong Institute in the summers, and the honorary D.H.L. from Greenwood College in South Carolina. After his retirement from The Mother Church and Colby, he was Artist-in-Residence at Rollins College.

He died at his home in Worcester on July 11, 2008—at age 96.

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At his house organ in Setauket, Long Island, with Charles Callahan and me, Summer 1992

3. “Organist, Pianist, Teacher, Composer”

Since this is a gathering of organists, I titled this talk with T’s role as organist first. I really think that he could have had a significant career in any of these categories, but the realities of life are such that one aspect of one’s abilities usually eclipses others, even if the gifts are distributed evenly.

With that in mind, I’d say that in Tom’s career, in terms of capacity and influence, the correct order might be:

1. Pianist and Teacher—this was the centerpiece of his career, and that for which he was best-known, was most seriously trained, and started earliest, followed closely by

2. Organist, both at the two cardinal Christian Science churches mentioned, and as a touring concert organist. And only as a distant third . . .

3.   . . . is he remembered as a Composer.

But I do feel that in his small body of work he found a unique compositional voice that—had he devoted more time to it—would have yielded a style that was both approachable and lyrical, but also a challenging synthesis of expression within the mid-century school of American composition.
7:00 minutes

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With Charles Callahan at The Mother Church in Boston, 1990

4. Two Recordings of Solos for use in the Christian Science service.

Each were recorded, as was T’s custom, at regular Saturday rehearsals prior to Sunday services. The soloist is Esperanza Isman, who had a significant singing career. She later converted to Christian Science, eventually becoming a practicioner.

O Gentle presence well-known hymn by Mary Baker Eddy (6:15 minutes)

The Raising of Lazarus  Biblical dramatic account from  John 11 (6:19 minutes)

  TOTAL 20 minutes

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With me and Charlie Callahan’s dog Baron, Orwell, Vermont, ca. 1993

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The College of Church Musicians at Washington National Cathedral

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The following article appeared in the January 2016 issue of The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians.

Copyright 2016 © Neal Campbell

Though open for instruction for slightly less than a decade beginning in 1962, the College of Church Musicians on the close of Washington National Cathedral exerted an influence of national proportions that belied both the small size of its student body and the short span of its existence.  The former is entirely in keeping with the original vision of the college which began shortly after the Very Rev. Francis Bowes Sayre, Jr., dean from 1951 to 1978, assumed leadership of the cathedral. The latter, sadly, was the result of the confluence of several vicissitudes that afflicted the Cathedral throughout the 1960s.

From the outset of his leadership, Dean Sayre pursued a vision that the Cathedral should play a significant, vital role at the intersection of the nation’s political and spiritual life. He also came to the Cathedral at a critical juncture in its architectural design and construction, and he was the de facto iconographer as decisions unfolded regarding the artistic fabric of the cathedral.  His towering infectious spirit imbued itself in all of his undertakings as he sought to make the fledgling cathedral a temple landmarked for the interdependent disciplines of Christian worship, and the performance and study of sacred music in the context of the liturgy.

At the time Dean Sayre arrived in Washington, Paul Callaway had already been the cathedral organist and choirmaster for slightly more than a decade. Returning from significant time away for service in World War II, his vigor was just beginning to be renewed and he found a steady ally in the new dean. Together they, with a consortium of consultants and fellow staff, worked toward a vision that culminated in a new college, the fifth institution of learning on the cathedral close, devoted to the formation of church musicians.  The new college’s brochure for its first academic year clearly indicates the ecumenical and national scope of the intended enterprise. It states that

” . . . the College is charged with developing excellence in the composition, performance and appreciation of church music in the United States; to this end, the college will:

Offer specialized advanced training to unusually qualified fellows in the special field of music which is associated with the worship of God;

Establish a national center where organists, choirmasters, and clergy may attend seminars in the use of church music and obtain advice on specific problems;

Provide a center in the United States to stimulate, guide, and encourage creative and experimental work in church music.

With facilities including the organs on the cathedral grounds and in surrounding churches, a house which serves as headquarters for the school, [Rosedale, an 18th century farmhouse later associated with the National Cathedral School for Girls, is no longer part of the cathedral’s or the school’s buildings] in which there are pianos and numerous work rooms, and by using the fellows ‘under fire’ in the music program of the cathedral, the college feels it can . . . offer leadership in the field of church music to all Christian denominations.”

In fact, by the time the College closed, it also offered studies in Jewish music and established an endowed chair for that purpose, held by Herman Berlinski and funded from a grant in memory of Rabbi Norman Gerstenfeld, the Senior Rabbi of nearby Washington Hebrew Congregation, the largest Reform Congregation in Washington where Berlinski was organist. Rabbi Gerstenfeld died in 1968 and his son had attended St. Alban’s School.

The first class of fellows consisted of Charles Bradley, New York; John Cooper, California; David Koehring, Indiana; Roger Petrich, North Dakota; William (Pat) Partridge, Virginia; Ronald Rice, Ohio; and Beverly Ward, South Carolina.

Fig 9 CCM students and Sowerby

Leo Sowerby with the first class of fellows. L-R Ward (standing), Bradley, Cooper, Rice, Partridge, and Petrich. David Koehring is missing from the photo.

These seven fellows represented Episcopal, Baptist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian denominations. In the ensuing years several students matriculated following the graduation of this founding class. Some of their names are very familiar to 21st century AAM members, and others less so; sadly, several are now deceased.

The college may have been ecumenical in its philosophy and student body representation, but there is no doubt that the prevailing ethos leaned heavily toward the Episcopal way of doing things, and following graduation most of the fellows pursued careers at what were once known as cardinal parish and cathedral churches throughout the United States. Shortly after the school’s opening Sowerby and Callaway were the “kingmakers” of choice as they fielded calls from rectors and deans throughout the country seeking church musicians to fill their vacancies. After graduation and positions in South Carolina and Baltimore, Pat Partridge is still the canon musician, organist and choirmaster of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, a position he has held since 1981.

Leo Sowerby was the founding director of the college, having been persuaded to leave his positions in Chicago where he retired as the organist and choirmaster of St. James Cathedral and the head of the composition department at the American Conservatory of Music. Other founding faculty included

Paul Callaway, cathedral organist and choirmaster, organ teacher at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, founder and conductor of the Cathedral Choral Society, and musical director of the Washington Opera Society, now the Washington National Opera;

Richard Wayne Dirksen, associate organist and choirmaster of the cathedral, accompanist and assistant conductor of the Cathedral Choral Society, organ instructor at American University, and director of the glee clubs of the National Cathedral School for Girls and St. Alban’s School for Boys;

The Rev. Leonard Ellinwood, a noted musicologist who held a position as Senior Specialist in the Humanities at the Library of Congress. He was also an ordained deacon who held the title of assistant minister of the cathedral; and

The Rev. William G. Workman, canon precentor of the cathedral.

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Richard Dirksen, Paul Callaway, and Dean Francis B. Sayre

As the decade progressed other noted Washington musicians were added to the faculty, including John Fenstermaker and Ronald Stalford (themselves graduates of the CCM), Richard Roeckelein, Albert Russell and a young John Corigliano who taught composition after Sowerby died.

Students for the college were recruited largely through what could, at that time, rightfully be called the old boy network—recommendations and word-of-mouth endorsements easily found willing applicants. From the aspiring students’ standpoint enrollment was a slightly tricky proposition. So specialized was its mission and so small the student body that typical administrative details expected of a college pertaining to finances and accreditation were never finalized in the normal, legal sort of way, although from the outset it was determined that students would pay no tuition. And the cathedral foundation’s charter did give it the right to confer degrees.  It is a tribute to the reputations of the founding faculty, especially Sowerby, that so rich a field of applicants was gathered. Some students already had graduate degrees, or transferred from (or later to) nearby degree granting institutions, such as American University and the Catholic University of America, each of whom allowed fellows to take courses and to use their libraries. And in a rare case or two a fellow was admitted without an undergraduate degree. It was a very customized approach to higher education befitting the specialized nature and purpose of the college.

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Dr. Sowerby with John Fenstermaker, 1965.

There were other prominent institutions of higher learning in this country which very effectively trained aspiring students at the graduate level for careers in sacred music. Notable among them was the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Its director, Robert Baker, was on the governing board of the CCM and he played an important advisory role in its life, particularly so as the college faced closure.

Students at the College of Church Musicians were expected to have their own church jobs on Sunday mornings and their field work was supervised, as was also the case with those at Union Seminary. In the case of CCM, Dr. Sowerby would pay a scheduled visit to hear a student play and conduct a service on their home turf, and would offer written and verbal comments at a subsequent lesson.

The main difference, practically speaking, between the CCM and these other schools was the master-apprentice system which, because of the small student body, was easily facilitated, and was an objective at the outset. Most of the student’s work was undertaken on a one-to-one basis. That, plus the fellows’ direct participation in the musical life of the Cathedral and its related schools, marked a definite distinction from what was offered elsewhere in sacred music studies.

Sowerby with Dirksen and Gerald Knight

Richard Dirksen, Leo Sowerby, and Gerald Knight at the dedication of the Gloria in Excelsis Tower, Ascension Day 1964.

Writing in the Spring 1963 issue of The Cathedral Age Rear Admiral Neill Phillips, U.S.N., Retired, chairman of the board wrote:

“We shall never be able to go in for mass production of graduates and still maintain the high quality that we feel is a basic requirement. On the other hand we feel that the graduation yearly of even a relatively few fellows who will go out to churches over the country richly equipped for their profession will (together with the CCM symposiums and workshops, which reach many other organists) exercise a profound influence on church music and therefore on Christian worship.”

And it did.

In the fall of 1962, Leo Sowerby told T. Scott Buhrman, who was preparing an article which appeared in the January 1963 issue of The American Organist, about the new college, saying that “we have classes now only to find out what the fellows don’t know and work from there. By February they should be completely on their own, not unlike the students at the Academy in Rome,” referring to his own time as a fellow of the American Academy of Rome.

Sowerby guided the entire focus of the college and taught theoretical courses in analysis, counterpoint, orchestration, and composition, filtered through the lens of the requirements of the church musician. Students who were particularly gifted in composition occasionally found their works on the music list at cathedral services, and several found publication, particularly music for the new rites of the Episcopal Church which began to emerge in the era prior to the revision of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and the various trial use liturgies which the cathedral undertook. Roger Petrich’s Variations on “Herzliebster Jesu” was written while he was a student of Sowerby prior to his admission to the CCM, but it was sung by the cathedral choir on a Good Friday service, recorded, later published by Oxford University Press, and is still in print, some fifty years later.

All students were expected to have a mastery of compositional techniques such as to be able to write a descant, or an effective reharmonization, or to orchestrate hymns and anthem accompaniments for other instruments as needed. And students were encouraged to study for and to take the examinations of the American Guild of Organists. All students studied organ at an advanced level and played regular recitals on the cathedral’s Sunday afternoon series. Most students studied organ with Callaway, who also taught the choral conducting component of the curriculum, the repertoire for which usually consisted of whatever the Cathedral Choral Society was rehearsing at the time. The typical operating procedure for the study of this topic consisted of the student’s conducting a portion of a work with Callaway at the piano, playing precisely what the student conducted, exaggerating the mistakes! Music history courses were taught by Leonard Ellinwood, and liturgical topics by Canon Workman.

Fig 10. Paul Callaway and Ronald Rice at the Great Organ console, ca. 1965

Dr. Callaway and Ronald Rice at the cathedral organ.

There were more than 20 services per week in the cathedral which to one degree or another required music, and the college fellows, in this regard, became adjunct assisting musicians fulfilling ancillary roles in the cathedral music program. The cathedral’s Sunday rota included, in addition to the 11:00 service (which in those days consisted of Holy Communion on the first Sunday of the month, and Morning Prayer and Sermon on the remaining weeks) an early service in the Bethlehem Chapel for which the junior choir sang, a 10:00 folk mass in an undercroft chapel, and Evensong at 4:00, followed by an organ recital. In addition to guest recitalists from around the country and around the world, the cathedral organists and the fellows took their turn in playing these recitals at which the entire gamut of the organ repertoire was offered, including hefty doses of contemporary music, such as then avant-garde works of Ligeti, the latest works of Messiaen, and occasionally a new work of Sowerby, who was almost always on hand, along with organ enthusiasts from all over the city. Growing up in Washington there were two places where you could always count on seeing someone you knew to visit and trade stories—Dale Music Company in Silver Spring on any given work day, and the chancel of Washington Cathedral after Sunday post-Evensong recitals.

On weekdays the boys of the choir sang Evensong on Mondays through Wednesdays, either the treble line alone or with combinations of ATB parts sung by the fellows. The men of the cathedral choir did not sing weekday Evensong in those days. On a weekly rotation each fellow also had an opportunity to direct the choir during the weekday Evensongs.

On Friday morning there was a service in the Great Choir which the fellows designed and implemented, each fellow taking a turn at leading at approximate six-week intervals, all under the supervision of the college chaplains. St. Alban’s School for Boys (from which student body cathedral choirboys were selected), and the National Cathedral School for Girls held daily chapel services in the cathedral, and the Beauvoir elementary school held a weekly chapel. As needed, fellows were found playing for these services.

Fellows were also expected to attend rehearsals of the Cathedral Choral Society on Monday evenings, and they often assisted in performing roles in the varied repertoire which took full advantage of the cathedral’s spatial possibilities. This was especially evident in works commissioned for celebratory events in the cathedral’s ongoing building program. In the aforementioned article in The American Organist T. Scott Buhrman tells of a rehearsal for the first performance of Richard Dirksen’s The Fiery Furnace which was composed for the dedication of the newly completed south transept:

“Here we saw and heard the fellows in the “under fire” part of the school’s program. One man acted as organist, another was page-turner and a third was stationed in the lectern as coordinating conductor between the three choirs and a like number of instrumental ensembles which were positioned in the north and south transept galleries, the Great Choir and in the musicians gallery above the Great Choir stalls.”

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Dr. Callaway at a rehearsal of the Cathedral Choral Society.

Fellows were also expected to attend the full practice of the cathedral choir on Friday evenings, which was thorough and long.  The evening began in the choir room with the full choir of men and boys rehearsing the hymns and psalms for the for the coming Sunday morning and afternoon services, followed by rehearsals of the communion service settings, canticles, and anthems for the coming Sunday morning and afternoon services in the Great Choir with organ.  Following a break, it was back down to the choir room to rehearse the settings and anthems for the following week. After this was a second break at which the boys were dismissed, following which the men read through the settings and anthems for the third week out. From beginning to end, the men were lucky if it was a three-hour evening.

12. Paul Callaway rehearsing in the Cathedral choir room

Dr. Callaway at a rehearsal in the cathedral choir room.

The College of Preachers on the cathedral close followed a somewhat similar track as the College of Church Musicians, but it tended to sponsor short term courses for clergy akin to retreats or conferences, instead of a dedicated course of study leading to a diploma. But music played a role in its offerings as well, and on several occasions the College of Preachers offered courses in tandem with the CCM on topics such as psalmody or various liturgical trends that were beginning to emerge as part of the fledgling liturgical movement. And, most conferences under the auspices of the College of Preachers contained a worship component with music, just as the day schools did, and the fellows stood at the ready to perform these ancillary tasks as assigned.

In all of these endeavors the fellows of the College of Church Musicians were more than mere auditors and scholars.  They did more than just study the ideas of sacred music, they were directly involved in the actual music making and its preparations at all levels and learned by doing. They were in fact adjunct musicians of the cathedral and its attendant educational institutions, and this was taken into account in the original decision not to charge tuition.

Leo Sowerby had progressively more serious health problems throughout the 1960s and he died from symptoms of a stroke he suffered while in residence at Camp WA-LI-RO in Put-In-Bay, Ohio, on July 7, 1968 where he had been composer-in-residence for many years. The college continued operations for a while following Sowerby’s death, but the absence of his guiding presence, together with its unstable finances, which were inextricably linked with those of the cathedral in a difficult era, each contributed to its closing in 1969.  There were some heroic efforts to keep things afloat and, in fact, for quite a few years following there was a program which called for one or two fellows to be in residence at the cathedral for short periods of time doing the things fellows had always done, but without a prescribed course of study or the granting of diplomas or degrees. Some students transferred to American University or Peabody Conservatory which had close associations with CCM. Robert Baker, Dean of the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary in New York, offered admission without audition to any students who wanted to transfer.

In the all-too-short period of its existence, though, the College of Church Musicians was a powerhouse of serious study, preparation, and performance of sacred music which very nearly transformed the musical life of the entire church, and its influence continues to this day through the legacies of its approximately thirty graduates and the positions they held and continue to hold.

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Dr. Callaway with fellows Mark McNulty and Raymond Chenault, 1975.

 

_______________________

Neal Campbell is the Director of Music and Organist of Trinity Church in Vero Beach, Florida, a positon he has held since November 2015 when he came from a similar position at Saint Luke’s Parish in Darien, Connecticut. He is on the committee planning the 2016 conference in Fairfield and Westchester counties. He previously held church, synagogue, and college positions in Washington, Philadelphia, Richmond, and the New York tri-state area. Growing up in Washington he studied organ with William Watkins and Paul Callaway, piano with Roy Hamlin Johnson, and choral conducting with Paul Traver. He attended the University of Maryland and holds graduate and undergraduate degrees from Manhattan School of Music in New York.

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Beloved Friend and Colleague

Remembrances by Neal Campbell delivered at the Memorial Service for Charles Dodsley Walker

    March 21, 2015 in the Church of the Heavenly Rest, New York

Copyright 2015 © Neal Campbell

M 1960s CDW reh CCS at CHR 1960s

I          Early AGO

Organists, and other musicians, in the early 1970s who—such as I—were not New Yorkers, would have known the name CHARLES DODSLEY WALKER as the president of the American Guild of Organists.  He wrote a column that appeared in the monthly magazine, complete with the picture that is on the back cover of the book of remembrances, together with a facsimile of his distinctive signature—the three names connected in one continuous cursive script.

In the summer of 1972 I was a finalist in the Guild’s young organists’ competition held during the national AGO convention in Dallas, and I went to the whole week of events—and it was there that I encountered Charlie Walker for the first time, though I don’t remember that we actually met.  At the concluding banquet Charlie gave a speech that was vintage CDW!

In paying tribute to our host city—Dallas—he composed a doggerel verse, which used in alphabetical order, a word or name which rhymed with “Dallas.”

“There was a young lass named Alice, who found herself convening in Dallas.”   . . .  that sort of thing.

Well, he continued through the letters B and C and it appeared, for all the world, that he was going to continue through the entire alphabet, and you could see a sort of gleeful trepidation began to appear on the faces of the confreres as they contemplated just how he was going to negotiate the upcoming sixth letter of the alphabet!  Then, all of a sudden the work took some sort of funny unexpected turn which had everyone convulsed in belly-aching laughter, and was entirely void of any sort of risqué-ness, and it seemed almost to chastise the audience for thinking it might be anything naughty!

I mentioned this to Charlie once and he said he didn’t remember anything about it—but, Lise, if we ever find that speech, I want a copy to see just how he turned that around!

1968 James Bryan CDW Alec Wyton

With James Bryan and Alec Wyton, 1968.

1972 CDW Lee Hastings Bristol Jr ca 1972

With Lee Hastings Bristol, Jr, 1972.

II         Saint Luke’s

Through a fortuitous, and felicitous set of circumstances (felicitous—that’s a word Charlie liked and used a lot ! ) . . . Charlie applied for a vacancy as assistant organist of Saint Luke’s and of course we were glad to have him, but I didn’t want his title to sound quite so junior and student-like, so I proposed Artist-in-Residence, which we settled on and felt covered his position nicely. But he threw himself into whatever he was asked to do with real enthusiasm, which was infectious to all of us. And he welcomed us into his concerts here and in Carnegie Hall.

Early on we settled into a routine. He and Lise would drive out to Darien on Thursday and Sunday. When he would arrive he’d come to my office and—evoking his best Navy manners—would say “aye, aye sir—reporting for duty” . . . and we’d be off.  As time went on, he amended his greeting by extending his hand, looking me straight in the eye saying “beloved friend and colleague—it’s so good to see you.”  At first I thought he was being playfully obsequious. But as this pattern continued—both on Thursday and Sunday—I realized that he was absolutely sincere. I was his beloved friend and colleague . . . and he was mine—just as all of us gathered here were his beloved friends and colleagues. The organizations with which he was associated really were his extended musical family and I think he really loved his colleagues and went out of the way to sustain and support the many disparate sorts and conditions of his fellow organists and musicians that came under his care.

Anyway—at these Thursday visits, we would quickly dispatch with whatever details we needed to cover regarding that evening’s rehearsal, or the upcoming Sunday service, or the calendar. Then—quite unplanned or rehearsed, we would simply visit for a while, sometimes maybe even for an hour or so, on any number of topics, but usually having to do with the personalities of our profession, past and present. I wish I’d had a voice-activated in-house recording system, like the Nixon White House, for these visits.

But as his 90th birthday approached, I did arrange for a series of visits with the digital recorder on, and the results of those visits are about twelve hours of conversations, which were boiled down to the two articles of interviews published in The Diapason, links to which are on the back of your Book of Remembrances.

Of course we talked about Paris a lot, and at some point he remarked that his predecessor at the American Cathedral had been Robert Owen, the noted organist of Christ Church Bronxville for many years.  Well, I knew Bob Owen and Christ Church, so I looked in the recently-published centennial history of that great parish, and—sure enough—there were the references to Robert Owen and the American Cathedral in Paris.

But what I noticed in particular while perusing that book was a tribute to Bob Owen by one of his former choirboys who had become a priest, who was quoted as saying at some event . . .

“I dedicate my remarks and much of my ministry to Bob Owen, who showed me all the wonders of God without ever opening a Bible, without ever preaching a sermon . . .  without being anything other than who he was—a superb musician.”

. . . and it occurred to me, that could just as well be said about Charlie Walker: “he showed us all the wonders of God without ever opening a Bible with us, without ever preaching a sermon to us  . . .  without ever being anything other than who he was—a superb musician.”

Christmas Eve 2007 was Charlie’s first with us at Saint Luke’s. Like many places we offer a half-hour of music before the services, and the choir begins in the back of the church singing “Once in royal David’s City,” the first stanza sung by a soloist, the second by the choir unaccompanied, and the remaining stanzas with the organ and congregation joining as the choir processes to their places in the chancel.

Charlie was at the console, and I was conducting the choir from the back of the nave. At the appointed time and in the agreed upon way, Charlie gave the pitches for the soloist:  [sing D-F#-G].  Unfortunately, there was just enough conversational buzz in the congregation that the soloist—one of our best young choristers—didn’t hear it. Now, I don’t have perfect pitch, but I went over to the soloist and got close to her ear and repeated what I thought were the correct pitches.  But, I got it a half-step high!

Well, the soloist negotiated it perfectly, but when she got to the third line “Mary was” I knew it was too high and we were in trouble. Verse 2 by the choir was just fine unaccompanied. It actually sounded nice in the key of A-flat, but I dreaded the train wreck I knew was coming when the organ would come in for the third stanza in the published key of G.

But . . . when we got there . . . it was just fine! A bit high for the congregation, perhaps, but it was just fine. Charlie had ascertained what had happened, and simply transposed it to the new key.

Now, this may not be evidence of musical genius. But it is evidence of a thorough training, and an engaged mind doing all that he could to see to it that the wonders of God were conveyed—or at least, not derailed—that Christmas Eve by his being nothing more than what he was—a superb musician.

I’m sure each organization represented here could tell similar tales of his musicianship revealed similarly, in ways great and small . . . obvious and less so.

2014 StL

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2012 Mar 15

On the eve of his birthday in 2013, following a Thursday evening choir rehearsal at Saint Luke’s.

III       Last Visit

The week before he died, I visited Charlie in his room at Lenox Hill Hospital. He was weak, to be sure, but he was alert, had that inimitable gleam in his eye, and his creative command of the vocabulary—so, we visited for an hour or so about all sorts of things, just as we had so many Thursdays in my office. I hadn’t seen him since Christmas and his last concert with Canterbury—so we visited about all of that. I showed him some pictures on my hand-held, including some from our visit at the Lake Delaware Boys Camp last summer. It also just happened to be his and Lise’s 14th wedding anniversary. So we had lots to talk about!

Finally it came time for me to go and I leaned in close to say good-bye, knowing for myself that it was possibly for the last time.

As I was walking out of the room, Charlie called to me saying “I hope I see you again.”  All I could manage was a smile and nod . . . and I left.

But, what I wish I had said to him then, and what I say to all of us today is:

“Beloved friend and colleague, I am certain that we will . . . ”

2011 StL musicians

With NC, Arthur Burrows, and Jun Kim at Saint Luke’s, 2011.

m.LDBC CDW Fr Ray Donahue

With Fr Ray Donohue, Lake Delaware Boys Camp, Summer 2014.

 

2010 at StL
With some of his Voice for Life students at Saint Luke’s.

 

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At the console of the organ in Church of the Heavenly Rest following a Canterbury Choral Society concert.

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