One of my most enjoyable volunteer jobs was that of newsletter editor for the New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists from 2009-2015. Beginning with my first issue each month included a page titled “Members from the Past” where I placed an archival image of a NYC organist and asked the membership to identify it. The following month I would list the names of the members who correctly identified the mystery member, together with brief identifying commentary. I tried to include a balance of living and deceased persons. Occasionally I also included Members from the Past in tandem with notifications of chapter programs featuring the mystery member, or birthday commemorations, or some other AGO newsworthy item.
Included here are only New York organists who have died, and in some cases I suspect their inclusion may, in fact, be their only presence on the internet and its related search engines.
These are not meant to be definitive encyclopedia types of entries. In some instances exact dates of birth and death are not known. Rather, they are thumbnail sketches and reminescences for the edification and amusement of our member readers. However, each entry was proof read by several of our chapter editorial board, and is accurate so far as our collective memories can ascertain. In a couple of instances entries are written by chapter members other than myself in which case the author is clearly identified.
One of the hoped for benefits of this enterprise has been commentary and questions from within and without our organization, and these sketchs have been edited to include commentary from our members and others, and I would welcome similar commentary here, whether in the form of additional information, clarification, or (I hope not too often) correction. Complete issues of the newsletters are archived at http://www.nycago.org/html/newsletter.html
The photo of Jack Ossewaarde at the console of the organ in Calvary Church was scanned from the March 1951 issue of The Diapason together with an article about a program at Calvary Church featuring the music of Henry Wellington Greatorex, a 19th century organist of Calvary. Jack went to Calvary in 1948 (following Harold Friedell when HF went to St. Bartholomew’s) and he stayed there until he left for Houston in 1953 to be Organist and Choirmaster of Christ Church Cathedral and organist and program annotator of the Houston Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stowkowski.
When Friedell died in 1958, the Rev. Terence J. Finlay, Rector of St. Bartholomew’s, called Ossewaarde to succeed Friedell again, and he stayed at St. Bartholomew’s for 24 years until he retired in 1982. He lived in Stamford, Conn., and was the conductor of the Greenwich Choral Society for several years early in his New York tenure. In his retirement he substituted for several local churches, including Christ’s Church in Rye, New York, and Saint Luke’s Parish in Darien, Conn., and assisted senior citizens in the preparation of their income tax returns.
The photo appeared in the June 1932 issue of The Diapason together with an article describing the music program and new organ at Church of the Ascension where she was Organist and Music Director.
Jessie Craig Adam succeeded Richard Henry Warren at Ascension in 1914 and was followed by Vernon de Tar in 1939. She was one of several women who held prominent positions in New York churches during the first half of the 20th century. She was responsible for a large program that included weekly oratorios and the installation of the sizable Skinner Organ, portions of which remain in the present Holtkamp organ.
Robert S. Baker (1916-2005)
The photo was taken in 1939 on a Hammond organ at Interlochen summer music camp in Michigan. Dr. Baker was a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University and earned Master’s and Doctor’s degrees from the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary, studying with Clarence Dickinson. He was at various times organist of the First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, Temple Emanu-El in New York, and First Presbyterian Church in New York. He was the founding Director, in 1973, of the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University. Prior to that he was the Dean of the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary from 1961-73. He was an early proponent of the Hammond organ and wrote his Master’s thesis at Union in 1940 on its evolution and technical properties.
Dr. Coke-Jephcott was born in England, and won the Turpin Prize when he gained the F.R.C.O. in 1911. He also held F.A.G.O., F.R.C.C.O., and F.T.C.L. diplomas, and was awarded an honorary D.Mus. from Ripon College in 1945.
He came to the United States in 1911 to be the organist of the Church of the Holy Cross in Kingston, New York, leaving there in 1915 to take up a position at Church of the Messiah in Rhinebeck. He served there until he became organist of Grace Church in Utica in 1923, staying there until he was called to New York to be Organist and Master of the Choristers at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in 1932. He retired from the cathedral in 1953, but stayed in New York, teaching privately and playing at St. Philip’s Church in Harlem. For many years he was on the National Examinations Committee of the AGO.
This photo was taken in the late 1950s at Coke-Jephcott’s home “Blue Gates” in upstate New York by the late Charles Hizette, a pupil of “Cokey” and is provided through the courtesy of Earle Grover.
Roberta Bitgood (1908–2007)
The photograph appeared in the June 1932 issue of The Diapason announcing her new position at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Miss Bitgood graduated from Connecticut College where she studied with J. Lawrence Erb before coming to New York to study at the Guilmant Organ School as a student of William C. Carl. She earned the A.A.G.O. and F.A.G.O. certificates while a student at the Guilmant School. Later, she earned the S.M.M. and S.M.D. degrees at Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music. While in New York she assisted Dr. Carl at First Presbyterian Church in New York directing the junior choir and the mixed glee club and playing for the Sunday School and weekday noon hour services. Later she was the director of music at First Moravian Church in New York where she was introduced to the musical heritage of that denomination and ultimately wrote her UTS thesis on Moravian Music.
After leaving the metropolitan area Dr. Bitgood held positions in Buffalo, New York; Riverside, California; and Bay City, Michigan, and traveled extensively on behalf of the Guild in various positions she held. In 1975 Roberta Bitgood made AGO history as the first woman and the first write-in candidate to be elected president. She was a prolific composer and her anthems and solos are still well represented in the repertorie of churches around the coutnry.
In her “retirement” Roberta moved home to Connecticut and served as dean of the New London County AGO Chapter and as organist and choir director of the Waterford United Presbyterian Church.
Andrew Tietjen (1910-1953)
Tietjen was a legendary organist and choirmaster in his own time who died prematurely young from complications of a misdiagnosed disease contracted while serving in World War II. At the time of his death he was the associate organist of Trinity Church Wall Street, and was the founding director of the Trinity Choir of St. Paul’s Chapel, a choir formed in 1947 specifically for weekly Sunday broadcasts on CBS from St. Paul’s Chapel. Before World War II he played a series of Sunday morning organ recitals broadcast weekly on CBS from Chapel of the Intercession for which he was selected from among several organists, including E. Power Biggs, who auditioned for the job. Young Andrew began his career as a choirboy and pupil of T. Tertius Noble at St. Thomas Church and Choir School, where he assumed the duties of assistant organist at the age of 15, and was playing preludes, postludes, and weddings before that. He was generally considered one of Noble’s most brilliant pupils, together with Paul Callaway and Grover Oberle. Tietjen later went on to serve at St. Thomas Chapel (now All Saints Church), All Angels Church, Chapel of the Intercession, and Trinity Church-St. Paul’s Chapel. At Trinity-St. Paul’s he played four recitals weekly–two at Trinity and two at St Paul’s, in addition to the weekly broadcast. As was common at the time, he held no academic degrees, but earned the FAGO and FTCL certificates. He studied at Trinty School and Columbia University, where Daniel Gregory Mason arranged for him to audit his classes.
Remembered only by a few today, Charlotte Garden was one of America’s most famous recitalists and teachers in the 1950s and ’60s. As a teacher at the Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music she had a huge impact on students. In his “Dear Diary” article in the May 2010 issue of The Diapason Charles Huddleston Heaton tells of his pligrimages to her church, Crescent Avenue Presbyterian in Plainfield, N. J., a church of cathedral proportions and an organ to match. The photo above, which was scanned from the 1956 NYC AGO National Convention booklet, shows Dr. Garden at the console of the church’s Richard Whitelegg/M. P. Moller organ.
At her recital in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for the 1956 convention she played the first performance of Alec Wyton’s Fanfare for the State Trumpet which was written for the occasion. The work was later published by H. W. Gray and titled simply Fanfare and is inscribed “To G. Donald Harrison, who created the State Trumpet.” GDH later said that it was the only piece ever dedicated to him.
At the age of 53 Charlotte Garden died in an automobile accident on May 19, 1961. She was a passenger in the car driven by the tenor soloist of her church who survived. They were en route to a concert at the Bethlehem Bach Festival. Robert Baker played for her funeral at Crescent Avenue where she had been organist for over 30 years.
Born Charlotte Mathewson in Hartford, she spent her youth in North Carolina, where she became a church organist at age 11, and Richmond, Virginia (where her sister Mary Ann Gray is still alive and playing for church) . She was a graduate of Salem College and Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music where she studied with Clarence Dickinson. She also studied with Widor in Paris and Ramin in Leipzig. She held an honorary doctorate from the College of the Ozarks. She was the first woman admitted to the Bernard LaBerge management, and she concertized and taught extensively. As a composer and arranger many of her works were widely used at the time. She was also a consultant for the new organ at Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center.
James Morris Helfenstein (1865-1953)
Organist and Master of the Choir of Grace Church from 1894-1922, Helfenstein was the founder of the church’s Choir of Men and Boys and was the founding Headmaster of the Grace Church Choir School. This was the first choir school in New York and was the prototype for those established later at St. Thomas Church and the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.
Helfenstein had an unlikely background for a church musician. A member of a prominent New York family which descended from Gouverneur Morris (one of the foremost statesmen of the American Revolution who was also in the Continental Congress and Minister to France) he graduated from Yale and Columbia University Law School and held a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. But he was always passionate about church music and frequently traveled to England to observe cathedral and academic choirs there. He came to Grace Church having previously established a similar choir at All Angels Church.
In 1922 in a serious dispute with a member of the vestry of Grace Church over the running of the choir school, he resigned suddenly, and subsequently became Organist and Choirmaster of the Church of the Heavenly Rest.
The NYC Chapter’s annual Presidents’ Day Conference in February 2011, held at St. Bartholomew’s Church, was titled “The Grand Old Men” and it consisted of presentations on the lives and music of Clarence Dickinson, Harold Friedell, Seth Bingham, and T. Tertius Noble, each prominent New York organists and composers in the first half of the 20th Century. In the months leading up to the conference, as a way of promotion, I ran photos and very brief commentary on each of them, leaving substantive information for the individual presentations on Presidents’ Day.
Clarence Dickinson ( 1873- 1969)
Of course we know Dickinson as one of the founding members of the AGO, the founder of the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary, and the organist of the Brick Church for over fifty years. The photo at right is from 1920, scanned from The American Organist. Dickinson’s life and music was discussed by Lorenz Maycher and his comprehensive handout containing several historic photographs is available at the link below: http://www.nycago.org/pdf/110221_Dickinson_Maycher.pdf
The photograph shows HF in his early 20s from a newspaper notice of an upcoming recital at the First Methodist Church in Jamaica, Queens, his family church where he was organist in his teens. My handout, consisting of a biographical time line, bibliography and sources, discography, and catalog of Friedell’s complete works may be found at the link below, and my article written on the occasion of HF’s 100th anniversary is contained elsewhere on this site: http://www.nycago.org/pdf/110221_Friedell_Campbell.pdf
Bingham was the organist of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church and he taught at Columbia University. Christopher Marks’talk focused solely on the organ works of Seth Bingham, and his handout, which included not only a complete list of Bingham’s organ works, but the persons to whom each work is dedicated, provides a snapshot into the lines of continuity in the organ community of the day. It may be found at the link below: http://www.nycago.org/pdf/110221_Bingham_Marks.pdf
The final of the four grand old men to be discussed was T. Tertius Noble, the founder of the St. Thomas Choir School, and organist of St. Thomas Church. It was led by John Scott, Dr. Noble’s successor three times removed. John’s talk was based primarily on Noble’s unpublished autiobiography contained in the AGO Organ Library at Boston University http://www.organlibrary.org/ However, from the archives of St. Thomas Church, Dr. Scott unearthed several fascinating letters to and from Noble from some of the leading figures in church music of the day from his native England. The ones used for the lecture may be found at the link below: http://www.nycago.org/pdf/110221_Noble_Scott.pdf
The Presidents’ Day Conference concluded with Evensong sung by the Choir of St. Bartholomew’s Church directed by William Trafka, accompanied by Paolo Bordignon, featuring the music of these four New York organist-composers.
Rollin Smith, one of the chapter members who correctly identified Miss Carpenter provided the following biographical sketch:
Lilian Carpenter was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 10, 1889. Coming to New York, she studied with Gaston Dethier at the Institute of Musical Art and was the first to graduate with an artist diploma in organ. She was his assistant, teaching organ and piano at the Institute for 30 years; the school eventually became the Juilliard School and once Vernon de Tar got in as organ teacher by default (both David McK. Williams and E. Power Biggs were hired but never showed up), he eased her out.
Lilian Carpenter was the first woman to earn the F.A.G.O. diploma and was always active in the Guild, including serving as national treasurer. She was organist of the Church of the Comforter-Reformed; Flatbush Presbyterian; and Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn and, at the time of her death, Edgehill Church in Riverdale. She died on February 21, 1973.
Hyde was the organist of St. Bartholomew’s Church from 1908-1920, studied with Widor in Paris, and came to St. Bartholomew’s from Emmanuel Church in Boston where he served with the Rev. Leighton Parks, before Parks was called to St. Bartholomew’s. It was Parks who, upon assuming the Rectorship of St. Bartholomew’s, went to England looking for an organist, someone not too British as legend has it. It’s never been fully explained why Parks was looking in England if he didn’t want someone too British! But he found what he was looking for in Leopold Stokowski who came to America as the organist of St. Bartholomew’s from 1905-08. Following Stokowski’s brief and colorful tenure, it seems Dr. Parks looked to someone familiar in calling his old Boston organist to join him in New York.
Hyde was greatly loved by the choir and congregation. He volunteered for service in World War I, but when he returned he never fully recovered from the strain and injuries he sustained, and his death in 1920 was lamented by all. A concert was given in his memory, the proceeds of which were used to install chimes in the organ. A large tablet above the lectern reads:
The Chimes in this Organ
Are the Gift of the Choir
In Memory of Arthur Sewall Hyde
Organist and Choirmaster 1908 – 1920
Artist Soldier Christian
M. Searle Wright
Within hours of posting Searle Wright’s photographas the Member from the Past, many chapter members correctly identified this icon of our profession. This early photo of Wright is courtesy of Andrew Kotylo, associate organist of Trinity-on-the-Green in New Haven, who has researched the life and works of Searle Wright for his Doctor of Music dissertation at Indiana University and he provided the following synopsis:
Searle Wright (1918-2004) was Director of Chapel Music at St. Paul’s Chapel, Columbia University from 1952 until 1971. Wright’s residency in New York began in 1936 when he became a “resident pupil” of T. Tertius Noble at St. Thomas Church. Almost instantly, he began a close connection with the local AGO, first through the now-defunct Headquarters Chapter and then as a founding member of the New York City Chapter in 1951. One might be hard-pressed to find someone who contributed as much in serving the Guild as Wright did during his New York years. As a member of the National Council, he held tenures as Secretary, Librarian, and finally as President; served on countless committees and panels; and co-originated the National Playing Competition and encouraged the development of the Improvisation Competition.
The festival concerts that Wright conducted at St. Paul’s Chapel were truly legendary. Three times each year, he would present comprehensive programs featuring the latest choral and instrumental works of Vaughan Williams, Holst, Dello Joio, and others–several of which were American, if not world premieres. Wright’s international renown was also spread through his fine sacred choral and organ compositions, his long tenure as a teacher of improvisation and composition at Union Seminary, and his uncanny versatility as an organist which earned him equal respect from his theatre and classical organist colleagues–and also enabled him to build bridges of understanding between these two camps who had formerly looked upon each other with disdain. In spite of his wide-ranging successes, Wright forever remained the epitome of kindness and humility, and with his refined wit and manner of dress, was a class act and true gentleman.
Philip James (1890-1975)
James was born in Jersey City, N. J., and was educated in New York public schools and at the College of the City of New York. His teachers include J. Warren Andrews, Alexandre Guilmant and Joseph Bonnet in organ and Rubin Goldmark and Rosario Scalero in composition. He was the organist for several churches in New York and New Jersey (St. John’s Jersey City: St. Luke’s Montclair; St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowerie. NYC) but he is primarily remembered as a composer, conductor, and teacher at Columbia University and New York University, where he was head of the music department. He appeared as guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, and the NBC and CBS orchestras. He was the music director of radio station WOR, and was the regular conductor of the New Jersey Orchestra, Brooklyn Orchestral Society, and was the music director of theatrical productions by Winthrop Ames and Victor Herbert. In 1932 he won the $5,000 First Prize of the National Broadcasting Orchestral Awards for Station WGZBX, an orchestral suite, which was performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic, and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski. The following year he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He was also a member of the Century Association and the MacDowell Colony. His anthem By the waters of Babylon, a dramatic setting of Psalm 137 was at one time de rigeur in the repertoire of most church choirs and it was recorded and performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. On May 17, 1970, the Church of St. Mary the Virgin marked the occasion of his 80th birthday with a recital of his works played by Rollin Smith and the choir sang his Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, Come Holy Spirit, and O Saving Victim at Evensong and Benediction directed by James Palsgrove with McNeil Robinson as organist.
Marie Schumacher was a student and disciple of Ernest White whom she also assisted during his celebrated tenure at the Church of St Mary the Virgin. She later married the Rev. Frederick William Blatz (1910-1962), an Episcopal clergyman, and served at St. Paul’s Church in Westfield, New Jersey, and at churches in upstate New York and Washington, D. C., where she oversaw the installation of organs designed by Ernest White in his unique style. She also studied with Virgil Fox at the Peabody Conservatory.
The photo at the right was published in March 1949 issue of T. Scott Buhrman’s The American Organist (no relation to the present AGO magazine of the same name) with a caption in his inimitable curmudgeonly style:
“Marie Schumacher, whose ability, not to mention also courage, has placed her on the organbench of that highest of high churches in spite of the unwritten ecclesiastical law that tries to exclude women from these holy precincts–and she holds her own with the best of them all.”
David McK. Williams (1887-1978)
David McKinley Williams was born in Wales he came to Denver at an early age and was trained as a chorister by Henry Housley at the Cathedral of St. John in the Wilderness. At age 13 he became organsit and choirmaster of St. Peter’s Church in Denver. In 1908 he came to New York as organist of Grace Church Chapel and studied with Clement Gale. He spent the years from 1911 to 1914 in Paris where he studied with Vierne, D’Indy, and Widor. Returning to New York, he was at the Church of the Holy Communion from 1914 to 1916, when he joined the Canadian Artillery and saw service overseas. In 1920 he returned to Church of the Holy Communion, leaving six months later to become organist and choirmaster of St. Bartholomew’s Church upon the death of Arthur Hyde. There, for the next twenty-seven years, he developed an already outstanding program into one of tremendous popularity and superlative influence. Inspired by the organ in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, it was his vision that led to the placing of the Celestial Organ in the new dome of St. Bartholomew’s Church in 1930 and by all accounts he was very creative in his service playing and accompanying. He was precise and demanding of his choir and was vivid and dramatic in his music and in his speaking. Virgil Fox was a great admirer of David McK. Williams and quotes him at some length in his 1968 masterclasses, recordings of which are extant and may be found at http://www.virgilfoxlegacy.com/masterclass.html In fact, much of Fox’s own theatrics are the result of his infatuation with DMcKW, including his wearing of a cape! After his retirement from St. Bartholomew’s he traveled widely and maintained many friendships throughout the country with students, colleagues, and others, including James Michener, with whom he traveled to the South Pacific.
He died in 1978 and is buried in the crypt of St. Bartholomew’s Church.
Pietro Yon (1886-1943)
Yon was born in Italy and studied at the Royal Conservatory in Milan, the Conservatory in Turin, and graduated from the Academy of St Cecilia in Rome. Before coming to America he was an assistant organist of the Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City. He was organist of St. Francis Xavier in New York from 1907-19, and again from 1921-26, before assuming his position at St. Patrick’s Cathedral where he remained until his death in 1943. He was also an honorary organist of St. Peter’s at the Vatican.
Chapter member Craig Whitney, author of All The Stops: The Glorious Pipe Organ And Its American Masters, and former managing editor of The New York Times, correctly identified this entry and provided the following sketch of Miss Bailey’s very interesting life and career:
After graduating from the University of Minnesota where she studied music and journalism-advertising, Roberta Bailey came to New York in September of 1949 as assistant to Virgil Fox at Riverside Church. Besides playing the organ (then a Hook & Hastings that Fox wanted to replace) her duties included climbing into the organ chamber to pull out ciphering pipes and chauffeuring Virgil around in his white Cadillac convertible, and in 1951 she became his concert manager. She found him demanding, and “selfish,” but in a class of his own. In 1955, thanks to continuing ciphers and to the generosity of John D. Rockefeller Jr., Aeolian-Skinner completed installation of the new organ.
In 1956 the AGO National Convention was to be in New York and Virgil Fox and Robert Baker were the co-chairs of the convention. Roberta Bailey was the convention manager, and she had Fox play the American premiere of Durufle’s Suite, op. 5, dedicating the performance to the memory of G. Donald Harrison, who had died two weeks earlier.
Soon after the convention, she met and fell in love with Richard F. Johnson, a businessman who was also an organist in Westborough, Massachusetts, and after they were married she moved there and had three children. Roberta Bailey Concert Management tried to carry on as Fox’s concert manager from Massachusetts, but in 1963 Fox replaced Bailey with Richard Torrence, who had become his personal secretary.
Her concert management business continued successfully, with Pierre Cochereau and Karl Richter among her famous clients, but in 1973, when Fox was trying to acquire the Hammond Castle Museum in Gloucester, Mass., she and Johnson decided to help him raise money and convince local authorities and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Boston, which owned the museum, to let him buy it. When they did, in 1975, she and Johnson served as directors of the Hammond Castle Museum and of the Virgil Fox Center for the Performing Arts he established there. His ambitions to enlarge the organ that the inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. had installed in the castle, and to broaden the cultural ambitions of the museum produced immediate financial disaster, and Fox forced Bailey and Johnson to resign after only a few months.
Roberta Bailey Johnson died in 1996, before she could complete a planned autobiography. Richard Johnson died in 2001.
Ernest Mitchell (1890-1966)
Mitchell was the organist and choirmaster of Grace Church in New York from 1922-1960. The photograph of Mitchell at right was cropped from a choir photo taken in 1934. Many organists “of a certain age” however will likely have seen the photo of him below which appeared in several 1950s-60s era editions of the World Book Encyclopedia with the entry on ORGAN. The curious caption no doubt refers to Mitchell’s very precise instructions for the console of the new 1928 Skinner organ in Grace Church. It was lavish in its appointments and controls, was very compact and low for so large an organ and was the prototype for the even larger 1948 console Aeolian-Skinner built for The Riverside Church. The console is on display in the music office of Grace Church.
Mitchell was a legend in his own day. He came to Grace Church from Trinity Church in Boston and he knew many of the leading organists in Europe and often played the first American performances of their works as voluntaries and recital pieces at Grace Church. Both Tournemire and Vierne dedicated works to him. In a letter to me dated 14 June 2002 Jack Ossewaarde said “David McK. Williams said that he [Mitchell] was the most brilliant of the organists in New York during his [1920-46] heyday.”
Several members incorrectly identified this mystery member as Clarence Dickinson, and the resemblance is remarkable. Dickinson, in an early photograph, was the mystery member in the October 2010 issue. For comparison photographs of Dickinson in his later years, see Lorenz Maycher’s comprehensive handouts from his 2011 Presidents’ Day presentation.
However, Warner Hawkins was the correct identification, and the photo at right was taken from his obituary notice in the April 1960 issue of The Diapason.
Hawkins was National Warden of the AGO, as the office was then known, from 1941-43. The name was later changed to President. He was a student of Gaston Dethier at Juilliard, on whose staff he served for ten years before becoming head of the music department at the College of New Rochelle, New York. He later became associate director of the New York College of Music and was organist of Christ Church (Methodist) for twenty years. His funeral was held at Christ Church and its pastor and one time national chaplain to the AGO, Dr. Ralph Sockman, presided.
Claire Coci (1912-1978)
Haig Mardirosian, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Tampa, writes the following about Miss Coci:
Claire Coci was one of those organists who enjoyed a larger-than-life presence in the profession through the 1950’s Although a recitalist since the late 1930’s, her career advanced the most rapidly after marrying Bernard LaBerge, the impresario and manager who died in the early 1950’s (his secretary, Lillian Murtagh took over the business which continues today as Karen McFarlane Concert Artists). Coci remarried in the later 1950’s and shortly thereafter moved to Tenafly, NJ where she established her own music school, the American Academy of Music in an old Victorian house on Magnolia Avenue.
Mainly a recitalist, Coci was a product of the virtuoso tradition and studied with Charles Courboin and Marcel Dupré. While she was best remembered for her virtuoso accouterments, colorful costume, and a Plexiglass organ bench, Coci also invested much effort in playing the works of contemporary composers. She had, however, a performer’s ego. Like Virgil Fox, she called herself “Dr.” after receiving an honorary degree. She also hesitated little in making particular claims of prominence. She greeted a young auditioning student in 1960 in Tenafly by springing to her feet from her desk (on which she had previously planted her feet while on a phone call) in front of a map with pins marking all of her recital destinations and saying “you are now looking at the world’s greatest woman organist!”
Despite this, Coci was not an elitist. She took advantage of all playing and teaching opportunities from the greatest of venues in Europe and the US to an appearance at the local high school in her town of Tenafly with the community orchestra in a Haydn concerto on a small Allen organ.
Edward Linzel (1925-2010)
Kyle Babin, a former member of our chapter who is the organist of Grace Church in Alexandria, Va., and who wrote his doctoral dissertation at Manhattan School of Music on the history and music of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, writes the following:
Edward Linzel was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on September 14, 1925. From an early age, he showed a vested interest in music, especially the organ. While a student at Westminster Choir College in 1945, he first met Ernest White at a recital played by White at Princeton University Chapel. He subsequently moved to New York City to study privately with White while he was Director of Music at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. Linzel also studied with White later at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Through his connection with Ernest White, Linzel immersed himself in the vibrant music scene at St. Mary’s. In this milieu, he was among several other talented students of White, including Albert Fuller, Marie Schumacher, and Edgar Hilliar. These students, including Linzel, performed in frequent recitals in White’s Studio in the St. Mary’s Parish House.
Linzel also performed as a recitalist in venues across the country, and as a true disciple of Ernest White, he relished in presenting modern organ works, many of which were by Olivier Messiaen. Linzel also substituted for White as an organ teacher at Union Theological Seminary. In October of 1958, Linzel succeeded White as Director of Music at St. Mary’s, and he moved into the Parish House apartment where White had previously resided. One of his notable achievements in this time was his continuation of music publishing under the auspices of “St. Mary’s Press.” Linzel also adapted the chant propers of the Mass into English versions that were far superior to the rather antiquated ones found in the English Gradual. In 1962, Linzel left St. Mary’s and continued to hold a number of church jobs in other cities. At the end of his life, he lived in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, and in his last days, he lived with his son in the Dallas area, where he died of a heart-related illness on January 19, 2010.
Edouard Nies-Berger (1904-2002)
Edouard Nies-Berger, sometime organist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and protegé of and collaborator with Albert Schweitzer, was born in Strasbourg in 1903 when that region was still part of the German empire. At 15 he saw the French army reclaim the city and the surrounding provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. In 1922 he came to New York at the age of 19 and remained in the United States professionally for the rest of his life, although he maintained an apartment in Colmar.He played in various churches and synagogues in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. During his Los Angeles years he found work in the movie studios and recorded the organ music for “The Bride of Frankenstein” and “Border Town.” “They had me play Bach’s great Toccata in D minor while Karloff carried Elsa Lancaster to her execution” Nies-Berger told an interviewer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1991. “It was not my proudest moment artistically.”
Nies-Berger aspired to be a conductor, so in 1937 he left the United States for Salzburg where he studied with Bruno Walter and Rudolf Baumgartner. He was preparing for his European conducting debut when the Nazis took over Salzburg. He moved to Riga, Latvia, and from there to Brussels conducting opera and summer concerts. Shortly after Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Nies-Berger caught the last boat out of Rotterdam and returned to New York.
He kept his conducting dream alive for a few years in New York where he founded an orchestra comprised mainly of freelance musicians. These concerts were characterized by progressive programming, often featuring Nies-Berger conducting works for organ and orchestra from the console in Town Hall. He earned the respect of Olin Downes writing in the New York Times. T. Scott Buhrman, writing in The American Organist (no relation to the present day journal of the same name), was particularly effusive in his praise of Nies-Berger’s offerings. “But after renting the halls and paying the stagehands and hiring the musicians, there was no money left. I had married and had a son. It was time to be a responsible father” Nies-Berger acknowledged in the aforementioned interview. In 1940 he moved to Richmond, Virginia, and to relative stability as the organist of Centenary Methodist Church. Attempts to start a symphony orchestra in Richmond had recently failed, and Nies-Berger was frustrated in his attempts to organize musical groups in the city. After only two years, he again returned to New York and began what turned out to be the most fruitful years of his career.
Artur Rodzinski, the new conductor of the New York Philharmonic, tapped Nies-Berger to be the orchestra’s organist, a position he held for several years playing and recording under such conductors as Walter, Szell, Reiner, Stokowski, and a young Leonard Bernstein.
Albert Schweitzer was a family friend when Edouard was growing up in Strasbourg. His father and Schweitzer had been students together at Strasbourg University where they were each disciples of Professor Ernst Munch, leader of the Bach circle, and father of the conductor Charles Munch. By the time Edouard moved to New York in 1942 , Schweitzer was established in his missionary work in Africa. However, Schweitzer made a trip to the United States in 1949 where he and Nies-Berger were reunited. “To meet Schweitzer again after so many years was a wonderful event for me” Nies-Berger recalled.
Their rekindled friendship culminated in a project that cemented Nies-Berger’s and Schweitzer’s association. Schweitzer had collaborated with Widor in a new edition of Bach’s organ works, the first five volumes of which were published by Schirmer before Widor died and before the outbreak of World War II interrupted the project. Schweitzer asked Nies-Berger to be his collaborator in the remaining three volumes which contained the chorale preludes.
“For the next six years, three or four months each summer, I went to Alsace or Africa to work with Schweitzer. He made a little time every day for Bach. It wasn’t easy–he’d won the [Nobel] Peace Prize already, and everybody in the world was after him for one thing or another. He was too kind to say no. To work with Schweitzer was almost like working with Bach. To know him at such close range was the great spiritual experience of my life. I have never thought the same, or made music the same way, after Schweitzer” said Nies-Berger. By the time the project was finished in the 1960s, Schirmer’s Widor-Schweitzer / Nies-Berger edition of Bach’s organ works represented the most current scholarship and was widely used by students and performers.
The demands of professional life in New York became more pressing and Nies-Berger left New York for the last time, as he moved again to Richmond to be the organist and choirmaster of St. Paul’s Church, where he served from 1960 until he retired in 1968. He continued to live in Richmond (and in Colmar) until his death in 2002.
Much of his retirement time was spent writing treatises on music and philosophy, as well as a memoir about his time with Schweitzer. After multiple rejections from American publishers the memoir (written in English, which by now Nies-Berger considered his primary language) was published in 1995 in a French translation titled Albert Schweitzer m’a dit as part of a series Memoire d’Alsace by the small French firm Editions La Nuee Bleue. Rollin Smith has since prepared an English translation published by Pendragon Press. Nies-Berger was also a composer with several published compositions to his credit, one of which, Resurrection: An Easter Fantasy, is still in print in an anthology published by H. W. Gray.
William Strickland (1914-1991)
Strickland was a major player in the musical world of New York in
the first half of the 20th century, and not just within organists’ circles. But it was as an organist that he got his start, first as a chorister at the Cathedral
of St. John the Divine, and later as the organist of Christ Church, Bronxville, and Calvary Church in New York.
He would likely have succeeded David McK. Williams at St. Bartholomew’s Church were it not for the fact that in 1946 he was engaged to be the founding music director of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, serving there from 1946-51. In Nashville he was known for his imaginative programing which often featured new music by living composers. He steadily improved the professionalism of the group and laid the foundation for the work of some of his better-known successors such as Thor Johnson, Kenneth Schermerhorn, and Leonard Slatkin.
Returning to New York after his tenure in Nashville, he was for a time the conductor of the Oratorio Society of New York. Working with the State Department, he conducted concerts of American music in Europe and the Far East. In 1955 he conducted the inaugural concert in a fund-raising series to preserve Carnegie Hall, and in 1956 he conducted a program for the AGO National Convention in New York. The photo at right is from the program booklet.
Always passionate about contemporary music he edited an anthology of works for organ by composers who aren’t generally associated as writers for the organ, such as Krenek, Milhaud, Copland, and Harris which was published by H. W. Gray and is still in print.
Paul J. Sifler (1911-2001)
Several members incorrectly identified this Member from the Past as John Grady, and the resemblance is obvious to those who knew John. However, Paul J. Sifler is the correct identity.
Sifler, a naturalized American citizen of Yugoslavian birth, was a prolific composer of organ and choral works, of which his Agony and Despair of Dachau published by H. W. Gray in 1975 was probably his best-known among organists. He studied organ and composition at the Chicago Conservatory where his principal teacher was Leo Sowerby. He also studied with Claire Coci in New York.
Although not immediately identified with New York, Sifler held positions in churches and synagogues in Mt. Vernon, Kew Gardens, and Brooklyn before moving to California, where he held positions at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hollywood, and St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Los Angeles.
The photo at right appeared in the March 1951 issue of The Diapason announcing his appointment as organist and director of the Canterbury Choir at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
Kevin Walters, organist of Rye Presbyterian Church and Congregation Emanu-El also in Rye, and a former student of Ragan, wrote a memorial tribute which appeared in the April 1996 issue of The Diapason, from which the following is taken:
E. Bronson Ragan served the Church of the Holy Trinity on East 88th Street, the historic Rhinelander Church, from 1946-1971. He died suddenly at the age of 56, within a few months of completing twenty-five years as organist and choirmaster. A native of Rome, New York, Ragan graduated from the Institute of Musical Art (predecessor of The Juilliard School) with the artists’ diploma in piano and organ. His principal teachers were Gaston Dethier and David McK. Williams. In 1938 he was appointed to the theory faculties of both the Institute and Juilliard Graduate School, as it was then known. After service in the U. S. Army during World War II, he returned to New York and to the reorganized Juilliard School where he joined his longtime friend and colleague Vernon de Tar on the organ faculty. He remained until 1969 when he left Juilliard to become chairman of the new organ department of the Manhattan School of Music where he was already a member of the theory faculty. He also taught at Pius X School of Liturgical Music and The Guilmant Organ School from the early 1950s.
Of all his many professional activities apart from the Church of the Holy Trinity, Ragan would surely have said that the most important was his involvement in the examination program of the AGO to which he was passionately committed. He served several terms as a member of the examination committee and the national board of examiners, working to encourage thorough preparation on the part of candidates and to uphold uncompromisingly high standards on the part of examiners. All his students were expected to attend to the applied disciplines of transposition, harmonization, and score reading as diligently as to the learning of the organ repertoire. Where the latter was concerned, Ragan had a very definite preference: the music of J. S. Bach reigned supreme. Any organ music preceding Bach was derisively referred to as “pre-music” and, with the exception of Franck, he was largely unsympathetic toward much 19th and 20th century French music. Through his love of sixteenth-century counterpoint and vast knowledge of its diverse stylistic applications, he was able to communicate a considerable appreciation and understanding of this subject. His own playing was a model of rhythmic and technical precision and his improvisational abilities were phenomenal–he could extemporize a four-voice fugue on a given subject in virtually any style, but adamantly maintained that improvisational skills were largely “unteachable.”
In his last few years at Holy Trinity, the Skinner organ was diagnosed as “terminal and inoperable.” The church did not have adequate funds to repair or replace it, so Ragan reluctantly agreed to the purchase of a large electronic instrument. At about the same time, Holy Trinity found itself unable to maintain a fully professional choir. Rather than establishing a volunteer choir, Ragan proposed the rather startling idea (for that time) of calling upon his many colleagues and students to introduce instrumental music of all types into regular church services–everything from wind ensembles to a solo violoncello with all the repertory possibilities they brought with them. The result was more successful than had been imagined, and first-class instrumentalists were eager to play in the church with its excellent acoustics. His enthusiasm for this different approach to church music made many of us aware of new possibilities for repertoire and instrumental combinations with the organ.
Anne Versteeg McKittrick
Paul Richard Olson, organist of Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights, provided the following:
Anne Versteeg McKittrick, FAGO, FTCL, served as Organist and Choirmaster for 38 years at Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights, from 1939-1976. Mrs. McKittrick took full charge of the music program at Grace Church in 1939following the death of Frank Wright who had held the position for 43 years. She died on May 3, 1976 from complications of a heart attack. She played andconducted her last service on Easter Day, April 18, 1976. Her funeral service was held at Grace Church on May 6, 1976.
Anne McKittrick studied with Frank Wright, her predecessor, G. Darlington Richards, organist of St. James Church, NYC, and Norman Coke-Jephcott, organist of Cathedral of St. John the Divine. For many years she was very active in the work of the American Guild of Organists, serving on the Examinations Committee, the National Council, and as National Librarian-Historian. Mrs. McKittrick was known for her cheerful presence and her faithful service to the AGO.
Mrs. McKittrick’s work with the choir of men and boys brought great recognition and honor to Grace Church. She was married to Alfred Hadley Hanson, longtime member of the choir. He died in 1962. Mrs. McKittrick was succeeded by Bradley Hull.
Channing Lefebvre is best remembered among organists as being the organist and choirmaster of Trinity Wall Street from 1922-1941 and Warden (the position was changed to President in 1949) of the American Guild of Organists from 1939-41.
But his name was held in even wider renown as director of the University Glee Club of New York from 1927-1961, and as music master and school organist of St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, from 1941-61.
Following his positions in New York and Concord, he lived in Manila, Philippines, for six years and was the organist of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary and St. John in Quezon City. In April 1967 he had just arrived in New York for a visit on his way to retirement in Digby, Nova Scotia, and attended a rehearsal of the University Glee Club for an upcoming concert in Philharmonic Hall, when he died the next day of chronic cardiovascular complications while staying at the Columbia Club.
He was a native of Richmond, Va. where his musical gifts were nurtured at an early age, particularly by his great uncle, the Rt. Rev. Channing Moore Williams, the Bishop of Japan, who was visiting his home church of St. Paul’s in that city. From that time on Bp. Williams supported his young namesake as he attended first St. Paul’s Choir School in Baltimore, and then Peabody Conservatory.
After early positions at St. Stephen’s Church in Washington, and assistant organist of at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Lefebvre served during World War I in the Navy Reserve. Following that he served at St. Luke’s in Montclair, New Jersey, before being called to Trinity.
Before his long tenure with the University Glee Club, he founded the Down Town Glee Club, and served as director of the Musical Art Society of Orange, N. J., and of the Golden Hill Chorus, a group of women singers who worked in the financial district of Manhattan.
His obituary in The New York Times, dated April 22, 1967, states that he was 72 at the time of his death. It also says that “he was an inveterate pipe-smoker” and that “he used to conduct his chorus rehearsals without outbursts of temperament.”
He received an honorary doctorate from Columbia University sometime in the late 1930s at which time President Nicholas Murray Butler’s citation read in part that he was “born to love of music and early seeking a musical career; successively choirboy, organist, and now choirmaster and organist at Trinity, that ancient foundation to which this university is bound by ties that go back to its very birth.”
Candlyn was born in Cheshire, England, and educated at the University of Durham. He emigrated to the United States in 1912 and held positions as Head of the Music Department at the New York State College for Teachers in Albany, and was the Organist and Choirmaster of St. Paul’s Church, also in Albany, for 28 years.
In 1943 he succeeded T. Tertius Noble at Saint Thomas Church, New York, where he remained until 1954, at which time he became Organist and Choirmaster of Trinity Church in Roslyn, Long Island.
He is the composer of much organ and choral music which remains in print.
George Markey (1925-1999)
Many members correctly identified George Markey, who graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music where his major teacher was Alexander McCurdy. He also studied with Leo Sowerby, Dimitri Mitropoulos, and Rudolf Serkin, and held an honorary doctorate from MacPhail College.
Markey taught at Westminster Choir College and the Peabody Conservatory, and was the director of the Guilmant Organ School in New York, where it was his unfulfilled dream for the school to compete with the major conservatories in organ studies. In New York he was also the director of music and organist of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church from 1961-70. He concertized throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, India, and Japan. He lived in Maplewood, N. J., and in his later years was the organist of the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew and Holy Communion in South Orange.
The photograph above was taken at the Wanamaker Organ in 1954.
Paul Callaway (1909-1995)
So associated was Callaway with music in Washington, D. C., that it is easy to forget that he began his career in New York. The son of a Disciples of Christ clergyman from Illinois, the young Callaway found his way to New York where from 1930-1935 he was an “articled pupil”—the term he always used—of T. Tertius Noble, and was the Organist and Choirmaster of St. Thomas Chapel, now All Saints Church on East 60th Street. It is generally acknowledged that, together with Andrew Tietjen and Grover Oberle, he was among Noble’s most talented and prominent pupils.
While at St. Thomas Chapel, where the Sunday evening services were at 8:00, he regularly turned pages at Evensong for David McK. Williams at St. Bartholomew’s and assimilated much of Williams’ style in his own service playing, especially in anthem and oratorio accompaniment. Although Callaway was careful to point out that he never studied formally with David McK. Williams, he was also quick to acknowledge Williams’ great influence upon him and his playing, and the two remained good friends until Williams died in 1978. Callaway was approached about succeeding Williams at St. Bartholomew’s in 1946 and he likely would have had he not just returned to Washington Cathedral from service in World War II, where he was a bandmaster in the South Pacific.
In a conversation with me Callaway said that one day Dr. Noble came to him unexpectedly and said “I want you to do some missionary work in Grand Rapids” and with that Callaway was packed off to his new post at St. Mark’s Church in that city in 1935. This was not entirely to young Callaway’s liking, who by this time had grown to enjoy New York, but he did as he was asked, and four years later Dr. Noble was instrumental in securing his appointment at the Cathedral in Washington where he was to remain for 38 years until his retirement in 1977.
He was a major force in the fledgling musical life of Washington. He founded the Cathedral Choral Society shortly after he arrived, and in 1956 he was the founding musical director of the Washington Opera Society, now known as the Washington National Opera. He also taught organ and directed the choir at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and conducted opera in the summer at the Lake George Opera Festival in upstate New York. He was on the faculty of the College of Church Musicians, the extraordinary graduate school founded by Leo Sowerby for the training of organists and choirmasters (one of five schools on the cathedral close), which combined the rigors of conservatory study together with the master-apprentice approach afforded by its small size. During its short life the college had a tremendous influence on Episcopal church music throughout the country as its students gained appointments in large churches and cathedrals throughout the 1960s and 70s.
In addition to his many other activities he was a virtuoso organist who maintained his technique and put his vast repertoire to use in cathedral services and the recitals which followed Evensong each Sunday. While he did not tour as a recitalist, he did frequently appear locally and within the region. In 1960 he was the soloist for the premiere of Samuel Barber’s Toccata Festiva which was written to inaugurate the new Aeolian-Skinner organ in Philadelphia’s Academy of Music and was performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy.
Callaway’s musical tastes were broad and catholic. Long before the early music movement gained anything like the prominence it holds today, he performed large doses of Renaissance and Elizabethan music with the cathedral choir, both settings of the ordinary, and anthems and motets, together with the standard English cathedral repertoire of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and copious amounts of contemporary music. In 1964 for the dedication of the Gloria in excelsis Tower, the central tower over the cathedral crossing, which is the only tower in the world housing both a carillon and a ten-bell ring, he commissioned music for carillon and a variety of instruments from Samuel Barber, Lee Hoiby, Stanley Hollingsworth, Roy Hamlin Johnson, John La Montaine, Milford Myhre, Ned Rorem, and Leo Sowerby.
When he retired from Washington Cathedral he assumed the position of Director of Music at St. Paul’s K Street in Washington, the noted Anglo-Catholic parish, one of whose previous organists, Edgar Priest, was the first organist of the Cathedral. For his service to Anglo-American relations he was awarded the O.B.E. (which he said irreverently—referring to himself, we presume—stood for Old Bastard Extraordinaire).
He lived his life as hard as he worked: a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes was seldom far from reach, and when asked what drink he preferred, he said it was “gin before dinner, bourbon after.” I left Washington just before he went to St. Paul’s. When I saw him on a trip home shortly thereafter I asked him how he liked his new position, and he replied in his inimitable guttural growl “Oh yeah, I always wanted to play in one of those . . uh . . smoky places.”
His Requiem Mass, for which the Rt. Rev. James Winchester Montgomery was the celebrant, was held at the Church of the Ascension and St. Agnes in Washington, where he was a parishioner. Fr. Frederic Meisel was the preacher. Fr. Meisel was the long-time Rector of the church and a great friend of Callaway’s whom he met when he was Noble’s pupil, and young Freddie Meisel was a choirboy at St. Thomas.
Paul Smith Callaway is interred in the crypt columbarium of Washington National Cathedral, together with fellow musicians Leo Sowerby, Richard Dirksen, and Edgar Priest, cathedral architect Philip Hubert Frohman, and various bishops and clergy associated with the Cathedral.
Virgil Fox (1912-1980)
When I added Fox to the Members from the Past column I tried to find the oldest picture of him I could find in the hope of lessening the obviousness of his identity. Clearly I failed in that attempt since more members correctly identified Fox than any previous entry.
So much has been written about Fox that a detailed sketch here seems superfluous. Thirty years after his death his legacy is still widely known and discussed passionately, often with the most conviction by those born since he died!
Virgil Fox was the organist of The Riverside Church from 1946-1965, sharing his tenure with his partner Richard Weagly, who was the choir director. As they had in their previous position in Baltimore at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, Fox and Weagley set a new standard for music at Riverside, and in New York.
While in Baltimore, Fox also taught organ at the Peabody Conservatory where among his pupils were Richard Wayne Dirksen, William Watkins, Milton Hodgson, Marie Schumacher, and Helen Howell Williams.
For the Sixtieth Anniversary AGO National Convention held in New York in 1956, Fox served with Robert Baker as co-chairman of the convention, which was attended by the largest number in the Guild’s history at the time. He also was a member of the AGO national council and was one of the organsts chosen to open the new organ in Philharmonic Hall, as Avery Fisher Hall was known when it was new.
Walter Baker (1910-1988) was widely regarded as one of the leading concerts organists of his generation. He graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in 1938 where he was among the first pupils of Alexander McCurdy. Prior to that he spent some time in California as a semi-professional boxer.
While still a student at Curtis, he became the organist and choir director of the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia, founded the Oratorio Society of Philadelphia, and was added to the roster of organists who toured under the management of Bernard LaBerge.
In 1948 he left First Baptist Church and increasingly became involved in conducting in Philadelphia and New York. He was from 1948-51 assistant to Dimitri Mitropoulos for concerts by the New York Philharmonic. He also worked closely with the music department of the Wanamaker store in Philadelphia, which at that time often featured concerts with full orchestra and organ. On Good Friday 1948 he conducted what is believed to be the first televised performance of Wagner’s Parsifal with the Philadelphia Orchestra and a chorus of 300 in the Wanamaker Grand Court.
From 1949-59 he was the organist of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity in New York and taught, at various time, at Westminster Choir College, Peabody Conservatory, and the Mannes College of Music. The last years of his life were plagued with ill health and a series of strokes curtailed his activities, although he continued to play on occasion.
The photograph at right appeared in the December 1950 issue of The Diapason announcing Wyton’s appointment to Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis.
Alexander Francis Wyton, his given name, was born in London on August 3, 1921. He was a choirboy at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Northampton and his first teacher was Ralph Richardson Jones. At age twelve, after his voice changed, he held his first church position as organist of a village church. After graduating from high school he held apprentice jobs in chemistry and law before joining the Royal Signal Corps. During his military service he prepared for his F.R.C.O. examinations which he passed at age nineteen. Formal organ study included work at the Royal Academy of Music where he studied with the legendary virtuoso G. D. Cunningham. He received his B.A. from Exeter College of Oxford University in 1945. While at Oxford he was organ scholar and sub-organist of Christ Church Cathedral working under Sir Thomas Armstrong.
In 1946 Wyton was appointed organist and choirmaster of St. Matthew’s Church in Northampton where the Vicar, the Rev. Walter Hussey, had inaugurated a program of commissioning works to celebrate the parish’s patronal feast each year. Two years before Wyton arrived Britten wrote Rejoice in the Lamb for that occasion, and it was during Wyton’s first year in Northampton that Britten that wrote his only organ work, Prelude and Fugue on a Theme of Vittoria, for him.
In 1950 Alec Wyton was invited by the Bishop of Dallas to come to Texas and create a boy choir. He accomplished this in six months at what is now St. Mark’s School in Dallas. In September of that year he became the Organist and Choirmaster of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, a position he held until he came to New York in 1954 to be the Organist and Master of the Choristers and (later) Headmaster of the choir school at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.
His work flourished in his early years at the cathedral, as he maintained a rigorous schedule of daily rehearsals and services in the English cathedral tradition of his predecessors Miles Farrow and Norman Coke-Jephcott. He relinquished his duties as Headmaster in 1962. As the liturgical innovations of the 1960s gained momentum, Wyton responded in kind, furnishing the cathedral with a wide range of musical expression, commissioning works from Duke Ellington, Ned Rorem, and Benjamin Britten, as well as offering his own compositions for use in the trial liturgies which emerged prior to the new Book of Common Prayer. He also was responsible for bringing personalities such as Leopold Stokowski and the cast of “Hair” to the cathedral.
He was the president of the American Guild of Organists from 1964-1969 and was twice dean of the NYC Chapter. He also taught at various times at Union Theological Seminary, Westminster Choir College, and Manhattan School of Music.
He left St. John the Divine in 1974 to take the position at St. James’ Church on Madison Avenue, where he remained eleven years. The story has been widely told of St. James’ Rector calling Wyton asking for a recommendation to fill the vacant position and Wyton replied somethng to the effect of “would you consider an aging cathedral organist?” During his time at St. James he was the coordinator for the Episcopal Church’s Standing Committee on Church Music which produced the Hymnal 1982, the hymnal still used in the Episcopal Church.
In 1985 he moved to Ridgefield, Conn., to become the Minister of Music at St. Stephen’s Church, a church he had known since his early cathedral days when he would take choirboys annually for a day in the country at the nearby estate of a cathedral patron, which always concluded with Evensong at St. Stephen’s.
Wyton was a prolific composer of music for choir and organ, some of which is still in print. For the legendary 1956 national convention of the AGO he wrote Fanfare for the State Trumpet which was premiered by Charlotte Garden at St. John the Divine. It was later published by H. W. Gray titled simply Fanfare and is dedicated “to G. Donald Harrison who created the State Trumpet.” Harrison was known to have said that it was the only piece of music ever dedicated to him.
Alec’s funeral was held on Friday, March 23, 2007 at St. Stephen’s Church in Ridgefield, Conn., and his ashes are interred in the columbarium of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.
Lillian Clark appears in photo at right which was in the December 1952 issue of The Diapason announcing her appointment as the assistant organist of St. Bartholomew’s Church. The announcement told that in addition to assisting the then organist, Harold Friedell, Miss Clark was to be in charge of the junior choir. She held the AAGO certificate and was a member of the AGO National Council.
Attempts to find definitive dates for Miss Clark were inconclusive. Fred Swann responded saying that she was Friedell’s assistant before he was, and that he presumed that she was no longer with us, but I have not been able to confirm that. At any rate, she was one of several female organists in prominent positions in and around New York in the middle of the last century.
She began her piano studies in metropolitan New Jersey, and first studied organ with Frank Scherer at St. Luke’s Church in Montclair. Before going to St. Bartholomew’s she held several church positions in New Jersey and played recitals frequently, including appearances at the Portland (Maine) City Hall and the John Hays Hammond home (now museum) in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Harold Vincent Milligan (1888-1951) is pictured at the console of the original Hook & Hastings organ in The Riverside Church. The photograph is by the noted photographer Margaret Bourke-White, and is one of several of her photographs which appeared in the December 20, 1937 issue of Life magazine with an article about The Riverside Church.
Milligan was an organist, composer, writer, and arranger. He spent his early life in the Pacific Northwest and was from an early age the organist in churches where his father was the minister. He came to New York in 1907 to study with William C. Carl at the Guilmant Organ School. In addition to Carl, he also studied with T. Tertius Noble, Clement R. Gale, and Arthur E. Johnstone.
After one year as organist of the First Presbyterian Church in Orange, New Jersey, he worked for five years at Rutgers Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and two years at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. In 1915 he was appointed organist at the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, remaining with the church throughout the era when it moved several times, culminating in the building of a new church in Morningside Heights renamed The Riverside Church. He held this position until 1940.
From 1929-1932 he served as the president of the National Association of Organists, which later was folded into the American Guild of Organists, and was the secretary of the AGO from 1926-1951. For many years Milligan wrote articles and reviews for The Diapason and The New Music Review, and was a columnist for The American Organist and Woman’s Home Companion. He was the author of Stories of Famous Operas (1950), and edited The Best Known Hymns and Prayers of the American People (1942), and (with Geraldine Soubaine) The Opera Quiz Book (1948). He also authored short fiction, lectured on opera at Columbia University, and was associate director of the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts.
Milligan composed two operettas for children,The Outlaws of Etiquette (1913) and The Laughabet (1918), and incidental music for several plays, as well as numerous songs, sacred and secular choral works, and organ music. He is probably best remembered by the general public as the collector and editor of four volumes of previously undiscovered 18th century American songs, chiefly by Francis Hopkinson, a leading musician in colonial America and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Milligan also wrote the first biography of American songwriter Stephen Foster in 1920.
His papers are held by the music division of the New York Public Library, the web site for which also provided most of the information contained in this biographical sketch.
Federlein is best remembered as the organist of Temple Emanu-El from 1915-1945, first at the former temple at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street, playing the J. H. & C. S. Odell organ, and then at the present location at Fifth Avenue and 65th Street when the congregation merged with Temple Beth-El, where he played the large new Casavant organ.
Federlein also served several churches in the metropolitan area including Marcy Avenue Baptist Church in Brooklyn, the Church of the Incarnation, Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Trinity Church and the Society for Ethical Culture in New York, and Central Presbyterian Church in Montclair, New Jersey.
He studied at Trinity School and the Institute of Musical Art where his teachers included Edward Biedermann, Percy Goetschius, and Louis V. Saar. He was the composer of many works in various genres for the church, synagogue, and concert hall, and was a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. He earned the FAGO in 1904 and served the Guild in several capacities, including sub warden, as the position of vice president was then known. In 1915 he received the AGO’s Clemson Prize for best anthem for mixed voices and organ.
Whitehead was the Director of Music and Organist of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church from 1973-1990. Prior to that he served at First Presbyterian Church in Bethlehem, Pa., where he was also organist of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem.
He attended Baylor University and was a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, the Curtis Institute of Music, and Columbia University. In 1962 he was the first organist to win the annual Young Artist Award of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which included a performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Eugene Ormandy.
At various times he was on the faculty of the Guilmant Organ School, Mannes College of Music, and Westminster Choir College, and he toured under the auspices of the Lillian Murtagh management, now Karen McFarlane Artists. He was formerly the dean of the Lehigh Valley chapter of the AGO, and was later elected to the Guild’s national council. He was also a founder of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians.
After leaving New York he served at Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and at the time of his death he was Minister of Music at Second Congregational Church in Greenwich, having served as guest organist at several Connecticut churches since 1995.
The photo is from Andrews’ obituary which appeared in the December 1942 issue of The Diapason which noted that he died January 18 of that year. Andrews was one of the founders of the American Guild of Organists and at the time of his death had been the organist of the Church of the Divine Paternity (now Fourth Universalist Society) for 33 years. He was on the national council of the Guild for over 25 years and the first AGO national convention was held during his term as warden, as the office of president was then called.
Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1860, he studied with Charles H. Wood and Eugene Thayer. After student positions in Massachusetts, he became the organist and choirmaster of Trinity Church in Newport, Rhode Island, at age 19, directing its boychoir. Following that he served at Pilgrim Church in Cambridge, Mass., and Plymouth Church in Minneapolis, before moving to New York.
Andrews was also elected president of the New York State Music Teachers Association in 1908. Following funeral services at the Church of the Divine Paternity, there were Masonic ceremonies conducted by members of the Roome Lodge, and he was buried in Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn, Mass.
Robert Owen (1918-2005)
Robert Owen served as organist and choirmaster of Christ Church, Bronxville, for 45 years until his retirement in 1988. He was from Longview, Texas, where his father was the minister of the First Presbyterian Church. For his first organ lessons he traveled a ten-mile dirt road to Kilgore to study with Roy Perry.
After graduating from the conservatory of music at Oberlin College, he returned to Texas where he taught at the University of Texas at Austin and commuted to Houston where he was organist and choirmaster of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Divine. At the beginning of World War II he served in the U. S. Navy until he received a medical discharge in July 1943. While convalescing in Philadelphia he made several weekend tips to New York where he ultimately learned that Christ Church was looking for an organist, thus beginning a remarkable partnership that carried the musical life of the church to a new level.
Robert Owen’s first undertaking was the organ, a four-manual, 90-stop Hall in continual need of repair. In short order a contract was signed with Aeolian-Skinner for a new organ, and delivery was set for December 1948.
In February 1947 the Dean of the American Cathedral in Paris offered Owen the job of reorganizing and directing the cathedral’s music program which had been in disarray since the German Occupation. Since the Christ Church organ would not be ready for some time, the vestry agreed to give Owen a leave of absence and Gordon Jones, an Oberlin classmate of his, assumed his duties for a year. While in Paris Owen became the first student at the Paris Conservatory on the G. I. Bill, and he studied with both Marcel Dupré and Nadia Boulanger.
Returning to New York, Robert Owen played the opening recital on the new Christ Church organ on Trinity Sunday, June 12, 1949. According to the local paper 800 people attended, including the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, with temperatures in the high 90s.
In the ensuing years Owen recorded for the Aeolian-Skinner “King of Instruments” series and on RCA. He maintained an active concert career himself, and brought many of the world’s leading organists to play in Bronxville. He also maintained a vigorous choir of men and boys, and later, girls and mixed voices as well. Several of his former choirboys became clergymen, including the Rev. Peter Hawes, Rector of St. George’s Church in Germantown, Tennessee, who in 1991—on the occasion of the installation of officers of the Memphis AGO chapter—reminisced about being a boy soprano in the choir of Christ Church:
” . . . tonight 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.”
At Robert Owen’s retirement the vestry voted to install a set of stained glass windows in the clerestory of the nave to honor his 45 years of service. Robert chose in turn to honor the French composer and organist Olivier Messiaen, who had recently died and whose compositions Robert had frequently played at Christ Church. Known as the Revelation Windows, they consist of nine lancets arranged in groups of three which celebrate the roles of art, music, and literature as sources of God’s revelation in the world. They were created by renowned stained glass artist Ellen Miret, and fabricated at the Rohlf Studios in Mt. Vernon, New York, and were completed in 1994.
Note: most of the material for this sketch, including the photograph, is taken from Built Upon A Rock by David T. Andrews, the 100th anniversary history of Christ Church.
Ray Francis Brown (1897–1964)
Brown was professor of music and organist of The General Theological Seminary from 1934 until his death. He was from Vermont and went to Oberlin College.
After graduation he was organ instructor in the Oberlin Conservatory and organist and choirmaster at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Elyria. He also studied at the Royal School of Church Music and at Pius X School of Liturgical Music. Prior to his appointment at General he was for five years he was director of the Music School at Fisk University and conducted the Fisk University Choir.
He was an Associate of the American Guild of Organists and served on the national council. The University of the South at Sewanee awarded him an honorary degree of Doctor of Music in 1956. His edition of The Oxford American Psalter was published in 1949 and is characterized by pointing that sets the texts in speech rhythm, a practice then largely unknown in this country at the time. He also wrote articles for musical and church journals and lectured at seminaries and church conferences throughout the country on hymnody, chanting, and the use of plainsong in English.
He was an authority on choral music and helped form the Episcopal Church tradition and was a member of the Joint Commission on Church Music of the Protestant Episcopal Church and served on the tunes committee for the Joint Commission on the revision of The Hymnal 1940.
Concurrent with his position at General, he served several churches in New York, including Christ Church Bronxville, Church of the Resurrection and Calvary Church
William C. Carl (1865-1936)
Carl was the organist of First Presbyterian Church in New York from 1892 until his death. He was born in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and was the organist of the First Presbyterian Church in Newark before going to Paris to study with Alexandre Guilmant in 1890-91.
Returning from Paris on the same ship as Carl was the Rev. Howard Duffield, newly appointed pastor of First Presbyterian Church who in short order appointed the 27-year-old Carl to be the organist and choirmaster of the First Presbyterian Church, the first serious musician called to the church. Dr. Duffield was a strong visionary leader with progressive ideas and a lover of music. At the time the church moved to its present location in 1846 only vocal music was considered appropriate for worship, and it was not until 1888 that a new organ by Roosevelt was installed in the gallery. Little is known about the first organists to play the new organ, and Carl’s appointment marked a new era in the prominence with which the organ was to play in the life of the church.
Carl immediatley established an organ recital series that packed the church regularly, requiring police to control the crowds we are told. He also produced a concert version of Wagner’s Parsifalwhich caused great interest, as full productions were only allowed in Bayreuth at that time.
Carl was a leading disciple of Guilmant in America, and during Guilmant’s second American tour in 1898 the two decided to establish the Guilmant Organ School in New York to further the teaching ideals of the Parisian master. Dr. Duffield invited the new school to make First Presbyterian Church its headquarters, featuring the church’s magnificent Roosevelt organ as the centerpiece for lessons and recitals. The first class was held in October 1899. Guilmant was the President, Carl was the Director and Instructor of Organ, and Dr. Duffield was the Chaplain and Instructor in Theology. The initial announcement stated that:
“William C. Carl, having been authorized by Alexandre Guilmant to open an organ school under his patronage, begs to announce the Guilmant Organ School, in which the method as set forth by the great French organist will be taught. Since the phenomenal success of M. Guilmant in America, a new impetus has been given to the organ as a solo instrument and its relation to the church service. Organists in all parts of the country are giving more attention to its study and in preparation of their work. Organ concerts are in demand with a growing success. Church committees are exacting a higher degree of ability from their organists and the press is giving it attention.”
In the ensuing years the school gained considerable recognition in America and Europe. The French government bestowed upon Carl the Officer de l’Instruction Publique, and he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in recognition for his work in promoting the works of Guilmant and other French composers. New York University also conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Music.
At the 25th anniversary of the school in 1924 it was noted that 150 students had graduated, and 26 of them were in positions of renown in the greater New York area. To celebrate Dr. Carl’s 40th anniversary as organist of First Presbyterian Church in 1932, the church installed a bronze plaque in the choir seating area in the chancel. In 1935 Dr. Carl was granted a leave of absence from his duties at the school for health reasons, and Williard Irving Nevins, Carl’s first student and associate, became director of the school. Dr. William C. Carl died on December 8, 1936, and Nevins was appointed organist and choirmaster of the church the following month.
Ernest White (1901-1980)
From the NYC Organ Project page on the chapter’s web site we learn the following about White:
Ernest White was born on June 20, 1901 in London, Ontario. He studied violin locally and organ at the Toronto Conservatory of Music with Ernest MacMillan and Healey Willan. He moved to New York in 1926 for lessons with Lynnwood Farnam and was acclaimed for his performance at the 1927 AGO Convention in St. Louis. He was organist-choirmaster 1927-35 at St. James Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, and 1935-37 at Trinity Church, Lenox, Mass. For 21 years (1937-58) Ernest White was associated with the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York City, first as organist, and later as music director, where it was his custom to give two series of organ recitals each year.
White also became tonal director for the organ builder M.P. Möller, of Hagerstown, MD, designing and supervising installations in the USA and Canada, including those in New York at St. George’s Episcopal Church, the Interchurch Center Chapel, and a studio organ at St. Mary the Virgin.
White taught at Bard College (Columbia University) and Pius X School of Liturgical Music in New York (1935-38), at the Music Teachers’ College, University of Western Ontario (1948-51), at Jordan College (Butler University) and the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis (1963-71), and at the University of Bridgeport, Conn., 1971-73. He became organist-choirmaster at St. George’s Church, Bridgeport, in 1973.
He gave over 1000 organ recitals featuring both old and modern repertoire. He was noted also for his trail-blazing editions of early organ music and for his recordings, among which was the first issued of Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur. Rollin Smith (AGO and RCCO Music, August 1977) said of White, “That he was able to synthesize the many contingencies of organ playing and organ construction into one pioneering point of view will distinguish his name and stature for many years to come.”
Ernest White died in Fairfield, Conn., on September 21, 1980.
Charles Dodsley Walker (1920-2015)
The photograph, from 1941, shows Charlie at the console of the then new Aeolian-Skinner organ in Christ Church, Cambridge, Mass., where he was assistant organist during his years as a graduate student at Harvard.
This article also appeared in the April 2015 issue of The Diapason.
Charles Dodsley Walker, 94, died in New York City on January 17, 2015, following a brief illness. At the time of his death he was the conductor of the Canterbury Choral Society and organist and choirmaster emeritus of the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City, and was the artist-in-residence of Saint Luke’s Parish, Darien, Connecticut.
In one form or another for most of the 20th century—continuing into the 21st —Charles Dodsley Walker was active and prominent in the cultural life of New York City, directing the musical activities for churches, schools, and secular organizations. He was also a Fellow of the American Guild of Organists and was president of the AGO from 1971-1975.
Born on March 16, 1920, in New York City, into a family with roots in Michigan, his family soon moved to Glen Ridge, New Jersey. There, at Christ Church of Bloomfield and Glen Ridge, he first sang in a choir and played the organ. In 1930 he was admitted to the Choir School of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine where he sang in the cathedral choir directed first by Miles Farrow, and shortly after by Norman Coke-Jephcott who was young Charles’ first teacher, with whom he studied organ, harmony, and counterpoint in weekly lessons. Upon graduation Charles went to Trinity School in New York, while continuing his study with Coke-Jephcott. He soon assumed the duties of school organist at Trinity, playing for daily chapel services. As he told The Diapason in a 90th birthday interview in the March 2010 issue “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.”
Upon the advice of Channing Lefebvre, organist of Trinity Church Wall Street, CDW went to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. It was his desire to receive a liberal arts degree while still studying music seriously, as his goal was to have a classroom teaching career in addition to being a church musician and organist. So it was that he pursued a major in modern languages with concentration in French, while also studying organ with the college’s organist and music professor, who just happened to be the leading proponent of the French school of organ playing in America at that time: Clarence Watters, a protégé and friend of Marcel Dupré. While at Trinity College CDW held his first church appointment at Stafford Springs Congregational Church in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, about halfway between Hartford and Worcester, Mass.
After graduating from Trinity College he enrolled in graduate school at Harvard University studying musicology, choral conducting, theory, and composition with Walter Piston, Archibald T. Davison, and Tillman Merritt. While at Harvard he was assistant organist of Christ Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, working under W. Judson Rand.
His studies were interrupted by service in the Navy where he served in a number of non-combat capacities. Following military service he completed his master’s degree at Harvard in 1947 and was appointed simultaneously to his first two New York City jobs: organist and choirmaster of St. Thomas Chapel (a chapel of St. Thomas Church, now All Saints Church) and director of music at Trinity School, his alma mater. He was all set to embark upon a secure career as a church musician and teacher in New York when a thoroughly unplanned and felicitous (his word) event occurred: he learned of the opening for organist and choirmaster of the American Cathedral in Paris. The dean of the cathedral was a New Yorker who just happened to be in town, so Charlie called on him and was offered the job on the spot! He took a modest cut in salary to move to Paris, but did so gladly to immerse himself in the French culture and music he had grown to appreciate during his undergraduate study. At the cathedral he succeeded Robert Owen who was in France studying on the GI Bill. While in Paris he made the acquaintance of and collaborated with the leading French organists and musicians of the day, including Pierre Duvauchelle, Nadia Boulanger, Francis Poulenc, a young Ned Rorem, Maurice Duruflé, André Marchal, Marcel Dupré, Olivier Messiaen, and Jean Langlais, with whom he and his family remained particularly close. In Paris he also met Janet Hayes, an American soprano studying with Boulanger in France and performing throughout Europe. After a brief courtship they were married in the American Cathedral.
While in Paris CDW was also the director of the American Students’ and Artists’ Center, a comprehensive educational and social organization with nearly a thousand members which was administered under the auspices of the cathedral and its dean. He held this full-time, non-musical job concurrently with his position at the American Cathedral, and it provided a secure living including an apartment. But the demands of this entirely administrative job soon left him looking for a change and, when he heard of the vacancy, he applied for the opening at the Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue and 90th Street in New York. Armed with letters of recommendation from Canon Edward West from St. John the Divine, and the Rev. C. Leslie Glenn and the Rev. Francis Bowes Sayre (later dean of Washington Cathedral), his clergy colleagues from Christ Church in Cambridge, he was offered the position. One of the unsuccessful candidates, from whom CDW unknowingly had asked a reference, was his old teacher, Clarence Watters! Donald Wilkins succeeded CDW at the American Cathedral.
CDW began his duties at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in January 1951, and he founded the Canterbury Choral Society in Advent of the following year. Initially conceived as an adjunct Evensong choir for the church’s music program, the choral society soon adapted the pattern of inviting members of the community to join the church choir by audition for presentations of oratorios with full orchestra at three concerts each year in the Church of the Heavenly Rest. The group continued to operate under the aegis of the church until 1988 when CDW left the church, at which time the choral society became an independent organization, even though they maintain a close relationship with the church and still present most of their concerts there. On special occasions the Canterbury Choral Society did present concerts in other venues such as the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Avery Fisher Hall, and Carnegie Hall, including several performances of the Mahler Eighth Symphony assisted by various choirs of children from area schools and churches.
Concurrent with his position at Heavenly Rest and Canterbury, CDW at various times taught at Kew Forest School (where Donald J. Trump was numbered among his students), Chapin School—where he was head of the music department for twenty-four years, New York University, Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music, Manhattan School of Music, and SUNY Queens College. In 1969 he co-founded, with his wife Janet Hayes Walker, the York Theatre Company. He directed the Blue Hill Troupe, performing all of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in fully staged productions several times during his thirty-five-year tenure. He was a founder of the Berkshire Choral Festival in 1982, and was the organist of Lake Delaware Boys Camp for fifty years in the summers from 1940-1990. Given the number of organizations he led and the length of his tenures, it is not an exaggeration to say that Charlie Walker’s sphere of influence reached thousands of persons, young and old.
In what others would call their retirement years, Charlie Walker never lessened his professional activity. From 1988 until 2007 he was the organist and choirmaster of Trinity Church, Southport, Connecticut, directing the church choir and a community chorale, sometimes in joint concerts with the Canterbury Choral Society in New York and Southport. From 2007 until his death he was artist-in-residence at Saint Luke’s Parish in Darien, Connecticut, where he assisted in playing and directing weekly rehearsals and services, and taught young choristers in the RSCM Voice for Life curriculum. During all this time he continued his vigorous leadership of the Canterbury Choral Society, never missing a concert until close to the end of his life.
Janet Hayes Walker died in 1997 and in 2001 Charles Dodsley Walker married Elizabeth Phillips, who survives him, as do his children Susan Starr Walker and Peter Hayes Walker, and three grandchildren.
A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, March 21 at 3:00 pm in the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York. Interment will be in the family plot in Niles, Michigan, at a later date.
In a follow-up to his 90th birthday interview, in the June 2010 issue of The Diapason, when asked how he would like to be remembered, CDW said:
“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.”
Richard Torrence (1936-2011)
In his identifying response Bishop John J. O’Hara says:
“Richard Torrence passed away four years ago, on February 7, 2011. His interests were varied and wide ranging, spanning the globe. He is best remembered as the founder of the Richard Torrence Management in the early 1960s. Some of the world’s finest concert organists were represented by his agency, including . . . Pierre Cochereau, Ted Alan Worth, Richard Morris, Joyce Jones, Donald Dumler . . . and the legendary Virgil Fox, whose career Torrence guided in Fox’s later years at The Riverside Church and beyond into the late 1970s. Richard had a tremendous impact on the instrument we love.”
For a complete biography and other news articles about Richard, including an account in The New York Times of his work in Russia and his association with Vladimir Putin, with whom he worked closely when Putin was First Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg, click on the following links:
McNeil Robinson (1943-2015)
This obituary appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of the Newsletter of the NYC Chapter of the AGO.
McNeil Robinson died on Saturday, May 9, 2015 after a lengthy illness. A memorial service to be held in New York is being planned for the fall at a time and location to be announced.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, McNeil Robinson quickly developed a prodigious technique and repertoire as a pianist, studying at the Birmingham Conservatory. In his teenaged years he played with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (now the Alabama Symphony Orchestra) on several occasions.
Neil attended Birmingham Southern College as a scholarship student, and in 1962 came to New York City to study at the Mannes College of Music with Leonard Shure as a full scholarship student. He also studied piano privately with Rosina Lhevine and Beveridge Webster. In 1965 he entered Juilliard where he studied organ with Vernon de Tar and Anthony Newman, and composition with Vincent Persichetti.
In his DMA dissertation on the life and work of McNeil Robinson, our colleague Tony Thurman makes the following salient observation:
“From early childhood, Robinson displayed an inexhaustible appetite for knowledge and learning. Even after graduation from The Juilliard School, he continued to study. Continuing education has always been a major focus in his life, even after having achieved international acclaim as a soloist, Robinson continued to seek out and interact with the major teachers and performing artists throughout the world.”
In this vein McNeil continued his organ studies with George Faxon, the noted teacher in Boston, and Clarence Watters, the leading disciple of Marcel Dupré in this country at that time. He also continued his composition studies with Yehudi Wyner and Jacob Druckman in New York, and later Allen Forte at Yale. Even in his mature years he continued to coach with Russell Saunders and Catharine Crozier in this country, and Guy Bovet and Monserrat Torrent in Europe. He was a fixture at AGO conventions and NYC Chapter workshops, anywhere he thought he might gain a new insight into a performance practice, something of historical interest or pedagogical advice. And in looking over those in attendance at such events he could be fairly disdainful of those who were not present who, in his estimation, could have used the information imparted—students and colleagues alike. He was not shy in expressing himself in his opinions, and needed not in the least any assertiveness training!
While still a student Neil gained two positions in New York that thrust his name into the front ranks of the profession: organist of Park Avenue Synagogue and organist of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. The music lists of each of these noted houses of worship indicate the early use of his compositions and there is much commentary about his prowess as an improviser. His 1970 recording of Dupré’s Vêpres du Commun at St. Mary’s earned him a letter of congratulations from the composer.
Neil came to the Park Avenue Synagogue in 1965 at the invitation of the famous Cantor David Putterman to whom he had been recommended by Leonard Bernstein and Jack Gottleib, and he remained at Park Avenue Synagogue until he retired in 2012. He came to St. Mary’s also in 1965 first as the assistant to James Palsgrove, assuming the directorship of the music program in 1974. He continued in that capacity until 1982. Prior to this time he served at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, even sharing duties there during his early years at St. Mary’s.
As his renown as a performer and improviser increased, prospective students began to seek out McNeil Robinson, and his teaching career began to increase, especially after he left the rigorous liturgical schedule at St. Mary the Virgin. As his private studio increased, he also assumed a faculty position at Mannes. In 1984 at the invitation of John Walker, he joined the faculty of Manhattan School of Music, later becoming chair of the organ department after John moved to Pittsburgh in 1991, a position which Neil held at the time of his death. During this era he taught a succession of students who have gone on to significant careers of their own, and who have won numerous competitions and prizes. A tribute on the web site of the American Guild of Organistsnotes that he taught more winners of the AGO Improvisation Competition than anyone else.
As a composer his work continued to be performed in venues throughout the world, including several national conventions of the AGO, where his organ concerto was first performed at the National Convention in San Francisco in 1984. His liturgical compositions regularly find their place in the music lists of Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant houses of worship throughout the country.
After St. Mary the Virgin, Neil’s church career trajectory took him to a lengthy tenure at Park Avenue Christian Church, and later Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, from which he retired only last fall.
Throughout the history of music there have been notable exceptional masters of the musical art who were equally gifted and proficient in the complimentary disciplines of performance, improvisation, composition, and pedagogy. Clearly McNeil Robinson was one such master musician whose life and work happily intersected with our own here in the New York City Chapter.
Gaston Dethier (1875-1958)
Dethier is best remembered for his long tenure on the organ faculty of Juilliard, and its predecessor institution, the Institute of Musical Art, where Carl McKinley and Powell Weaver were among his better-remembered students.
Dethier was born in Liège into a musical family that included his father Emile, an organist, and brother Edouard, a violinist. At a very early age he was appointed organist of two churches in Liège.
He came to the United States in 1894 and eventually became an American citizen. He was the organist of the Church of St. Francis Xavier from 1894 until 1907, at which time the position was filled by Pietro Yon.
Dethier taught at Juilliard from 1907-1945, where there is to this day a scholarship awarded in his name. He also composed much organ music which is highly idomatic to the organ, but evocative of his era and is played only infrequently today. His “Variations on Adeste fideles” has remained popular, largely through the efforts of Virgil Fox who recorded it and used to play it frequently around Christmas.
Frank Cedric Smith (1924-2010)
This obituary appeared in the December 2010 issue of the Newsletter of the NYC Chapter of the AGO.
We are saddened to learn that long time member Frank Cedric Smith died on 2 October 2010 at his home in North Eastham, Mass. He was born in Brooklyn and as a boy sang in several choirs, including the famed Choir of Men and Boys at Grace Church in New York under Ernest Mitchell, whom he succeeded at Grace Church in 1960. He remained at Grace Church until his retirement in 1992 when he and Dilys Smith, his wife of 52 years who survives him, moved to North Eastham.
Following service in the Army Medical Corps in World War II, Mr. Smith studied with Norman Coke-Jephcott and Alec Wyton and earned the Licentiate from Trinity College in London (LTCL) and the Ch.M certificate from the AGO. Prior to his New York appointment, he held the position of Organist and Choirmaster of Grace Church in Newark for fourteen years.
He served as Dean and Treasurer of the New York City Chapter, was a member of the St. Wilfrid Club of the City of New York, serving for many years as treasurer, and was a life member of the Association of Anglican Musicians. In his retirement he continued to teach and play in area churches, and he served the Cape Cod and Islands Chapter of the AGO as treasurer and newsletter editor.
On October 30 his life was celebrated with a Musical Offering and Holy Eucharist at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Orleans, Massachusetts, at which many local organists and choir directors participated, along with representatives of local churches and choral societies with which the Smiths were affiliated. Also participating were former choristers and other representatvies from Grace Church in New York, including the Rev. Fleming Rutledge who preached.
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?
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?
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]
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.
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?
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: 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 I—where 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.
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 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: 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  . . .
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: 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. 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, 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.
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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
To be continued.
 Tim Page and Vanessa Weeks Page, ed., Selected Letters of Virgil Thomson. New York:Summit Books, 1988, 30.
 Corliss Arnold, Organ Literature: A Comprehensive Survey, Vol. II: Biographical Catalog. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1995, 865.
 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.
 William E. Zeuch, Vice-President of Aeolian-Skinner and organist ofFirstChurch (Unitarian) inBoston.
 For an account of CDW’s wartime activities see Kathryn A. Higgins, “Interviews with Charles Dodsley Walker,” The American Organist, October 2009.
 Walter Piston, Harmony. New York: Norton, 1941, 4th ed. 1978.
 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.