Tag Archives: Charles Dodsley Walker

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


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.



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

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Conversations with Charles Dodsley Walker, Part II

This article appeared in the June 2010 issue of The Diapason.

Copyright 2010 © Neal Campbell

NC:  So, you’re in Paris.

CDW:  Yes, I’d longed to go to France; this was my first time there.  I’d been to a French speaking country during the war—Algeria, on the way to Sicily.  At Trinity College, I had immersed myself in the study of the French language and culture, and this was a dream come true.

I lived in the Deanery—a lovely three-story stone building separated from the Cathedral by a garden–and the church sexton was a man named Lucien.  Lucien was also a master chef, and he did a lot of things beside dust the church pews off, I’ll tell you that!  I lived there on the top floor of the Deanery and he would come up and wake me up in the morning with a plate of what he called paingrillé, which was a word I hadn’t learned in my study in French, but it turns out it was actually two words, pain and grillé—toast.

NC:  So he woke you up with breakfast every morning.

CDW:  Yes, in addition to the paingrillé there were also oeufs—eggs.  And coffee.

NC:  Quite a few well-known American organists have held that post, haven’t they?

CDW:  Yes, Robert Owen preceded me and Donald Wilkins followed me.  They were great years over there, especially if you were a Francophile.

Brahms Requiem at the American Cathedral, Paris, Good Friday 1949


NC:  What were services like there at the American Cathedral? They were in English I assume?

CDW:  Yes, they were just as if you were here in the states. Everything was in English, we chanted the canticles, and so forth.

One of the things I tried to do was to get more Americans in the choir.  I had a lot of French opera singers already in there.  They’d sing [mimicking the French pronunciation of English] oly, oly, oly, looord Gott uf osts, aven ant urse are fuel of zei gloory so I was trying to get more Americans and Janet [Hayes, later Mrs. CDW] was part of that campaign after we married.

One day after service a little man came up to talk to me and said “I am Pierre Duvauchelle and I am the conductor of the Paris Chamber Orchestra. ”  He said “you have a beautiful acoustic here in the cathedral. ”  Well, he wanted to do a series of three or four concerts at the cathedral.  And I thought quickly and said “I will see to it that you may have the use of the cathedral, heated and lighted, for the first three concerts, and then for the fourth concert I want to conduct your orchestra and do a concert with my chorus and your orchestra”  All my life I’d wanted to do works for chorus and orchestra.  So we did the Palestrina Missa Brevis unaccompanied, of course, and then his orchestra joined us.  Many of them were members of Lamoreux Orchestra, which was an important orchestra in Paris, and we did the Bach Magnificat.  It was recorded on acetate discs, which I still have, and it was broadcast over the Radiodiffusion Française.

I must have met Langlais by then, because I remember that he came to that concert and complimented me on the Palestrina.  He also brought along a friend, a pupil I think, named Pierre Cochereau, whom I met for the first time.

Not too long after I arrived the dean gave me a new job in addition to the cathedral which was to be director of the American Students’ and Artists’ Center on the left bank.  A beautiful building on what had been Chateaubriand’s estate. The place had been closed up because the Germans had taken it over during the war.

NC: What was the Dean’s connection with the Students’ and Artists’ Center?

CDW: He was chairman of the board and had raised the money for its construction. He had very good connections. His name was Beekman and he was from an old, old New York  family.

NC: So this was almost like an umbrella of the cathedral or part of his ministry or something like that?

 CDW: Yes, exactly, to students in Paris.  On the first floor it had a theatre with a balcony.  It didn’t have a very big stage, more of a lecturers’ stage than a theatre stage.  And there as a big lounge, and a billiard room.  On the second floor they had a library and on the opposite wing they had the Director’s apartment.  I had administrative charge of the operations of the Center.

NC: And that’s where you lived?

CDW: That’s where we lived—I was married by then.  The apartment provided for the Director was very comfortable.  The building was designed by a prize-winning architect named Welles Bosworth, who had been J. D. Rockefeller’s architect in charge of restoring Reims Cathedral.  He also designed all those buildings for MIT along the Charles River that have those rotundas.

And several former Harvard students were over there—Robert Middleton, Noel Lee, Douglas Allanbrook.  Leon Fleisher was there at the time, also.

NC:  Those were pretty heady years to be in Paris, you must have met many well- known persons?

CDW:  Yes, including Poulenc.   And notably Nadia Boulanger, whom I had known from her time in Cambridge while I was at Harvard.  A lot of people were studying with her in Paris in those days.  Janet studied with her.  She was Nadia’s favorite singer and everyone said she sang French songs better than the French did 

NC:  Boulanger didn’t teach voice, did she?

CDW:  No, she had been very close friend of Fauré, and coached singers working on his songs.  She didn’t exactly teach vocal technique.  She said some things I don’t agree with.  For instance she would say—I forget exactly how she put it, but something like “Oh, you don’t have to sing those songs in a sexy way.”  Well, many of Fauré’s songs are incredibly sexy and you do need to bring that across.  Her forte was teaching composition.

One thing that Nadia did that was influential was that every Wednesday she had a salon—a sort of open house, and young people who like to trail on the footsteps of the stars would pop in on Wednesday afternoons.

Actually, you were supposed to know her to show up at these.  Well, one of the times I was there Robert Shaw, who I guess had heard of these, showed up, and apparently he didn’t know her.  I was sitting there with several others, and the door bell rang, and Nadia asked if I would answer the door, and when I did, it was Robert Shaw.  I brought him in, introduced him, and Nadia was sitting there like a grand dame, which she was!

So, he sat down and the rest of that afternoon the conversation was all about how difficult it was to find a garage to park your car in Paris.  There wasn’t a word about Fauré and his use of modality, or anything musical like that!  This is what was going on, and she was just being friendly, and I don’t recall her addressing a word to Bob Shaw.  Nothing!   It was funny.

NC:  Poulenc?

CDW:  For some reason I remember having dinner with him at an outdoor restaurant on one of those avenues that leads up to the Opéra.  He hadn’t even written his now-famous Gloria at this time.  He gave quite a few small concerts with singers.  There was this singer named Pierre Bernac, and Poulenc would accompany him.  I’d run into them a couple of times and we were just friendly.

NC:  Ned Rorem must have been around in those days.

CDW:  Yes, Janet did a concert with him at the American Embassy; he accompanied her.  One of the things Boulanger did was to act as a resource to the American ambassador in Paris in providing Franco-American musicians for concerts of the Cultural Relations of the American Embassy.  And on this concert she sang some of Ned’s songs.

Janet Hayes and Ned Rorem, American Embassy, Paris, 1950

Janet had gone to the New England Conservatory on the recommendation of Eleanor Steber and she won the Frank Huntington Beebe award for studying abroad, which is what brought her to Paris.   She knew Ned at the New England Conservatory and he dedicated a piece to her—A Sermon on Miracles, which we performed in his presence at the Church of the Heavenly Rest many years later, in 1973.

We also toured throughout Germany during the summers of 1950, 51, and 52 under the auspices of United States Department of State as part of a cultural exchange program established after the war.  The state department was saying “look, we want to present our musicians so the German people won’t think we are all barbarians.”  That was the whole point.  There were American  artists, poets, authors, and musicians presenting their work all over Germany.  We performed in forty different cities in West Germany during those summers.  And we played lots of American music, including works by Sowerby, Piston, Bingham, Pinkham, Lukas Foss and Rorem, that was part of the propaganda to show the Germans that we had composers and performers, and that we cared about these things.

While we were there we crossed paths with Daniel Pinkam and a young violinist named Robert Brink who were touring doing the same thing.

NC:  There must have been lots of Americans with whom you rendezvoused in Paris?

CDW: Yes.  Clarence Dickinson and Seth Bingham paid courtesy calls at the cathedral.  Thornton Wilder was a member of the bridal party for a wedding I was playing and I was introduced to him as if I were being introduced to the next door neighbor.  A lot of people found their way to the American Cathedral.

NC:  Edouard Nies-Berger?

CDW: Yes, he visited at the cathedral and at the Students’ and Artists’ Center.  He was a very friendly man.  Hugh Giles, also I met over there.  You know I’d only spent a year in New York before coming to Paris so I hadn’t met many of the big name organists until they came through Paris.

NC:  Tell me about the organ recital series you organized at the American Cathedral.

CDW: Well, when I got there I found out what a wonderful organ it was.  It had been a big three manual Cavaille-Coll.   In 1930 it was enlarged and a fourth manual added.  It was one of the very few organs in France at that time with capture combination action.  Leaving all that aside, it was a real Cavaille-Coll with wonderful reeds and an abundance of everything you wanted.  The Solo division was not so big.  It was built by Maison Pleyel, successors to Cavaille-Coll, and they had been sent to Ernest Skinner in America in order to learn from him.  The result was that it was a rather typical E. M. Skinner Solo division.  It had nice strings, a French Horn, one of the few in France, a Tuba Mirabilis, and a Philomela which was huge!  No chorus reeds, but, of course, there were 16, 8, and 4 reeds on the Great.

Anyway, I saw this organ and thought “wouldn’t it be nice to have a recital series.”  The way it worked was this: I said to the dean “I’d like to invite a bunch of famous French organists to play on this organ” and he said “fine, go ahead.”   I wish I could remember the fee we paid them, but it was ridiculously small.  I think it was 10,000 F which was about $30.

So, I picked up the phone—believe it or not—and called Marcel Dupré, who I had met through Clarence Watters in this country.  He was the only one I knew, and I didn’t call him Marcel, either!  It was “Maitre, would you be willing to play on a series on this organ? I want to help raise the reputation of the American Cathedral as an artistic center in Paris.”  He agreed and I thanked him, and put the phone down.  Then I called André Marchal, and repeated my story, saying that Dupré had agreed to play, and would you do it, and he said yes.  Of course if Dupré hadn’t agreed to do it, it might have been a different story.  I didn’t know Marchal from a hole in the ground!  So, the same with Langlais, Messiaen, and Duruflé.  These names were legend, even back then.

Organ recital series, American Cathedral, Paris, 1949

Then I called up Mlle. Boulanger telling her that I had asked each of these eminent organists to conclude with an improvisation, and asked her to submit the themes for each of these players.  I must have caught her at a weak moment and she agreed.  As it turns out I had to chase her up each week to get the themes in time for the recital.  It wasn’t like she gave me all five at once in advance.

NC:  Was that part of the promotional packaging of the series, that she would be supplying the themes?

CDW:  It wasn’t on the advertising of it, but on the program I inserted a little slip sheet saying that the themes for each of the improvisations had been kindly submitted by Nadia Boulanger.  The recitals were a week apart in Lent, and there were big crowds, and wide newspaper coverage.

NC:  How did the organ in the American Cathedral really stack up in comparison with the famous Paris organs?

CDW:  Well, for one thing, it was in better tune than any of the others, and that was because of the Germans.  They had taken over the cathedral and used it as their army church.  Say what you will about their politics, but by golly if they were going to have a Wehrmachtskirche, it was going to have an organ that was in tune.  So the organ was in great shape when I got there.  It was amazing.

NC:  Did you have an opportunity to hear any of these organists in their own churches?

CDW:  Very little.  Duruflé, for example, at St.-Etienne-du-Mont didn’t have the organ; it was down.  I don’t think he had any organ to play.  Somehow or another with all my duties I didn’t get to other churches very often.  In retrospect, I certainly wish I could have heard more.  I did go to Ste. Clotilde from time to time, because I was very close to Langlais.

One thing that might be of interest is my impressions of these great men as they came to the cathedral to practice.  For one thing, I was . . . skeptical is too strong a word, but I was not convinced that every note that Messian wrote down was for real, or whether he was trying for effect in one way or the other.  But of all those organists, Messiaen was the one who practiced the longest and he actually got me in there  and asked me to play some passages (and I’d never even played any of his music), but he wanted to hear what it sounded like out in the church.  And before he came to practice he said “you know I want to have some time there pour choisir mes couleurs, to choose my colors.”   And he went way up in my estimation.  But he was the most concerned that it be a good recital.

The main thing I remember about Duruflé was that he arrived at the appointed time outside the cathedral riding a bicycle.

NC:  How did you happen to go back to New York?

CDW:  One of the real reasons I wanted to come back was, as you can imagine, I got to be so busy being the director of the Center—I think we had five or six hundred members.  It wasn’t a musical job at all, but it was my full time job, and the cathedral position was secondary.

But when I found out that Heavenly Rest had an opening, I made every effort to look into it.  It was the Rev. Richard R. P. Coombs, who had been a tenor in my choir in Cambridge, and who had gone to seminary during the war, and who had told me of the opening at the Paris Cathedral—he was now the curate at Heavenly Rest and told me of the vacancy there.

 NC:  So he had a hand in your going to Paris and in your coming back to New York?

CDW:  He did!

 NC:  What sort of process did you have to go through when you applied for the job?

CDW:  I simply wrote to anybody who was anybody who knew my work—Frank Sayre [the Very Rev. Francis B. Sayre, Jr], Eddie West at the Cathedral [Canon Edward N. West, later Sub-Dean of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York]—I mean personal friends who were in a position to be helpful and who knew my work.

 NC:  Who was the rector who hired you.

CDW:  John Ellis Large, D.D., a blessed man.

NC:  Who was your predecessor?

CDW:  A man named J. Lawrence Slater, an Englishman.

 NC:  What was the musical tradition at HR as you found it?

CDW:  For one thing, there was an assistant organist I inherited, so that made a smooth transition.  I had never heard a service there previously, but my impression was that it was pretty run of the mill.  They did have a men and boys choir, but with some female ringers in it.  One of my so called claims to being a candidate was that I was considered experienced at dealing with boys.  And I built up that choir a lot.  Until, one fine day when every one of the best boys I had, every one of them—let’s say there were thirty kids and the eight best ones either went of to prep school or their voices changed.  And with what I had left I felt I really couldn’t do the repertoire, so I wrote the vestry saying I thought we needed to strengthen the women’s sections, and from that time you really couldn’t say it was a boy choir.

Although, we continued to have a boy choir as a separate choir and we did lots of things, including several television performances.  One with Victor Borge, on a program with him at Christmas time—just because it was Christmas time and I had a boys’ choir.

Talk about TV—I did later do a program with CCS with Robert Merrill on “I’ve Got a Secret” and the secret was the star, it was his birthday.  So, in the course of the show, they had a barbershop quartet sing “Happy Birthday” to him.  Then they laughed and scratched for a while, then a larger group came in and they sang “Happy Birthday” to him.  And they laughed and scratched and did some more things.  Meanwhile there was a stage at the other end of the studio with the curtains closed, and at the given point the curtains were opened and there were one hundred members of the Canterbury Choral Society and Robert Merrill in the middle of them to put the finishing touches of “Happy Birthday” in a paraphrase of a Mozart opera chorus, as I recall. .  That was a lot of fun.

Church of the Heavenly Rest, Fifth Ave and 90th Street, NYC

 NC:  What was the organ like at Heavenly Rest as you found it.

CDW:  It was a 1929 Austin and it had either three or four 8’ Diapasons on the Great and they were all leather lipped.  It was a big four-manual organ with a typical complement of stops on each division, except it only had about four ranks in the Pedal!   It did have a drawknob console.  Anyway, it was like a whole set of fog horns.

 NC:  It must have been quite a difference from the Cavaille-Coll at the Paris Cathedral?

CDW:  It sure was!  I had correspondence with G. Donald Harrison about ways to improve the organ and he suggested ways to brighten up the Great reeds, which Austin revoiced to have a little more overtone interest, a little more French sound.  Of course I later had Austin completely renovate the organ.

NC:  I’m eager to hear you talk about the beginnings of the Canterbury Choral Society.

CDW:  Well, one day the rector came to me and said “Charlie, all the big churches have Evensong on Sunday afternoons at 4:00.  The Cathedral has Evensong, St. Thomas has Evensong,  St. Bartholomew’s has Evensong.  What’s the matter with us.  Let’s have some Evensong services.”  So I said “well, you know we have a paid choir, you’re talking about some serious changes in the budget.”   He said “just get a bunch of volunteers.” [Huge laughter from each of us.]  And so I said “yes, sir.”  And so I talked to some of the paid singers and asked if they would volunteer to start this Evensong choir and they said they would.

NC:  Did he have in mind doing this every Sunday?

CDW:  Well I think he did, but we started out with doing them just in Advent.

NC:  Did he have any idea what he was asking for, do you think?

CDW:  No!

NC:  Was this typical of his approach to work?

CDW: No, he was really a fine man and smart, but he just had this idea and hadn’t really thought it out.  I can imagine that from other clergy I’ve known!  [More laughter.]  Anyway, some of the members in the choir were personal friends by this time and said that they would try it for a while, and so forth.  And one of the vestrymen was a former member of the Harvard Glee Club, and he said he would be glad to volunteer to sing bass. He had a daughter who taught at the Chapin School and he talked her into getting friends of hers from Chapin to come sing in this volunteer Evensong choir.

So, I said we were going to do a chorus from Messiah on each of the first three Sundays in Advent, and on the Fourth Sunday I said I was going to get some instruments and do the entire first part of Messiah.  And, it was quite successful; we had between thirty and forty singers, and the soloists were professionals from the church choir.  In every case, the choir outnumbered the congregation.  So the rector said “OK, we’re not the Cathedral, we’re not St. Bartholomew’s, we’re not St. Thomas, nobody’s coming to our Evensongs, so let’s forget it.”

Then, when I told the chorus that they were no longer needed, they said “we like singing here and want to keep coming.”  This was Advent of 1951, after I arrived in January.

So, I said how would you like to sing Brahms’ Requiem?  And they said, “wonderful.”  And more people joined.  So we put on the Brahms in the spring of 1952.  We billed ourselves as the Oratorio Choir of the Church of the Heavenly Rest.

The concert was a success.  We had harp and timpani in addition to the organ accompaniment, which was played by my assistant, Marion Engle.  Anyway, after we did this successfully, we had a meeting and everyone wanted this organization to be permanent.  So I said “well, we’ve got to have a name for ourselves, how about the Carnegie Hill Choral Society?”  You know that part of Manhattan is called Carnegie Hill, the Carnegie mansion is across the street from the church.  Well, they said “it sounds too much like Carnegie Hall Choral Society,” and so forth and someone finally said let’s call it Canterbury Choral Society.  We are Anglican, after all, even though this is to be a community chorus, and so the name chosen was Canterbury Choral Society..

At this time it was rare to have an orchestra in church.  I think Trinity Church may have had one on Ascension Day and St. Mary the Virgin from time to time.  But the norm was to do oratorios with organ accompaniment, and there were organists who did it very well—I’ve mentioned David McK. Williams.  But to do these works with the instrumentation as envisioned by the composer was something I really wanted to do.  Of course this took money, so we set up a system of membership—friends, sponsors, and so forth.  For the first season of this new plan, we had two sponsors at $25 each, and one was my father!

NC:  Was this under the aegis of the church?

CDW:  It was a choir of the church, but membership was open to anyone who could pass the audition.  I handled it as a choir of the church, in that the professional singers of the church choir were required to sing in it, and the assistant organist was the accompanist.  But a big part of my time in those days was spent raising money for this new organization.

Bach St Matthew Passion, Canterbury Choral Society, Good Friday, 1957

NC:  From a practical point of view, this must have doubled your work load, a big additional choir and the fundraising aspect.  Did the church recognize this in any way, such as a salary raise?

CDW:  It was more work, but not more compensation.  I was making $4,000 a year and I don’t think they raised that in the first decade at the church.  But I loved what I was doing, and I had a nice school job.  From 1952-61 I was director of music at Kew Forest School out on Long Island in Forest Hills.  Up until then, I really had been living from hand to mouth.  The school had a Hammond organ, and the headmaster loved organ music, and was thrilled to have someone on his staff who knew about the organ.  I was involved in the Guild more and more at that time and he would excuse me from staff meetings and classes when Guild duties conflicted.  His name was Dr. James L. Dixon and he was a lovely person to work for.   I distinctly remember the job paid $3,400.  Well,  to jump from $4,000 to $7,400—it was just wonderful!  Of course, it was hard working two jobs.

By the way, it so happens that one of my students there was Donald Trump.  He was one of these kids who needs personal attention.  There would be twenty kids in the room and you’d have to focus on him.  He could sing all right, but he was difficult.

So, anyway, the next big thing that happened is that Eleanor Steber came into the picture.  She was a big star at the Met by this time, but we had known her previously and we were together at a dinner party one night.  After dinner and much of our host’s fine Perrier Jouet champagne I went up to her and said “Eleanor, my choral society is going to be singing Brahms’ Requiem with orchestra in about a month and a half and I don’t have a soprano soloist yet, will you do it?”  And she said “Brahms Requiem, I love that work—sure, I’ll do it.”  For $100, by the way!  [Laughing.]  She sang for me once again and I paid her $100, and she sent it back!  She wasn’t interested in the money, she was a good friend.  I mean, she was a big star at the Met by this time, singing all the Mozart operas, Rosenkavalier and so forth.  She also had a radio program.  This was in 1955 and she was really famous.

So, having secured Eleanor Steber to sing the soprano solo, I pulled out the same technique I had used in Paris!  I picked up the phone and called John Brownlee, one of the leading baritones at the Met who worked with Eleanor all the time, especially in Mozart  operas.  And I said “Mr. Brownlee, I’m doing Brahms Requiem, isn’t it a wonderful work?”  “Oh, yes it’s a wonderful work” he replied in his deep voice.  And I continued “Eleanor Steber is going to be my soprano and I need a really good baritone.  Would you do it?” [Laughing]  And he immediately said . . . he was an Australian, did you know that?

NC: I did not know that.

CDW:   . . .  so he said [imitating an Australian accent] “Well, if Eleanor is going to do it, of course I’ll do it.  Count me in.”  So, that really packed the house.  This was our third season, March 1955.  I was just lucky to have an “in” with a couple of these prominent people.

And then, I’d call up people I didn’t know who were at the Met, and just asked them.  I had Jean Kraft as my alto, and Shirley Love, Ara Berberian—he was an old friend.  I gave him his first paid date in New York.

NC:  In a nutshell, it sounds like the Canterbury Choral Society took off right from the start.

CDW:  Yeah, it really did.  The next thing we had Eleanor for was the Mozart C minor Mass.  She was Soprano I and Phyllis Curtin was Soprano II.  Mack Harrell was the bass, and David Lloyd was the tenor.

NC:  I sense that the social aspect of CCS is important now.  Was it always?

CDW:  I think it was.  And I think that perhaps is the thing that differentiates it from many other choral groups.  They love to party.  And they love to sing.

NC:  I know that you later got to presenting the Mahler Eighth Symphony at regular intervals, but prior to that, what were some of the early high points?

CDW:  Well, I’ll tell you.  We did the Berlioz Te Deum at the Cathedral [of St John the Divine] and that was tremendous.  I struck up a friendship with Hugh Ross, who was a leading musician of the city for years.  He was the director of the Schola Cantorum, which did all of the choral work with the New York Philharmonic, and he taught at Spence School and Hewitt School, and his kids, David and Grace, sang in my choir.  It was he who put the idea in my head that there are lots of important choral works that features children’s choirs and encouraged me to do that.  So, for this Berlioz we had scores and scores of children in the chorus, from Brearley School chorus–this was in 1968 so I was already teaching at the Chapin School, so we had the Chapin Chorus, and others . . . lots of children.

NC:  What prompted you to have the concert at the cathedral, as opposed to Heavenly Rest?  Space?

CDW:  In addition to that, we were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Church of the Heavenly Rest, and I took the position that we ought to observe the occasion at the cathedral church.

NC:  Was this the first time CCS had held a concert off the campus of Heavenly Rest?

CDW:  [Thinking for a while.]  No.  Nineteen fifty nine was the 200th anniversary of Handel’s death, so all the musicians of New York collaborated in a city-wide Handel festival.  I decided to do Handel’s Samson.  And we did that at St. Thomas Church, since it was in mid town nearer where the other concerts were held.  Ara Berberian sang the bass lead.  We also had a choir of girls, because in Samson Delilah has an entourage which in the score is called “Delilah’s Virgins” but I called them, to be discreet, “Delilah’s Handmaidens.”  [Much laughter.]  Anyway, it was broadcast by the Voice of America all over the world.  I got a tape of it later.  So that was a big event, in 1959.

And then our appearances on television . . . I guess it was in the 50s that we did the most TV dates.

NC:  Was there someone at the church in broadcasting that facilitated these appearances?

CDW:  As a matter of fact, yes.  The father of two of my choir boys, one of whom was Philip Morehead, who later became the director of the Chicago Opera Chorus . . . this father was related to the director of the CBS studio orchestra, so I did have an entree through him.  And, some good looking gal in CCS was the casting director of “I’ve Got a Secret.”  That’s how we got on that show with Robert Merrill.

NC:  You worked with a lot of well known soloists over the years.  At the risk of appearing to be name dropping, who among them stands out?

CDW:  Well, in addition to Eleanor Steber and John Brownlee whom I mentioned . . .

Adele Addison who sang a lot . . . people like Robert Shaw used her.

Donald Gramm was a star at the Met and he sang a lot for us, particularly the Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs I remember.  He was just one of those people I was fortunate enough to be able to call and say “are you available on May 14” and he would if he could.

Louise Natale was the soloist at Riverside Church for Richard Weagley, and she was really wonderful.  I remember particularly a Haydn Creation she did.  A very good, real top notch singer, and very funny and down to earth.  I think her husband was a fire fighter in Nutley, New Jersey, or someplace like that.

At a rehearsal of Haydn’s Creation, with Ara Berberian, Blake Stern, and Louise Natalie, 1960

And I’ve mentioned Ara Berberian.  He had been a lawyer, and he was in the Army Chorus in Washington.   He sang in the Heavenly Rest choir for a while when he first came to New York.

The first time I did a Verdi Requiem, I had Ellen Faull as the soprano.  The mezzo was Rosalind Elias  who was a big star at the Met and a friend of Janet’s from New England Conservatory.  I then found out that these two were part of a road company who would travel around the country giving concerts.  And the other two were Gabor Corelli, another Met singer, and Louis Sgarro, whom I remember particularly as being mentioned by the announcers at the Met broadcasts.  So I thought it was really something to have four well known Metropolitan Opera stars to sing my Verdi Requiem!   And we packed them in.

We did the Bloch Sacred Service and Arthur Wolfson, the cantor of Temple Emanu-El sang the part of the cantor.  We did it again with Howard Nevison, who was an excellent cantor at Emanu-El after Wolfson.

Seth McCoy . . . he sang with us several times . . .

NC:  Was that ever an issue at Heavenly Rest in those days?  The racial thing?

CDW:  Yes . . . yes it was.  You know there’s a kook in every crowd, and . . . you remember Richard Neel who sings in CCS?

NC:  Yes.

CDW:  He went to some advanced type school, his mother was quite a liberal thinker for that era  . . .

NC:  She was the famous artist, Alice Neel?

CDW:  Yes.  Richard and his brother sang in my boy choir, and we encouraged the boys to bring in friends.  The choir up to that point was lily white, and Richard brought in this African-American boy and I auditioned him, and he was good!  So I took him into the choir.  I later got a phone call—I remember the unpleasant tone of the voice—from the mother of one of the other boys in the choir saying “you took a black boy into the choir without consulting with us.”  And I said “yes, I did!”

NC:  Did it ever go further than that? To the rector or vestry?

CDW:  No, but can you imagine the nerve of that woman?  I think I did tell the rector about it and he said that I should ignore that telephone call.

NC:  You talked once about Thomas Beveridge, can you tell me a little more about him?

CDW:  Tom was in my choir at the age of nine, and he was an ideal chorister in every way, bright and talented.  I was honored that his father, Lowell Beveridge—one of the most distinguished members of our profession—was encouraging his boy to be in my choir.  For many years I didn’t see him, but he later became a singer and I hired him for a performance.  His father, Lowell Beveridge, was the director of music at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University which used to be a big job.  Searle Wright was his successor.  And, Lowell went from there to Virginia Theological Seminary.

NC:  We haven’t talked a lot about church life at Heavenly Rest.  What were services like?

CDW:  They were sort of middle-to-low church, Morning Prayer, and all that.  And they had lots of extremely fancy weddings, sometimes in questionable taste.  The one I remember most clearly was a bride that came up to me and said “I’ve been to some of your concerts and I know you know how to conduct an orchestra.”  And I said “sure.” She said “I’d like to have an orchestra at my wedding.”  And she requested that we do the Siegfried Idyll, you know, the piece that Wagner composed for his wife on Christmas morning?  So I had to have a pretty big orchestra.

Teaching at the Chapin School, 1975

 NC:  Talk about the Blue Hill Troupe which you directed for a long time.

CDW:  A wonderful organization that does Gilbert and Sullivan operas.  During my time we did every one of the thirteen operas at least twice, with full pit orchestra and staging, which I liked a lot.  I became the director in 1955 and stayed for thirty-five years.

NC:  When you left Heavenly Rest did that alter the life of CCS?

CDW:  Musically it didn’t affect it at all.  We had to go through all the legalities of making it a separate non-profit organization, separate from the church.  We still had most of our concerts at the church, where I now had the title of Organist and Choirmaster Emeritus.  The church gave us an office and storage space for music.  But we did have to find the money to pay the professional singers and the accompanist, and we pay the church for using the facilities.

NC:  So as a result you had to have some fundraisers.

CDW:  Yes, you’re leading up to the Mahler!  I first became aware of the Mahler Eighth Symphony when I was AGO president.  I went into the office one day (this was back when the offices were at 630 Fifth Avenue across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral) and picked up a copy of The Cathedral Age [magazine of Washington Cathedral] and read about Paul Callaway doing it at Washington Cathedral, and I salivated at the idea of this huge choral work, and just wondered if we could pull this off.

So, first we programmed Part I, which is only 25 minutes long, and paired it with Jean Kraft singing the Kindertotenlieder.  I arranged for hundreds of kids from various schools and churches to sing the Knabenchor and we put this on in the Heavenly Rest.  By then we had started the tradition of doing a concert every five years at either Philharmonic Hall [later named Avery Fisher Hall] or Carnegie Hall.  So the next fifth year anniversary was in 1977.  We already had Part I under our belts, so we took the bit in our teeth and hired Philharmonic Hall and I got hold of hundreds of kids, eight soloists, and the huge orchestra.  And I went into it with fear and trepidation, but we pulled it off.  We packed the place and did it again in ’82.  Then I decided to do it in Carnegie Hall in ’87,  then in ’92, ’97, ’02, and of course in ‘07 when Saint Luke’s participated with us.

Conducting Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Carnegie Hall, 1987

And what happened was that we made enough money on those concerts to cover the annual deficits for the next  five years.  We’re in a little downturn right now in this economy and need to do a bit more fundraising, but that has been the pattern.  But it’s remarkable—it actually makes money!  Everybody loses money on a big production like that, but we charge the market price for tickets, and have good, loyal financial backing from our friends and patrons.

NC:  After Heavenly Rest, you took up a new job didn’t you?

CDW:  Yes, I was for almost twenty years at Trinity Church in Southport, Connecticut, where there already existed the Trinity Chorale, a choral society, and we did concerts there and they joined with CCS on occasions, as well.

Incidentally, Lise and I were married there in the context of the regular Sunday morning service, which is sort of unusual.  [Janet Hayes Walker, Mrs. CDW died in 1997.]  So we had a full choir, and it was really wonderful.  That was on January 14, 2001.  I had met Lise Phillips as a singer in CCS.  She has been a very devoted wife, and it’s not always easy or exciting to hear a lot of talk about the organ!  [Laughing.]  But it was a big community affair.  Everyone in the church was invited to the wedding and to the reception, which was arranged by CCS.  And quite a few members of Canterbury came out to Connecticut, sat up in the gallery and sang along with the church choir.

Marriage to Lise Phillips, 2001

NC:  What do you admire about church music or church life in general these days, what’s changed for the better since the early days of your career?

CDW:  [Longer pause than usual.]

NC:  Maybe nothing!  [Both laughing.]

CDW:  No, that’s a good question, one that makes you want to think.  I think of my first teacher as being an exemplary practitioner of the art of church music, as an organist, as a choirmaster, and as a teacher—Coke-Jephcott.  He was a hard working, dedicated musician in the service of the church.  He was a real inspiration.

NC:  I know that by nature you are an optimistic person not inclined to the negative, but from your perspective, what could be better these days?

CDW:  I do think it is regrettable . . . this tendency on the part of some, to make musical choices reflecting the tastes of  people with no musical background at all, with the result that music of inferior quality has, in many places, risen into such prominence in church life . . . whereas music of good quality could be lifting up the noble and worthy aspects of worship to their rightful place.

NC:  You’ve never really retired, have you?

CDW:  No! I just love doing what I do, playing, conducting, teaching.  I would feel strange not doing it, but guess you can’t do it forever. I’m just very glad to be here.

NC:  As you reflect on your long career, for what would you like most to be remembered?

CDW:  Well, I feel that to be a good church musician, doing your job from Sunday to Sunday, is a very worthy thing to be doing, and if you have the good fortune to be able to develop more elaborate musical programs—that’s good, too.  But our job as church musicians is to provide, with the resources available, the best possible music for our church, week by week.  I like that.

CDW with Neal Campbell, February 2010


Filed under Articles

Conversations with Charles Dodsley Walker, Part I

This article appeared in the March 2010 issue of The Diapason.

Copyright 2010 © Neal Campbell

Charles Dodsley Walker is 90 years old on March 16.  In his long and varied career he has collaborated with many of the legendary figures in the organ and choral music world and is himself one of the key players in the golden era of New York church music.  His career began when he entered the Choir School at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine at age ten.  His education continued at Trinity School in New York, Trinity College in Hartford, and—following service in the United States Navy—at Harvard University.

He held positions at the American Cathedral in Paris, St. Thomas Chapel and the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York, Lake Delaware Boys Camp, the Berkshire Choral Institute, Trinity School and the Chapin School in New York, Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music, Manhattan School of Music, and New York University.  He is a Fellow of the American Guild of Organists and is the founding director the Canterbury Choral Society which he began shortly after he went to Heavenly Rest—a position he still holds, preparing and conducting three concerts per season.

In what others would call their retirement years Charlie Walker has served at Trinity Church in Southport, Connecticut, and since 2007 he has worked along side me at Saint Luke’s Parish in Darien, Connecticut.  In the summer of 2009 Charlie and I sat down in my office over several days and began a series of conversations, not unlike those that are typical between us on any given day.  Only this time the digital recorder was on and I had a broad sketch of topics I wanted to cover.  But they were still very much conversations between friendly colleagues which sometimes took unplanned detours and I have tried to keep the conversational tone in the edited transcript that follows.


NC:  I want to start with the Guild.  Not being a native New Yorker, it was as president of the American Guild of Organists that I first knew your name and it occurs to me that there may be others out there . . . when were you president of the AGO?

CDW: 1971-75.

NC: And you were active in the Guild before that?

CDW: I joined the Guild in order to take the Associateship exam while I was at Trinity College, so I joined the Hartford Chapter in 1937.  I was pleased when the Headquarters Chapter had a dinner in 1939 honoring the recipients of the certificates and they sat me next to Ernest M. Skinner, and he proceeded to regale me with limericks.  And I’ve just never forgotten it.  He was terribly friendly.  I had met him . . . he used to come around the Cathedral quite often when I was a little boy chorister just to see how his organ was doing, I guess.  So I had that connection with him.

NC:  What other offices did you hold in the Guild?

CDW: When I came back from France in January 1951 to be the organist at the Church of the Heavenly Rest, I immediately connected up with the Headquarters Chapter of the Guild and that’s where S. Lewis Elmer comes into the picture.  He lived near the church and he was most interested in me as the new 31-year-old organist of the church.  He was very friendly and seemed to want to get me into the leadership of the Guild.  So, he and I became friends, and he came to the church and listened to the postlude—that sort of thing.  Incidentally, his wife, Louise, taught Latin at the Spence School nearby.  When the national librarian, a man named Harold Fitter, resigned there was a vacancy, so he appointed me National Librarian.

NC: The post of President was called Warden at that time?  And Elmer was the Warden?

CDW: That’s right.  And then another vacancy occurred, and I was appointed me National Registrar.  I didn’t register anything or anybody, I was just an officer of the Guild.

NC: What were you duties as Librarian of the Guild?

CDW: Uh . . . the same.  [Laughs.]  Just to fulfill the title.  I don’t recall having any duties at all.

And, so I was the registrar, and the next thing I knew I was National Secretary . . . for ten years.

NC: So you were known by the time you became president?

CDW: Yes.

NC: What were the biggest things you had to work on immediately—the initiatives that were on your plate when you were elected, do you recall?

CDW: Oh, that’s an easy answer.  At the time I was elected there were two important groups in the Guild wanting to secede.  One was a tri-cities chapter in California.  And they had been so upset about the perceived (and actual) running of the Guild from New York City, that they had managed to get a Californian, Gene Driskill, elected to the council—this was during Alec [Wyton]’s regime—and his chapter paid his travel expenses so he could come and be a member of the council.

NC: Up to that time the Council was all New York organists, wasn’t it?

CDW: Almost, yes.   And then the Twin Cities Chapter wanted to secede too.  So I felt that it was our job to address this issue by really revolutionizing the set up of the whole organization in terms of how you got to be on what is in effect the board of directors of the organization, which is the National Council.  And you know it was during that time that we reduced the number of regions from fifteen to nine.  At the time there were fifteen regional chairmen who were simply appointed by S. Lewis Elmer.  And we reduced that to nine regions, which it still is, and figured out a way for each region to elect its own representatives.  That’s been amended and changed since then, of course, but it’s basically the same system we have in place now.

NC: That’s a huge undertaking.  Was there any resistance to it?  Did some of the old New Yorkers feel like they were being put out?

CDW: No, I think everybody thought that it was the writing on the wall and we should listen to the thousands of members we had all over the country, many of them with that complaint.

NC: You’re a native New Yorker, aren’t you?

CDW: Yes.  Born right in the city . . .

NC: But your folks moved to New Jersey shortly after that?

CDW: Yes, right in good old Glen Ridge.

NC: And you and I share that connection with Christ Church in Glen Ridge, where you were baptized, I think you told me?

CDW: Right.  I also have a musical connection with it, because as a child I sang for a couple of summers in the choir there.  And, just last night I came across two 3 x 5 cards signed by the organist at the time, a man named Herbert Kellner.

NC: This is before Buck Coursen, my predecessor?  [The Rev. Wallace M. Coursen, Jr., F.A.G.O., organist of the church 1936-80]

Christ Church, Glen Ridge, New Jersey

CDW: Yes.  Anyway, it was Mr. Kellner authorizing this Master Charles Walker to play the organ on Fridays for one hour and a half . . . and the other 3 x 5 card allowed me to play there for one hour on Tuesday and one hour on Friday . . . or something like that, during the summer.  I would guess that it was around 1934 or 1935.

NC: Was this likely the first organ you heard, at Christ Church?

CDW: Yes, it was.  My first memory of it is that the swell shades were visible to the entire congregation.  They were sort of dark brown, but you could see them opening and closing and Mr. Kellner liked to use them, and they were opening and closing a lot.  So I was quite fascinated with that.  [Laughing.]

NC: What was the organ, do you remember?  The present organ is a Möller from about 1953.

CDW: I have no idea but by 1934, when I had practice privileges, they had obviously bought a used four manual console—they didn’t have anywhere near a four manual organ there, but I just loved it!  It had the reed stops lettered in red, and I thought that was very impressive, and it did have a Tuba!  [More laughter.]

NC: What led you to seek application to the Cathedral Choir School?

CDW: My next elder brother, Marriott . . .

NC: You were the youngest of three brothers?

CDW: Yes.  Marriott liked music a lot and played the trumpet.  We had friends in Montclair who had a boy in the school.  So Marriott went over to see about entering the school, but he was already twelve or thirteen, and they just said, “you’re too old.”  So then along came Charles, and I was very interested in going to that school.  It wasn’t because I didn’t like the public school in Glen Ridge, because I did.  But . . . it’s hard to answer exactly why my parents were interested in sending me to the school, except they thought I was musical and that I would enjoy it.

NC: It was a boarding school?

CDW:  Yes.  And that’s why people did sort of arch their eyebrows, and ask “why do you want to send your boy to boarding school?”  I suppose they still ask that today, for example at St. Thomas.  You have to take a boy away from his Mama!

NC: That area of New Jersey [Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield] had some well known organists at that time.  Do you remember any of them, like Mark Andrews?

CDW: Oh, yes!  We went to see Mark Andrews at some point.  He was somebody whom [Clarence] Watters knew, so maybe it was when I was a college boy.

NC: He was at the Congregational Church in Montclair?

CDW: Yes.  I decided to ask Mark Andrews if I could practice on his organ.  And the answer was “NO!”  That was a short and definitive visit.  [Laughing] 

NC: At the Choir School, was it Miles Farrow who admitted you?

CDW: He was the one who admitted me.

NC: What sort of musician was he?

CDW: I don’t know.  I was only ten, and I admired him very much.  I can still distinctly remember the way he harmonized the descending major scale when we warmed up.  There are different ways of harmonizing it—or not harmonizing it!  He did a I chord, then a V chord, then a vi chord, then a iii chord, then a ii-6 chord, and a I-6/4, then a V and then a I.  That’s the way he did it, every time!  I happen to like to do it different ways rather than always the same way, but that’s the way he did it.

NC: So it wasn’t too long after that that Norman Coke-Jephcott came along?

CDW: Right.  Dr. Farrow retired from the Cathedral within a few months of my joining the choir.  I remember weeks of working with him.  But then there was an interim when, among others, Channing Lefebvre was the chief substitute.  He was at Trinity Wall Street, but I seem to remember him coming up for Evensong.

I was reminded of a memorable event which occurred during this interim period when I recently came across a front page article in the New York Herald Tribune [Monday, December 8, 1930] and the lead article was about a dramatic event at the Cathedral in which a certain Ben Lindsey, who had been a famous judge, who advocated something called in those days “companionate marriage” which is marriage without the benefit of the clergy, (which wasn’t marriage at all).  Judge Lindsey stood up on a table in the middle of the sermon in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and said “I protest, Bishop Manning, I demand to be heard!”  And a couple of extremely burly ushers escorted Judge Lindsey, forcibly—carried him out of the cathedral, and it made the front page of the paper.  It’s not a particularly musical story, except I was there!  I recall the incident because it was very dramatic and I was in my first year in the choir, and I remember Bishop Manning had to tell the organist to play Hymn 113.  And Hymn 113 in the 1916 Hymnal was “Fight the good fight.” [Much laughter.]  The bishop was only about 5’ 1” . . .

NC: He was quite a dynamo, wasn’t he?

CDW: He certainly was!  And he roared forth “the organist will please play Hymn 113.”   He had to say it twice, and it was so recorded in the paper!

NC: Because the organist was nodding off

CDW: Well, he was just sitting . . . and the console was up there in the loft, and he just wasn’t paying attention.

NC: But, when you look back on your career as a choirboy you think of Coke-Jephcott as your teacher?

CDW: Oh, yes!  Cokey came in 1932, and almost immediately I started lessons with him.

Norman Coke-Jephcott in 1955

NC: Organ lessons?

CDW: Yes, organ, and harmony and counterpoint.  He required that you have a weekly lesson in harmony and counterpoint as well as an organ lesson.

NC:  Did other boys in the choir study organ or were you unique in that?

CDW:  John Baldwin—who was a year behind me also, but he joined after I had already been studying with Cokey for a year.

NC:  Did other boys study theory, counterpoint things like that?  Was that part of the choristers’ regime as well?

CDW: No.

NC: What were the daily rehearsals like?  Were they just learning music?

CDW: Yes, but with quite a bit of emphasis on tone quality.

NC: Did they sing Evensong everyday, or most days?

CDW: Not as an entity.  Not all 40 boys.  Maybe half a dozen or so, or maybe ten would sing in St. James Chapel as I recall, and I’m not sure it was everyday.

NC: On Sunday mornings, was it Eucharist in those days, or Morning Prayer?

CDW: I think they did Morning Prayer followed by the Eucharist.  I remember that they intoned the entire prayer of consecration and the pitch would go up and down. And I had extremely good sense of pitch in those days and could tell if the celebrant was flatting or sharping.  To answer your question, I do believe that—because I remember singing the Venite, and I remember the priest intoning the entire consecration—they had both services in the morning.

NC: But the choir sang morning and evening service on Sundays?

CDW: Oh, yeah!

NC: Did you ever join with any of the other boy choirs in New York?

CDW as a choirboy in 1930

CDW: Aside from our basketball league with St. Thomas and Grace Church, the only other time we were on the same program was Wednesdays in Holy Week for the Bach St. Matthew Passion with the choir of St. Bartholomew’s Church and the boys of St. Thomas Choir. The Cathedral Choir—the whole choir—sang second chorus.  As you know, there are double choruses.  And that was the first time I ever saw T. Tertius Noble in action.

NC: What was he like in those days?

CDW: I would say “avuncular” would be the word.  He seemed (at least on those occasions) a nice fatherly presence.

NC:  And these were at the Cathedral?

CDW:  Oh, no—at St. Bartholomew’s, played by David McK. Williams, astonishingly!  I was bowled over by his accompaniment. The thing I remember most vividly is the movement toward the end of Part Iwhere you have the Soprano and Alto duet and the chorus interjects fortissimo “Leave him, leave him, bind him not” and he socked the crescendo pedal and then, boom, he would close it.  It just seemed to me to be flawless. He was amazing.

NC: They did this every year, didn’t they?

CDW: Every single year.  In fact after my voice changed I did it a couple of times as an alto just because I wanted to participate in it.

NC: Did Dr. Williams direct you all, or address you? What was his personality like?

CDW:  He was magisterial, he was definitely in command.  Everybody paid close attention.

NC: Did you ever know him later in your career?  He was gone from St. Bartholomew’s after you went to Heavenly Rest.

CDW: Yeah, but when I was as student at Trinity School I used to spend my Sundays all over the city hearing all the church choirs do their thing.   And I never heard an orchestra in a church until I got one myself.  I mean, the organists were all really good at accompanying.

NC: I’ve just been reading this book of letters by Virgil Thomson[1] and he mentions there being an orchestra at St. Mary the Virgin.

CDW: I think . . . yes, Raymond Nold.

NC: I’m getting ahead of myself.  But the idea of doing all these organ accompaniments—is that what inspired you to start the Canterbury Choral Society?

CDW: Well, when I was only 15 or 16 in my last two years in high school, I thought that’s just the way it is in church—you do it with the organ.  I realized what I had been missing  (it must have been in 1939 or 1940) when I heard the Boston Symphony Orchestra do Brahms’ Requiem not in a church, but in a concert hall . . . but my God, that piece, with all due respect for the organ,  that thing as orchestrated by Brahms was a wonderful musical experience!  I thought to myself “boy, I would like to have a big chorus and do that kind of stuff!”

NC: So after the Cathedral you went to Trinity School.  Was that Trinity School of Trinity Parish where it started?

CDW:  It started in the belfry at Trinity Parish and it’s one of the oldest schools—it started in 1709 and it just celebrated its tercentenary!  There were a couple of things of musical interest about my experience at Trinity School: the first year I was there they had an organist there named Mr. Rose.  He was very ancient and he retired.  They then brought in a French teacher to play the organ who simply couldn’t play, so I went up to the headmaster and said “I can play” and so I became the school organist.  Another thing about that, in my senior year I had been the organist, so that meant that I played for my own graduation.  The speaker for the graduation was the president of Juilliard School and his name was John Erskine.  He was a writer and had written a novel which my father always referred to as “that smutty book.”  It was titled The Private Life of Helen of Troy. This has nothing to do with music.

NC: He wrote this book?  The President of Juilliard?

CDW: Yeah, I think that he was a famous man before he got to be president of Juilliard.

NC: He wasn’t a professional musician? At least not well known one?

CDW:  Not a musician.  He delivered the address and I played the organ so we shared the stage.

NC: At Trinity School, did they have an organ there?

CDW: They had one of Ernest Skinner’s early organs.  It was built, I believe, before 1910, a two manual.  [Opus 141, 1907]

NC: In the school auditorium or in the chapel?

CDW:  The chapel.  This was an Episcopal school.  I also went to the Cathedral Choir School, which was an Episcopal school, and to Trinity College which was an Episcopal school!  They all had compulsory chapel services, which none of them have any more.

NC: Your parents were obviously Episcopalians.

CDW:  Both my parents were cradle Episcopalians.  In fact my grandmother taught Sunday School in Dakota Territory before North and South Dakota were separated.  And I have the melodeon that she played when she was teaching Sunday school.

NC: Did you continue to study organ through high school at Trinity?

CDW: Yes.  When I went to Trinity School I continued organ and I practiced all the time after school.  Trinity is exactly one mile south of the Cathedral, in the same block.  I would go to school and then I’d practice at the Cathedral, and then go and do my homework.

NC: Did Cokey prepare you for the AGO exams specifically?

CDW: No, [Clarence] Watters did.  You see, I had four years with Cokey and four years with Watters.  That’s what my organ instruction was—two years in the choir school and two years at Trinity School.  Then I went to college.  It was Channing Lefebvre who sent me to Trinity College in Hartford.  My father said “you know the organist at Trinity Church.  Let’s go ask for his advice.”  And I’m glad we did.  We wanted a liberal arts college with strong organ, not a conservatory, and Trinity was perfect.

NC: You must have seen the Cathedral nave being built.

CDW: Yes, we sang for the dedication of the Pilgrim Pavement, you know the great slabs of stone with the medallions in it.  We also sang at the dedication of the great bronze doors which are very impressive portals for the Cathedral.

The nave was being constructed when I was a choir boy.  There were elevators outside going up and down the scaffolding.  The nave actually opened several years later—around 1940, I believe.

Talking about the cathedral: I played an organ recital one Saturday afternoon in the presence of Fiorello H. LaGuardia, except that he was dead!  He had been an Episcopalian and was lying in state prior to his funeral which was to be in the Cathedral.  I played among other things the Andante Cantabile from the Widor 4th Symphony and you could hardly hear it for the shuffling of feet passing by—I was told that there were 30 thousand people there to pay their respects!

NC: There was an organ recital, while LaGuardia was lying in state!?

CDW: Yes, he was lying in state in St. Saviour’s Chapel.  The recital had been previously scheduled and they just told me to go ahead with it.  It had the effect of background music during a wake.  I just played my recital.

NC: Did you have a church job at this time?

CDW: No, just Trinity School with its daily chapel.

NC: Did you list preludes and postludes?

CDW: Just preludes, I think.  Still, a lot of repertoire for a high school kid.

NC: So when was your first church job, in college?

CDW: Yes.  That was a wonderful thing.  In my freshman year, the adjunct professor of German at Trinity College, who also had a doctorate in theology from Marburg, asked Clarence Watters for a recommendation for organist of the church of which he was the pastor.  He also had a bachelor of music degree, and was also a tenor—and Clarence recommended me.  I went out there and played a recital in the spring of 1937 at the age of 17 for this church—Stafford Springs Congregational Church, Stafford Springs, Connecticut—half way between Hartford and Worcester.  This was the first time I ever played for money, because they took up a collection and I got $14—quite a lot of money!  So they offered me the job at $10 a Sunday, and that, too, was a lot of money.  That was the most felicitous thing that could happen to a 17-year-old.  I also made some money in a dance band on Saturday night, so I was doing OK.   And I was able without any trouble at all to convince my father to buy me a car.  As soon as I was 17 I had a Ford convertible, a seven-year-old Model A.

NC:  And you’ve had a car ever since, haven’t you?

CDW: Yes!  [Laughing.]  But, my father was glad I was earning money, and I really did have to have a car—Stafford  Springs was 30 miles from Hartford.  This was the 30s and the roads in the winter were slippery and I had to learn to be careful.

They also had in their budget $4 a week for a soloist and my roommate in college was a very good baritone, named Dan Hanson, so I gave Dan the job as a soloist, and he was also my bass section leader.  The pastor, this lovely man named Kendrick Grobel who was of Scandinavian ancestry from North Dakota, was the tenor.  He would come around after the sermon and join the choir for the anthem . . . he was very good.  For some reason the school teachers of Stafford Springs gravitated to the alto section, and a whole bunch of lovely high school girls sang soprano; I was only 17.  It was heaven!  [Laughing.]

NC: I want to talk about Clarence Watters as a teacher, but before that, what kind of background did you already have under your belt when you went to Trinity College?

CDW: Well, Cokey was very thorough; I was really lucky.  First of all, he was on the exam committee of the AGO forever.  He was a Fellow of the AGO and of the Royal College of Organists, and all that.  He played accurately and well, but I was also lucky to study with Clarence Watters which was very different.  Clarence was really a brilliant virtuoso.  And this is not to play down Coke-Jephcott who was a wonderful improviser, very fine.  And he played Bach very accurately—he just didn’t have the sort of brilliance that Clarence had.  He was a very colorful service player and used the organ wonderfully.

NC: Did he do most of the playing, or did he have an assistant?

CDW: Soon after Coke-Jephcott came to the Cathedral, Thomas Matthews came to be his assistant.  Cokey had been organist at Grace Church in Utica, taught Tom there, and brought Tom to the Cathedral when I was 12 and he was 17.  He was a very good organist, and I admired the heck out of him and I loved to turn pages for him—we were really close considering I was 12 and he was 17.

NC: How did they divide up the service?  I’m curious with the vast spaces, did one play and the other conduct as is the style now, or did Cokey play and conduct from the console?

CDW: Yea, well, there was a little of each.  Cokey probably played about half the time.  I do remember distinctly Tommy playing Brahms’ How lovely so I guess Coke wanted to get out front and conduct that.  I have a funny feeling they used the Vox and Strings liberally!  He had been a band master in the army in England, so I guess he knew how to conduct, although I never saw him conduct an orchestra.

NC: Did they ever use brass instruments in the Cathedral services, Easter or Christmas?

CDW: I don’t recall that they did.  They used the Tuba Mirabilis though, by golly!  You don’t need brass instruments with that!  [Hearty laughter.]

Anyway . . . getting back to Coke’s teaching . . . he wasn’t a stolid Englishman, but he was solid and he was punctilious about fingering Bach correctly and not allowing me to get away with anything.  I remember playing the Bach Toccata in C for Paul Callaway when I was 15 and I had that well under my fingers.  Paul was at St. Mark’s in Grand Rapids about that time, and my uncle was in his choir in Grand Rapids.  My father was from Grand Rapids.

You might be interested to know that Coke-Jephcott started me out on the Stainer method book, which seems quaint, but was a solid book that I’ve used with beginners.

NC:  Had you known of Clarence Watters prior to your study with him?

CDW: I hadn’t known of him until my father and I visited Channing Lefebvre to consult about college.

They had a wonderful Skinner organ in the chapel at Trinity College, one of the first on which Donald Harrison and Ernest Skinner collaborated.  It might amuse you to know that at this time I didn’t know what a Mixture stop was!  There was one on the Cathedral organ—it was there on the stop knob, along with Stentorphone and some other interesting stop names!  But it wasn’t until I got up to Hartford and worked with Watters that I learned what Mixtures were all about.  It was a whole different experience.

It was a fine organ.  It had a wonderful 32 Open Wood, the low twelve pipes of which were lined up in a straight row against the back wall of the chapel.  I was in heaven there; I was one of the assistant chapel organists, along with two others.  At the Cathedral it had been a very rare privilege to play the big organ as I had my lessons on one of the chapel organs.  But here at Trinity College I could just go in an play the big four-manual organ whenever I wanted to.

NC: I’m getting ahead of the story here, but what possessed Watters to get the present organ?

CDW: I’m not sure, but Don Harrison had died and Clarence admired Dick Piper, the tonal director of the Austin firm, which was right there in Hartford.  I think he got a donor and was able to create the exact organ he wanted.  It is very French, and wonderful!

NC: Did you keep up with Clarence over the years?

CDW: Oh, yes!  Very much so.  In fact I had him play at Heavenly Rest a lot.

NC: Didn’t you say that he was also a candidate at Heavenly Rest when you got it?

CDW: Yes.  [Laughing.]  I had written him from Paris asking him to write a letter of recommendation for me when I applied for the position.  You see, I had some pretty good connections by then, like Frank Sayre [the Very Rev. Francis B. Sayre, Jr.] from my Cambridge days and Canon West at the Cathedral, and Clarence, too.  So I asked him to write, and he wrote back saying “Charlie I’d be glad to, except that I, too, have applied for the position.”  That’s absolutely true.

NC: Was he frustrated at his Hartford positions, aspiring to something greater over the years?

CDW: I wouldn’t be surprised.  At Trinity College he was hired by the man we called Prexie, Dr. Remsen B. Ogilby, the father of Lyman Ogilby, later the Bishop of Pennsylvania.  And he thought that Clarence was the greatest, so Clarence led a charmed life there.  When Ogilby departed this life, they appointed the president of the New York Stock Exchange to be the new president; he happened to be a Trinity graduate.  His name was G. Keith Funston.  And Funston did not treat Watters well.  I guess he had tenure and everything, so they couldn’t just get rid of him the way a rector can, but I think that could explain it.  I never knew anything about his looking around, except Heavenly Rest!  But I think after Ogilby’s death it was not so pleasant for Clarence.

NC: Tell me more about Watters as a teacher.

CDW with Clarence Watters at graduation from Trinity College, Hartford, 1940

CDW: Ah, yes.  Well, first of all, it was a revelation to find out about the whole idea of mixtures and mutations.  Somehow or another I had not learned this from Cokey.  Cokey was absolutely wonderful, but . . .  I didn’t learn anything about French Trompettes and that sort of sound.  I was used to Cornopeans, and so on.  Watters, a pupil of Marcel Dupré, acquainted me with the French tonal qualities of an organ. In a word, Clarence was like having a French organist for a teacher.

NC: He was already recognized as a master organist by that time wasn’t he, and he was pretty young?

CDW: Yes.  He was in his 30s . . . pausing to calculate . . .  and of course he had studied with Dupré and lived inParis.  Repertoire: again, very French oriented.  And I think this is good.  I am glad to have had the English orientation of Coke-Jephcott.  And his improvisations reeked of Elgar!  You know, the Pomp and Circumstance aspect of Cathedral improvisation was his specialty.  Whereas, of course, Watters reeked of the French school.

NC: Was Clarence a good improviser?

CDW: Yes, very!  I remember once Dr. Ogilby put a sign up on the bulletin board in his own hand saying that “this Sunday there will be an improvisation for three organs: CW, RBO, CW”—meaning Clarence Watters, Remsen B. Ogilby, and the other CW referring to me.  Dr. Ogilby had been a chaplain in World War II and he had a portable organ—you know one of those things that unfold, a harmonium—and he set that up in the middle of the chapel.  There is a small two manual practice organ in the crypt which was for me to play, and Clarence of course played the big organ.  Prexie played a hymn, which he could manage—he actually played the organ and carillon pretty well—so he played the hymn, and I would do a little improvisation on it from the chapel which would come rolling up the stone stair case from the Crypt, and then Clarence would play something more elaborate on the Aeolian-Skinner organ.  Then, we repeated the sequence, and finally Clarence would play an improvisation on both of the hymns together!  It was really very clever.

The thing about that story is that this was Ogilby’s idea!  He said “let’s do it” and he wrote the notice about it.  Not many college presidents I know of would have that kind of imagination!

NC: So, did Clarence improvise in the formal style?

CDW: Yes, he could improvise a fugue.  And he played all the extant works of Dupré including the preludes and fugues, the Variations sur un Noël, and the Symphonie-Passion, and the Stations of the Cross was a specialty of his.  He played them extraordinarily well.  He played everything from memory, and he insisted that I play from memory.  I wasn’t disciplined enough to apply that to everything I learned, but what I played for him I played from memory.

NC: Did Cokey play from memory?

CDW: I don’t believe so.  But Clarence had a huge and amazing memorized repertoire.

NC: Who had he studied with? What was his background?  We associate him with Dupré, but he must have started somewhere else.

CDW: I think he started with Mark Andrews.  He grew up in East Orange, part of that New Jersey tradition we were talking about.  I know he talked a lot about Mark Andrews.

. . . Looking up Watters’ biography [2]  . . .

 He was born in 1902 and studied with Mark Andrews.  He was also the organist of Christ’s Church in Rye, New York, and Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh. And from 1952-76 he was at St. John’s in West Hartford while he was at Trinity College 1932-67 as head of the music department.

NC: You told me that he was the whole music department at Trinity, and he directed the Glee Club?

CDW: Yes.  And this was good, because prior to that I just knew what we had done at the Cathedral, but Clarence taught a lot of the choral and orchestral repertoire, which I didn’t know at all before that.  In the Glee Club, he did very good repertoire.  I knew for the first time Monteverdi—something from Orfeo, which we sang in Italian.  And good folk song arrangements, and Brahms songs.  The college was all men at the time, so we did TTBB arrangements.

When I went there at age 16 he immediately appointed me accompanist of the Glee Club: this was good for me musically and socially.  At Trinity, the Glee Club went off to all the girls schools and did joint concerts so we could do SATB music—and we had dances—that sort of thing, which I liked.  And, after I got my car for the Stafford Springs job, I had a friend who was adept at chasing girls, so he took me on as an apprentice.  [Much laughter!]  That was also something I gave thanks for . . . you know all the way through high school I was so busy learning to be an organist that I was sheltered.

NC: Were there any other organ students in your class at Trinity?

CDW: Yes, my fellow assistant organist at the college was Ralph Grover, and he had been in the choir at St. Paul’s in Flatbush, Brooklyn, under Ralph Harris, who was a well-known and respected organist of that era

NC: What did you immerse yourself with during your first year with Clarence? Did he give you Dupré to begin with?

CDW: Well, the first thing he did, which sort of annoyed me to be honest with you—and I don’t advise this—he decided to re-teach me some Bach works I had learned with Cokey, such as the Toccata in C, and trio sonatas.

That reminds me of an interesting story.  There was a Miss Kostikyan who taught piano to boys in the Cathedral Choir School.  (This was during the Depression and I didn’t think to ask my father for lessons and it wasn’t until Cokey suggested it to my father that he sprang for organ lessons.)  One day I was practicing on the two-manual organ in St. Ansgarius’ Chapel and Miss Kostikyan came in with this young man, and she said “Charles, I want you to meet Virgil Fox” and I said “Oh, glad to meet you, Virgil.”   And . . . he was however old he would have been, maybe 20 or 21 . . .  and I got off the bench (Miss Kostikyan had told me he was an organist) and asked if he wanted to play.  And he said “I want to play the big organ.”  So I told him I couldn’t authorize him to play the big organ, so he deigned to play the chapel organ saying “you can’t make music on a little thing like this.”  But he played very well and that was my introduction to Virgil Fox.

Of course I met him many times later.  After he left Riverside I allowed him to give lessons at Heavenly Rest.  And he was on the AGO national council during part of the time I was—he was not notable for his regularity of attendance at meetings!  Nor was Biggs.  I also have a letter from Biggs apologizing for having problems attending council meetings!

Pausing . . . as a related thought came to mind:

I must say, and I’ve said this so many times, when the Lincoln Center Philharmonic Hall organ was dedicated,  Biggs, Fox, and Crozier played the opening.  And Biggs, I swear, he played like an automaton.  There was no feeling, or brilliance, or anything else.  Virgil . . . well he played it damn well, or course, but tastelessly.  Crozier, to me, was perfection, and far beyond these other two in musicianship, and technique, too.  I just thought she was wonderful.  This was in the early 60s.

NC: Anything else about Watters before we go on?  He was really instrumental in introducing the music of Dupré to this country.

CDW: Well he would talk for hours about Dupré, not only music, but about marvelous dinners with seven different kinds of wine, and that sort of thing.  He and his wife Midge socialized with Marcel and Jeanette Dupré and were really good friends.

He was also a bug on fingering—my impression is that Dupré taught Clarence his approach, and then Watters taught me Dupré’s approach.  And Clarence, during lessons would write out for me, in detail, all of the fingerings of the complicated stuff.  And, there are things you can do—I’m not an expert on this subject—but organists can do things pianists can’t.  Things like the L-shaped thumb: you can use these unusual shapes of the hand to achieve a perfect legato in Franck, using both the pad of the thumb, and the “heel” of the thumb down near the wrist.

NC: Did he insist that you play things his way?

CDW: I don’t know—I just didn’t have any reason to challenge anything he taught.  He was very confident of his gifts.  There is picture of him sitting at the organ in one of the college year books, with the caption Optimus Sum, so everyone got the idea!  [Huge amounts of laughter.]  But the point is, he would say, oh, I can do this and I can do that . . . and he could!  He was a dear and good friend.  I have rafts of letters from him where he goes on about this and that.

NC: Be sure you keep them!

CDW: You know he played the dedicatory recital on the big Skinner at the Memorial Church at Harvard.  That gives you an idea of his renown at the time.

NC:  Well, that’s a nice introduction into your Harvard years.  You must have known that organ?

CDW:  I only know it because I remember Archibald T. Davison.  He was the organist and choirmaster as well as the director of the famous Harvard Glee Club.  I had met him previously, so I went up to him at the chapel and he was playing this big organ, but I never played it.  I wasn’t an organ student at Harvard.

NC: It’s while you were at Harvard that you were assistant organist at Christ Church in Harvard Square?

CDW at the console of the new Aeolian-Skinner organ in Christ Church, Cambridge, 1941

CDW: Yes, under Bill Rand [W. Judson Rand] whose first name was actually Wilberforce, and I occasionally called him that!  And the Rector was the Rev. C. Leslie Glenn when I first went there, but he left shortly after that.  Incidentally, E. Power Biggs had previously been organist of the church.

NC: What was Frank Sayre’s connection in the chronology?

CDW: He had just graduated from Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge and was an assistant at Christ Church, was learning to chant the service, and our paths just crossed.  His brother Woodrow Wilson Sayre was also around.  They were each grandsons of Woodrow Wilson, the president, you know.  Frank and I corresponded throughout the war when he was a Navy chaplain.  He later invited me to play at Washington Cathedral after he became dean.

The organ in Christ Church was a new four-manual Aeolian-Skinner, [Opus 1007] although the fourth manual was prepared for.  The church had terrible acoustics, but the organ was good and was used as the first of Aeolian-Skinner’s demonstration recordings, before the King of Instruments series.

NC:  Yes, it’s recently been re-released by JAV, I think.  That’s where you met Don Harrison?

CDW: Yes.  Don seemed sort of lonely—his wife lived in New York—and he and Bill Rand were great friends and I tagged along, all the time.  They each loved to drink and talk, and I was just a kid, but he was so nice to me.  There were all these bawdy limericks!  And I’ve got lots of letters from him.

After the war I got appointed to St. Thomas Chapel (during the war my father bought a nice piece of land on Ridgewood Avenue in Glen Ridge) and I conceived the idea that I would like to have an organ studio and be a big fat organ teacher in Glen Ridge together with my New York job.  And I talked to Don about this—how to get an organ for this studio.  Gosh, I learned a lot about organs from hanging out with Bill and Don putting the organ in Christ Church.

I invited Don to dinner to show him my ideas, with the idea of building an organ along the lines of his specification in the Harvard Dictionary.[3]  I suggested a couple of changes and he was always willing to consider my ideas.

NC: What was Don like in these social settings?

CDW: It was mostly he and Bill, who was a real extrovert, bantering back and forth.  What I remember most was that it was limerick after limerick, and usually pretty bawdy!

NC: Did you get to any of the Boston churches?

CDW: Oh yes, Carl McKinley, Everett Titcomb, Francis Snow . . . and I was active in the Guild.

NC:  Was George Faxon around in those days?

CDW: Yes.  And Bill Zeuch,[4] who had been one of the interim organists at St. John the Divine, along with Channing before Cokey.  I’d known him as a choir boy, called him Mr. Zeuch, but had no idea he was involved with Aeolian-Skinner until I met him during these Harvard years.

NC: Biggs?

CDW: Yes.  Bill Rand for some reason had a key to the Busch-ReisingerMuseum, his choir sang there from time to time, and Bill and I went in one night.  The organ was playing, and it was Biggs practicing for his CBS Sunday morning broadcast.  (I later played a recital there, and Don Harrison praised my playing which was a huge compliment.)

Anyway, we came in to use the organ late one night, and found Jimmy Biggs practicing and his first wife, Colette—who was French and had a very fiery temperament—was yelling at him about his playing “non, non Zcheemee, not like zeehs!”   She was really letting him have it.  As you know, that marriage did not last, and he later married this nice lady, Peggy.

NC: Daniel Pinkham must have been around then.

CDW: Yes, he was an undergraduate.  We became friendly.  He had a harpsichord in his room in Harvard yard.  He pronounced it hopsycawd !  We actually played a duet recital at Christ Church, including the Soler that you and I played recently.  Anyway, later, when I lived in Paris, I found out that Janet [Janet Hayes, later Mrs. CDW] had been his soloist when she was at New England Conservatory.

NC: Since we haven’t talked about the Lake Delaware Boys Camp, and since they just celebrated their 100th anniversary which was written up in the New York Times [Sunday, July 26, 2009] let’s talk about it.  You applied once and were turned down because you were too young?

CDW: That’s right. The director of the camp asked Channing [Lefebvre] if he knew of an organist and he said he did and I was the one, and he recommended me. I went and saw the director and he said that I appeared to be qualified but that they couldn’t possibly use someone who was the same age as the campers. At that time the campers’ age range went up to 17. So I tucked my tail between my legs and went off to college. After I graduated from college, I came back and proclaimed “I am now twenty years old and how about putting me on your staff.”  So they did and herein hangs the tale. That was 1940 and I played my last service there in 1990!

NC: You were there for 50 years!?

CDW: Not every year of the 50. I was in the war and in Europe, but I was there for most of it.

NC: That’s an unusual combination—camp and church.

CDW: The combination is really crazy because it’s a special type of camp in that it’s organized along the military lines and the body of campers is called the battalion and is divided into two companies and the battalion is commanded by a major and each company is commanded by the company captain then within each company you have first lieutenant, second lieutenant, and so on.

NC: These are among the students or campers?

CDW: Among the campers. The older boys are the officers and the rookies, the little nine year olds that come—they’re privates, not even first class, just plain old privates. The thing that is most impressive and striking about the camp is that these graduates have this fiendish devotion—total devotion to the camp, 340 of them came this past weekend, the centennial observation. They are spread all over the country, not  just in New York where they usually started from.  That’s impressive.

Anyway, to get back to the unique quality of the camp . . . it’s organized as a military organization and they have military drills and carry little fake rifles and do all sorts of military maneuvers.  Then on top of that they have this very elaborate, Anglo-Catholic ritual.  And the campers were taken from the strain of society that needs help, although the majority are born and brought up Episcopalian.  My son and my nephew went there. Quite a few of them are clergy children.  They all are taught to genuflect at the Incarnatus of the creed.  Now they may be Baptist, or Pentecostal—God knows what, but boy, you genuflect at the Incarnatus!  And they have the Angelus three times a day—whatever anyone is doing, the chapel bell starts going morning, noon and night and  everything stops and everybody stands very quiet.  Some of them recite the Hail Mary.

NC: They had chapel, or mass everyday?

CDW: Mass everyday.

NC: Did you play for it every day?

CDW: No, the daily masses I didn’t play for.  I played for the Sunday masses and the Evensong and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.  And, the heck with the Thirty-nine  Articles, they paraded the body, the host, blessed everybody with it, and so on!

NC: How many boys in the choir?

CDW: Usually 23, and they were all sopranos. They loved to sing descants of course, so we did a lot of them.  The congregational singing was robust—half of them were ex-choir boys so we could really do descants and everyone loved that.

NC: Was this chapel in the camp?

CDW: Yes, it was by far the most impressive building in the camp. There were two transepts. One of them contained the organ and the other contained the sacristy so it was cruciform.

NC: What was the organ?

CDW: Well, that was one of the most interesting things about it.  It was a 1877 two-manual tracker by Hilborne L. Roosevelt which had been ordered by Commodore Elbridge T. Gerry to be installed in his mansion on the estate.  He also had a mansion on Fifth  Avenue, the land of which is still owned by the Gerry’s, on top of which stands the Pierre Hotel.  It was Commodore Gerry’s son, Robert Livingston Gerry and his wife Cornelia Harriman Gerry, who founded of the camp.

Gerry was the commodore of the New York Yacht Club and had the biggest yacht in the city, it was 190 feet long.  Incidentally, I just found out an interesting thing about his yacht—it had a full set of Eucharistic vestments as part of its equipment.  He was a very devoted high churchman!

NC: What parish did he attend?

CDW: They were closely connected with the Church of the Resurrection, and he actually built the Church of St. Edward the Martyr on East 109th Street which is where the camp’s New York headquarters was for many decades.  In fact that is where I was interviewed for the job.

In 1886 it was decided that the organ wasn’t big enough so he had Roosevelt add a choir organ which had among other things a 16 foot reed on it.  It was a Bassoon (I think), a free reed. The thing that is most notable about the organ is that it has never in the slightest way been electrified.

NC: Even to this day?

CDW: Yes, even to this day, oh yeah!  It has three large bellows that are attached to a crank shaft with a very large wheel, the rim of which has a handle that is eighteen inches long.  You could put two boys along side it.  The effort required depends on how loudly the organist is playing—if the organist is playing loudly the thing has to be pumped quite vigorously, if it’s being played for meditative music during communion the kids found that they could sit right on the window sill right by this big fly wheel and put their feet on the handle and just rock it back and forth.  There’s an air gauge which has a green light at the end of it, and an amber light part way down, and a red one further down, and the bottom of it has a huge skull and bones!

NC: For when it’s empty?

CDW: That means the organist has no air at all and you are in trouble! Anyway, it’s a wonderful organ.  I made a recording in 1960 that has a lot of solos in it . . . at least three or four different boys sang.  One of whom was nine years old and later killed in Vietnam.  Really sad.

And there have been a lot of good organists associated with the camp. Clement Campbell who was also organist at Resurrection [in New York] back in the 20’s and 30’s was organist and choir director at the camp.  One of the things that pleases me about the camp was that—even though I did not usually give organ lessons up there—I in one case gave the first organ lessons to this young 16-year-old who was quite a good pianist who went on from there to become the organist of the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago: Eddie Mondello.  He was a marvelous soprano for me and he was interested in the organ and I started him off.

Back to my musical duties at the camp. I trained the kids and played. But I didn’t select the music because they are still doing the music they did back in 1909 and that was Caleb Simper’s Mass and Will C. McFarlane’s Magnificat.

CDW teaching aircraft recognition while in the Navy, 1944. (Official U. S. Navy photograph.)

NC: Last week when we left off, I think you were into your first year at Harvard and the war intervened.  We didn’t talk about what led you to go to Paris or your Harvard years after the war.[5] And, did we talk about all of your teachers there?

CDW:  Walter Piston, whom I had for most of my courses—harmony counterpoint, fugue, and orchestration—was great at all those things.   And Archibald T. Davidson, with whom I studied choral conducting, and choral composition.  My other teacher was Tillman Merritt, who is not terribly well known now.  He taught 16th century harmony, as well as a course on Stravinsky and Hindemith, who were the latest things at that time.  Really, cutting edge.

NC: What was Piston like? He’s probably the most famous.

CDW: He was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. He had a very quiet way about him and he would come up with funny things in a very quiet way. When a student would be up at the blackboard writing something he would use some phrase like “that’s a somewhat infelicitous situation there, we have a parallel octaves between the alto and the bass in that progression.”  He was very quiet about it.  We all loved him.  He was a very fine teacher.  When I went there before the war I don’t believe his book was out, which is now a standard textbook at colleges all over the place.[6]  But, we learned harmony according to that.

NC:  Did you use a text book or was it just his classes?

CDW: It seems to me (I’m rather vague about it) he would give us exercises to do.  In the orchestration classes he was just wonderful because as a young man he had hung around the Boston Symphony . . .  he was brought up in Boston, and would hang around the Boston Symphony and he knew every member of the group and would tell stories and something about their instruments, too. One of the famous ones was about a timpanist who was so good at counting measures that he could go out for a beer in the middle of a symphonic movement and then come back sock out a fortissimo D, you know!  So he was always highly entertaining.

NC: Did he have any official position with the BSO? How did he get to know the players?

CDW:  I don’t think he was a member of the orchestra, but he was young enough that he just kind of hung around.

And in fugue, he was always quoting André Gédalge.  I believe Gédalge’s book is now available.[7]  In those days I think he was the only one in the country who knew about Gédalge.  I remember what little fugue I had previous to Piston was with Coke-Jephcott, using a textbook by James Higg.

NC: Any memorable fellow students with whom you went to Harvard?

CDW: Yes, Robert Middleton, who later taught at Vasser.  Dan Pinkham was way behind me because he was a freshman when I was a graduate student.

One thing at Harvard was that they had a prejudice against playing recordings of things.  Archibald T. Davison had two really fine pianists and two pianos in his very popular Music 1 course in Paine Hall and they would do symphony excerpts and he would just tell them to start at such and such a place and they would play, rather than turn on a recording.  I remember vividly Davison talking about Stravinsky, the Sacre du Printemps . . . anyway it was always exciting to go and learn there.

NC:  Then you went to the war and came back and finished your Harvard Masters degree . . . did you then go back to New York for a couple of years?

CDW: Yes, the same month I got my masters from Harvard I got the F.A.G.O. too!   Boy, what a sigh of relief I had!

NC:  Did you continue to coach with Clarence Watters on the organ tests as part of the scheme?

CDW:  Yes, I think the main piece was the Dupré G minor Prelude and Fugue, so I went down to Hartford and took a few lessons with Clarence.

NC: Do you recall where the F.A.G.O. exam was held, what organ you played?

CDW:  Yes, I came down and took it in New York.  It was on the old Synod Hall organ at St. John the Divine.  [Skinner Opus 204, 1913]

NC: Who were the examiners?

CDW:  Harold Friedell, who was chairman of the examination committee,  Seth Bingham, J. Lawrence Erb from Connecticut College, Philip James and Norman Coke-Jephcott.

One thing that might amuse you is that when they are examining they often say to the candidate, “you don’t have to play the whole thing, just start on page something or another.”  One of the things that Watters insisted on was memorization and I didn’t bring a score to the exam, but I hadn’t memorized what page was what, so they said, “Oh, well, play the whole thing!”

NC: So you got your masters degree and your F.A.G.O. and then you took the job in New York. Where was this?

CDW: St. Thomas Chapel. The vicar at St. Thomas Chapel had gone to Trinity College and he knew Watters.  He came up to Cambridge and auditioned the service I played unbeknownst to me.

NC: What was his name?

CDW: Paul Curry Armstrong.  It was during that period that I renewed my acquaintance with G. Donald Harrison because the organ at Trinity School was one of the first organs that E. M. built, a tubular pneumatic and it was pretty old even in 1947 . . .  it was 40 years old. [Opus 141, 1907] The tubes had hardened to the point that they looked as though made of lead.  I went out and bought some plumber’s rubber hose that you use in a bathtub when you want to shower yourself, and I installed those in there and I fixed all the dead notes.  I also found that the mechanism for operating the swell was screwed together improperly and the swell shades didn’t really open properly.   So I got in there with a screwdriver and tightened it up.  And people said “Walker, it’s amazing the way you can make that organ sound . . . never heard it sound like that before.”  The box had never been opened more than a third!

NC:  So you were at St. Thomas Chapel and Trinity School. You got those jobs simultaneously. Rather felicitous, to use a phrase of yours!

CDW: Yes it was.

NC: It was a boys choir at St. Thomas Chapel in those days?

CDW: Yeah, it was.   But it had a few women helping them out.  I think I increased the size of the boys’ choir at least 300%, maybe more.   I was an eager beaver back then.  I would chauffeur the kids around town.

NC: Thomas Beveridge and Charles Wuorinen were both choir boys of yours?

CDW: Yes, and they were both very, very bright and very good musicians.

They had an E. M. Skinner organ [Opus 598, 1926] and the console was in the chancel and the organ was up in the rear balcony with a small accompaniment division up front.  It was still a chapel of St. Thomas Church in those days.  Now it’s All Saints Church on E. 60th Street.

Anyway, I was in the Harvard Club (I was single, just out of Harvard and the dues were then quite low) taking my ease one day when a man walked in who had been a tenor in my choir at Christ Church in Cambridge when he was at Harvard.  While I was off at the war, he was off at seminary.

He walked into the club, his collar was on backward . . .  it was the Rev. Richard R. P. Coombs.  He later became the dean at the Cathedral in Spokane.  We sat down and talked and he said “I was just offered the job of Canon of the American Cathedral in Paris,” and I said “you took it, of course” and he said, “no, I like it where I am, but the Dean is looking for an organist.”  He told me that the Dean was in New York at the moment and I went to see him that very night at his hotel room.  I told the Dean I majored in French and was crazy about French organs and was nuts about French organ music.  And by golly, I got the job.  What a piece of luck!

NC:  Did you have to play for him, or was it just based on that visit?

CDW: Yeah, just based on the visit!

NC:  Sounds like you were pretty well set in New York, with a church and the school, but this lured you away?

CDW:  Yes, I was well set.  I was making more than the Vicar of the St. Thomas Chapel and he couldn’t stand it!

NC:  How did that happen?

CDW:  Well, as a matter of fact, this will be amusing to anybody living in 2010.  When I landed this wonderful job at St. Thomas Chapel the salary was $2,000 a year and when I landed this wonderful job at Trinity School as the Director of Music the salary was $2,500 a year, so I was getting $4,500 a year and the Vicar of the St. Thomas Chapel told me somewhat ruefully that he was getting $4,000 a year.

NC:  So, your combined salary . . .

CDW: Yeah, combined salary.  That’s the way we musicians do you know—we take these teaching jobs . . .

NC:  But even so, you wanted to go to Paris?

CDW:  Oh, yes!  And of course the salary there was less.

NC:  So, you took a cut to go there.

CDW:  Oh yes.  I never regretted that, though.

NC:  Tell the story of how you came to come to Paris traveling first class!

CDW: Well that story is . . . the dean, Dean Beekman, who was a large man and just a slight bit pompous, said after hiring me, “you know, you must come by boat and you must come on the United States Line. I have a friend who is important in that company.  Just give him my name and he’ll take care of you.”  So I called up this man who’s name was Commander de Riesthal and I said “Dean Beekman told me to call you because I want to reserve passage on the SS America to leave New York on September 8.”  And he said “what class do you want to travel.” And I said “what class does the Dean travel?”  “Why first class, of course” came the answer.  And I said, “well, I’ll go first class.”

NC: Did anybody question you about this?  Was it okay with Dean Beekman?

CDW:  I don’t know.  But I thought to myself, gee, I don’t know how long I’m going to be away in Europe and here I’ve got this wonderful cabin . . . I’ll just invite all my friends and have a party for my departure.  So I did, and one of the people invited was Ellen Faull, a soprano, whose debut at the City Opera I had heard.   Incidentally, since then she became the head voice teacher at Juilliard, a very good singer, and she sang a whole lot for me when I started the Canterbury Choral Society.

Anyway, she pranced into the party and said “Oh Charlie, I just met the most wonderful girl whom I knew at Tanglewood this summer.  I was walking down 57th Street and she was walking down 57th Street.”   She said “you’re all dolled up, where are you going” and Ellen said “I’m going to a party; a friend of mine is going off toParis.  You’re going to Paris, too, aren’t you, Janet? You should look this guy up because he’s going to be organist at the Cathedral over there and you might get a job as soloist.”   So when Ellen got to the party on the boat she gave me Janet’s number in Paris.  I looked her up and the story is that I took her out, we went to Versailles in my new French Simca, and we got married a few months later in the American Cathedral.

CDW at the console of the organ in the American Cathedral in Paris, 1948

To be continued.                                    

[1] Tim Page and Vanessa Weeks Page, ed., Selected Letters of Virgil Thomson.  New York:Summit Books, 1988, 30.

[2] Corliss Arnold, Organ Literature: A Comprehensive Survey, Vol. II: Biographical Catalog.  Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1995, 865.

[3] In the 1944 edition of the Harvard Dictionary of Music the entry on ORGAN was written by G. Donald Harrison and included a suggested stoplist.

[4] William E. Zeuch, Vice-President of Aeolian-Skinner and organist ofFirstChurch (Unitarian) inBoston.

[5] For an account of CDW’s wartime activities see Kathryn A. Higgins, “Interviews with Charles Dodsley Walker,”  The American Organist, October 2009.

[6] Walter Piston, Harmony. New York: Norton, 1941, 4th ed. 1978.

[7] André Gédalge (1856-1926), Traité de la Fugue, 1904.

Neal Campbell holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Manhattan School of Music, is a former member of the AGO National Council, and is the Director of Music and Organist of Saint Luke’s Parish, Darien, Connecticut.





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