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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 to me 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.”

3. 1966 conducting

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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Roy Perry: Musician and Organ Builder

Copyright 2013 © Neal Campbell

at 1173 old console

Background

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

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

Introduction

Roy Perry’s association with G. Donald Harrison and his role and presence in the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company from 1949 until Harrison’s death in 1956, and the closure of the company in 1972 was significant, and there are several reasons for this:

First, his own larger than life personality and musicianship yielded an impressive list of sales for the company. During this era Aeolian-Skinner was the preferred builder for most organists—even of those couldn’t afford it, or could not wait for the three-year backlog of orders, or whose organ committees could not get past the new escalator clauses in A-S contracts after World War II.   Roy often said that the organs sold themselves: once prospective customers heard his home organ at First Presbyterian Church, Aeolian-Skinner’s Opus 1173, or its sister organ in the First Baptist Church in Longview, one opus number younger, they were hooked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, of course, there is the not inconsequential work he undertook with Jim Williams apart from the company in the later years of Aeolian-Skinner’s existence, most of which still exists.  His final statement and undoubtedly his most highly visible work was the renovation of the organ in Washington Cathedral from 1973-76.  This large-scale project was indigenously complicated and was a committee-driven project occasioned by the cathedral’s unique physical properties and its liturgical and logistical requirements, all of which was undertaken just as the Aeolian-Skinner company ceased operations.

The cathedral organ was ostensibly designed by Joseph Whiteford, who oversaw the work from his home in California, though never made the trip to Washington to see either the work in progress or the final outcome. Roy’s official title was supervising architect and finisher, but in practical matters, he was the boss of the job.

Early Life  

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

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

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

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

In the organ chamber, 1939

In the organ chamber, 1939

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

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

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

A4.Lou Della Crim on her front porch 2

W. R. and Mama Della had four children who survived into the oil boom era: J. Malcolm, Pauline Florence (later, after her first husband died, Pauline MacIntosh) John Thompson Crim (Roy, who had a nickname for everyone, called him Santa Claus), and Liggett, the youngest, who was always interested in things theatrical. Another son, Robert Lee Crim, was killed in World War I.

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

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

The Crim family.

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

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

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

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

Downtown Kilgore at the height of the oil boom.

Downtown Kilgore at the height of the oil boom.

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

B4.one derrick

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

In short order a new Presbyterian church in a modest Gothic style was built on the same site, which came to be known as the First Presbyterian Church. It was outfitted with a six stop organ built by Pilcher. It was to this church and this organ that Roy Perry came to Kilgore to be the organist and choirmaster in 1932.  The new church had no organist, and the story is told that Liggett Crim mentioned this casually to Knox Lamb, the manager of his chain of theaters, and it was Lamb who suggested to Crim that he consider the organist of his theater in Lufkin. Nora Williams tells the engaging story of Liggett and Knox waking Roy up in the middle of the night, more or less commanding him to go over to the Pines Theatre to “audition” for Liggett, only to find that the building was locked. So, Lamb just kicked the door in and then went in and we assume the audition was successful. Nora Williams Interview  So it was that Roy Perry moved to Kilgore, initially living with Liggett Crim and his wife Tincy Elder Crim.  Beginning then and there, Roy’s life was closely linked to those of the extended Crim family for the rest of his life, and he ultimately was even buried in the family cemetery, Thompson Cemetery at Laird Hill, just outside of Kilgore. Roy immediately set out to make improvements and additions to the modest Pilcher organ, enlisting the assistance of Jack Williams whom he had known in Lufkin. Williams was an independent service man, but he did a lot of work for Möller, and he installed the new organ in 1935 which Möller built around the small Pilcher. This was during the time the noted English voicer Richard Whitelegg was associated with the company, although it is uncertain that he had any influence on this relatively obscure job.

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

Study in New York

The Crims financed Roy’s education in sending him to New York for two extended periods of time in the 1930s, where he went to study with Hugh McAmis, by then relocated to New York. I’ve not been able to ascertain precisely what connection led him to seek out McAmis, other than their previous association in Kilgore.  McAmis at the time would have been 36 years old, and tragically died in 1942 shortly after being drafted into the Army and reporting for basic training duty.

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

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

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

David McK. Williams

David McK. Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Present Church 1939-1949

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

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

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

C3.1939 Church under construction

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

C2.1939 church building during construction

RP conducting the Kilgore Civic Chorus

RP conducting the Kilgore Civic Chorus

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

the mystery of the Godhead,

the divine ordering of the universe,

life after death,

and other queries before which reason and experience are helpless.

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

a few flowers to a sick person,

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

an inquiry about a new baby,

postcards to your choir while on vacation—

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

***

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

D7

Perry's review of William Watkins' Kilgore recital.

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

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

The King of Instruments Series of Recordings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Trip to England and France

G2G3

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

May 10, 1955

Dear Henry:

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

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

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

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

As ever,

Don[1]

_______________

[1] Callahan, 398.

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

Post G. Donald Harrison: 1956-1972

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

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

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

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

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

Frederick Swann and Roy Perry, 1967.

Frederick Swann and Roy Perry, 1966.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy Perry, ca. 1966

Roy Perry, ca. 1966

This article appeared in an abbreviated form

in the February 2013 issue of The Diapason.

Copyright 2013 © Neal Campbell

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy Perry at Opus 1174 during its tonal finishing, 1950

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

Festival Itinerary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Murray, Organist

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

First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore

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

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

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

Two Welsh Folk-Tune Arrangements—Vaughan Williams

Romanza “The White Rock”

Toccata “Saint David’s Day

Passacaglia, BWV 582—Bach

Intermission—Presentation to James Lynn Culp

Carillon, Op. 75—Elgar

Grande Pièce Symphonique—Franck

Picture2

First Presbyterian Church, view from the nave

Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walt Strony, Organist

First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore

Walt Strony at the console of 1173

Walt Strony at the console of 1173

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

Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde—Wagner

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

Thanksgiving (from Four Prayers in Tone)—Purvis

Two Hymn Arrangements—Strony

    His Eye is on the Sparrow; Joyful, joyful

Intermission

Tico, Tico—Zequinha de Abreu

Carmen Fantasy—Bizet, arr. Strony

Two Improvisations—Strony

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

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

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

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

The Trompette-en-Chamade and exposed Great upperwork

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

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

First Baptist Church in 1955

First Baptist Church in 1955

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

The Rev. Dr. W. Morris Ford

The Rev. Dr. W. Morris Ford

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

Dr. Ford singing with the choir

Dr. Ford singing with the choir

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

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

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

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

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

The interior of First Baptist Church

The interior of First Baptist Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Ford, left, and Lorenz Maycher

David Ford (left) and Lorenz Maycher

Richard Elliott, Organist

David Ford, Bass

The Alexander Boggs Ryan Memorial Concert

First Baptist Church, Longview

 *Chaconne—Louis Couperin

*+Toccata in F, BWV 540—Bach

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

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

+Recessional—Reginal De Koven

Cantilena—John Longhurst

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

*Variations sur un Noël—Dupré

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

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

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

Wednesday

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

CC and Frances Anderson

Charles Callahan and Frances Anderson at St. Luke’s

Charles Callahan, Organist

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Kilgore

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

Adagio and Rondo—Joseph-Hector Fiocco

Air and Variation—Charles Wesley

Voluntary in G—Samuel Wesley

Allegro all Marcia—Albert Lister Peace

Pastorale in D—William Walstenholme

Three Pieces—Callahan

Lauda Sion (from Gregorian Suite)

Prelude on Jewels (from Kilgore Suite)

Trumpet Tune (from Suite in D)

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

Ann Frohbieter, Organist

Ann Frohbieter

Ann Frohbieter

First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore

Introduction and Passacaglia—Reger

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

The Red Sea—Michael Horvit

Variations on AmericaIves

Adagio for Strings—Barber

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

Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H—Liszt

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

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

Christopher Houlihan, Organist

Christopher Houlihan at the console of 1175

Christopher Houlihan at the console of 1175

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Kilgore

Toccata—Sowerby

Trio Sonata in C major, BWV 529—Bach

Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582—Bach

Intermission

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

Andantino, from String Quartet, Op. 10—Debussy

From Symphony II—Vierne

Choral

Scherzo

Allegro

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

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

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

A full First Presbyterian on movie night

A full church on movie night

Thursday

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

Steve Emery and Scott Davis at First Baptist in Nacogdoches

Steve Emery and Scott Davis at First Baptist in Nacogdoches

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

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

Charles Callahan at the console of 1153-A

Charles Callahan at the console of 1153-A

Charles Callahan, Scott Davis, Organists

Rebecca Robbins, Horn

First Baptist Church, Nacogdoches

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

Memories—Clarence Dickinson

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

Fireside Fancies, Op 29 (1923)—Joseph Clokey

          A Cheerful Fire

          The Wind in the Chimney

          Old Aunt Chloe

          Grandfather’s Wooden Leg

Melody in Mauvre—Purvis

Alleluia (2011)—Callahan

Improvisation—Davis

Interior, First Baptist Church, Nacogdoches

Interior, First Baptist Church, Nacogdoches

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

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

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

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

Christopher Jennings, Organist

First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore

 Storm King Symphony—Dickinson

Allegro Maestoso

Canon

Scherzo

Intermezzo

Final

Intermission

Fanfare—Alec Wyton

Five Dances—Calvin Hampton

      The Primitives

      At the Ballet

      Those Americans

      An Exalted Ritual

      Everyone Dance

Toccata—Gerre Hancock

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

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

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

Ken Cowan greeting the audience after his stunning program.

Ken Cowan greeting the audience after his stunning program.

Ken Cowan, Organist

First Baptist Church, Longview

Sonata No. 1 in F minor—Mendelssohn

Allegro moderato e serioso

Adagio

Andante, Recitative

Allegro assai vivace

Danse macabre—Saent-Saëns, arr. Cowen

Suite, Op. 5—Duruflé

Prélude

Sicilienne

Toccata

Intermission

Étude Héroïque—Rachel Laurin

Elegiac Romance—John Ireland

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

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

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

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

Neal Campbell

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

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Honoring Judith Hancock: 2004 and 2012

Copyright 2012 © Neal Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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