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The College of Church Musicians at Washington National Cathedral

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

Copyright 2016 © Neal Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig 9 CCM students and Sowerby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dr. Sowerby with John Fenstermaker, 1965.

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

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

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

Sowerby with Dirksen and Gerald Knight

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

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

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

And it did.

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

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

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

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

Dr. Callaway and Ronald Rice at the cathedral organ.

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

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

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

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

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

3. 1966 conducting

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

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

12. Paul Callaway rehearsing in the Cathedral choir room

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

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

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

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

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

15. with Chenault and McNulty

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

 

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

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