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 organists 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 June 2010 issue of The Diapason.
Copyright © 2010 Neal Campbell
NC: So, you’re in Paris.
CDW: Yes, I’d longed to go to France; this was my first time there. I’d been to a French speaking country during the war—Algeria, on the way to Sicily. At Trinity College, I had immersed myself in the study of the French language and culture, and this was a dream come true.
I lived in the Deanery—a lovely three-story stone building separated from the Cathedral by a garden–and the church sexton was a man named Lucien. Lucien was also a master chef, and he did a lot of things beside dust the church pews off, I’ll tell you that! I lived there on the top floor of the Deanery and he would come up and wake me up in the morning with a plate of what he called paingrillé, which was a word I hadn’t learned in my study in French, but it turns out it was actually two words, pain and grillé—toast.
NC: So he woke you up with breakfast every morning.
CDW: Yes, in addition to the paingrillé there were also oeufs—eggs. And coffee.
NC: Quite a few well-known American organists have held that post, haven’t they?
CDW: Yes, Robert Owen preceded me and Donald Wilkins followed me. They were great years over there, especially if you were a Francophile.
NC: What were services like there at the American Cathedral? They were in English I assume?
CDW: Yes, they were just as if you were here in the states. Everything was in English, we chanted the canticles, and so forth.
One of the things I tried to do was to get more Americans in the choir. I had a lot of French opera singers already in there. They’d sing [mimicking the French pronunciation of English] oly, oly, oly, looord Gott uf osts, aven ant urse are fuel of zei gloory so I was trying to get more Americans and Janet [Hayes, later Mrs. CDW] was part of that campaign after we married.
One day after service a little man came up to talk to me and said “I am Pierre Duvauchelle and I am the conductor of the Paris Chamber Orchestra. ” He said “you have a beautiful acoustic here in the cathedral. ” Well, he wanted to do a series of three or four concerts at the cathedral. And I thought quickly and said “I will see to it that you may have the use of the cathedral, heated and lighted, for the first three concerts, and then for the fourth concert I want to conduct your orchestra and do a concert with my chorus and your orchestra” All my life I’d wanted to do works for chorus and orchestra. So we did the Palestrina Missa Brevis unaccompanied, of course, and then his orchestra joined us. Many of them were members of Lamoreux Orchestra, which was an important orchestra in Paris, and we did the Bach Magnificat. It was recorded on acetate discs, which I still have, and it was broadcast over the Radiodiffusion Française.
I must have met Langlais by then, because I remember that he came to that concert and complimented me on the Palestrina. He also brought along a friend, a pupil I think, named Pierre Cochereau, whom I met for the first time.
Not too long after I arrived the dean gave me a new job in addition to the cathedral which was to be director of the American Students’ and Artists’ Center on the left bank. A beautiful building on what had been Chateaubriand’s estate. The place had been closed up because the Germans had taken it over during the war.
NC: What was the Dean’s connection with the Students’ and Artists’ Center?
CDW: He was chairman of the board and had raised the money for its construction. He had very good connections. His name was Beekman and he was from an old, old New York family.
NC: So this was almost like an umbrella of the cathedral or part of his ministry or something like that?
CDW: Yes, exactly, to students in Paris. On the first floor it had a theatre with a balcony. It didn’t have a very big stage, more of a lecturers’ stage than a theatre stage. And there as a big lounge, and a billiard room. On the second floor they had a library and on the opposite wing they had the Director’s apartment. I had administrative charge of the operations of the Center.
NC: And that’s where you lived?
CDW: That’s where we lived—I was married by then. The apartment provided for the Director was very comfortable. The building was designed by a prize-winning architect named Welles Bosworth, who had been J. D. Rockefeller’s architect in charge of restoring Reims Cathedral. He also designed all those buildings for MIT along the Charles River that have those rotundas.
And several former Harvard students were over there—Robert Middleton, Noel Lee, Douglas Allanbrook. Leon Fleisher was there at the time, also.
NC: Those were pretty heady years to be in Paris, you must have met many well- known persons?
CDW: Yes, including Poulenc. And notably Nadia Boulanger, whom I had known from her time in Cambridge while I was at Harvard. A lot of people were studying with her in Paris in those days. Janet studied with her. She was Nadia’s favorite singer and everyone said she sang French songs better than the French did
NC: Boulanger didn’t teach voice, did she?
CDW: No, she had been very close friend of Fauré, and coached singers working on his songs. She didn’t exactly teach vocal technique. She said some things I don’t agree with. For instance she would say—I forget exactly how she put it, but something like “Oh, you don’t have to sing those songs in a sexy way.” Well, many of Fauré’s songs are incredibly sexy and you do need to bring that across. Her forte was teaching composition.
One thing that Nadia did that was influential was that every Wednesday she had a salon—a sort of open house, and young people who like to trail on the footsteps of the stars would pop in on Wednesday afternoons.
Actually, you were supposed to know her to show up at these. Well, one of the times I was there Robert Shaw, who I guess had heard of these, showed up, and apparently he didn’t know her. I was sitting there with several others, and the door bell rang, and Nadia asked if I would answer the door, and when I did, it was Robert Shaw. I brought him in, introduced him, and Nadia was sitting there like a grand dame, which she was!
So, he sat down and the rest of that afternoon the conversation was all about how difficult it was to find a garage to park your car in Paris. There wasn’t a word about Fauré and his use of modality, or anything musical like that! This is what was going on, and she was just being friendly, and I don’t recall her addressing a word to Bob Shaw. Nothing! It was funny.
CDW: For some reason I remember having dinner with him at an outdoor restaurant on one of those avenues that leads up to the Opéra. He hadn’t even written his now-famous Gloria at this time. He gave quite a few small concerts with singers. There was this singer named Pierre Bernac, and Poulenc would accompany him. I’d run into them a couple of times and we were just friendly.
NC: Ned Rorem must have been around in those days.
CDW: Yes, Janet did a concert with him at the American Embassy; he accompanied her. One of the things Boulanger did was to act as a resource to the American ambassador in Paris in providing Franco-American musicians for concerts of the Cultural Relations of the American Embassy. And on this concert she sang some of Ned’s songs.
Janet had gone to the New England Conservatory on the recommendation of Eleanor Steber and she won the Frank Huntington Beebe award for studying abroad, which is what brought her to Paris. She knew Ned at the New England Conservatory and he dedicated a piece to her—A Sermon on Miracles, which we performed in his presence at the Church of the Heavenly Rest many years later, in 1973.
We also toured throughout Germany during the summers of 1950, 51, and 52 under the auspices of United States Department of State as part of a cultural exchange program established after the war. The state department was saying “look, we want to present our musicians so the German people won’t think we are all barbarians.” That was the whole point. There were American artists, poets, authors, and musicians presenting their work all over Germany. We performed in forty different cities in West Germany during those summers. And we played lots of American music, including works by Sowerby, Piston, Bingham, Pinkham, Lukas Foss and Rorem, that was part of the propaganda to show the Germans that we had composers and performers, and that we cared about these things.
While we were there we crossed paths with Daniel Pinkam and a young violinist named Robert Brink who were touring doing the same thing.
NC: There must have been lots of Americans with whom you rendezvoused in Paris?
CDW: Yes. Clarence Dickinson and Seth Bingham paid courtesy calls at the cathedral. Thornton Wilder was a member of the bridal party for a wedding I was playing and I was introduced to him as if I were being introduced to the next door neighbor. A lot of people found their way to the American Cathedral.
NC: Edouard Nies-Berger?
CDW: Yes, he visited at the cathedral and at the Students’ and Artists’ Center. He was a very friendly man. Hugh Giles, also I met over there. You know I’d only spent a year in New York before coming to Paris so I hadn’t met many of the big name organists until they came through Paris.
NC: Tell me about the organ recital series you organized at the American Cathedral.
CDW: Well, when I got there I found out what a wonderful organ it was. It had been a big three manual Cavaille-Coll. In 1930 it was enlarged and a fourth manual added. It was one of the very few organs in France at that time with capture combination action. Leaving all that aside, it was a real Cavaille-Coll with wonderful reeds and an abundance of everything you wanted. The Solo division was not so big. It was built by Maison Pleyel, successors to Cavaille-Coll, and they had been sent to Ernest Skinner in America in order to learn from him. The result was that it was a rather typical E. M. Skinner Solo division. It had nice strings, a French Horn, one of the few in France, a Tuba Mirabilis, and a Philomela which was huge! No chorus reeds, but, of course, there were 16, 8, and 4 reeds on the Great.
Anyway, I saw this organ and thought “wouldn’t it be nice to have a recital series.” The way it worked was this: I said to the dean “I’d like to invite a bunch of famous French organists to play on this organ” and he said “fine, go ahead.” I wish I could remember the fee we paid them, but it was ridiculously small. I think it was 10,000 F which was about $30.
So, I picked up the phone—believe it or not—and called Marcel Dupré, who I had met through Clarence Watters in this country. He was the only one I knew, and I didn’t call him Marcel, either! It was “Maitre, would you be willing to play on a series on this organ? I want to help raise the reputation of the American Cathedral as an artistic center in Paris.” He agreed and I thanked him, and put the phone down. Then I called André Marchal, and repeated my story, saying that Dupré had agreed to play, and would you do it, and he said yes. Of course if Dupré hadn’t agreed to do it, it might have been a different story. I didn’t know Marchal from a hole in the ground! So, the same with Langlais, Messiaen, and Duruflé. These names were legend, even back then.
Then I called up Mlle. Boulanger telling her that I had asked each of these eminent organists to conclude with an improvisation, and asked her to submit the themes for each of these players. I must have caught her at a weak moment and she agreed. As it turns out I had to chase her up each week to get the themes in time for the recital. It wasn’t like she gave me all five at once in advance.
NC: Was that part of the promotional packaging of the series, that she would be supplying the themes?
CDW: It wasn’t on the advertising of it, but on the program I inserted a little slip sheet saying that the themes for each of the improvisations had been kindly submitted by Nadia Boulanger. The recitals were a week apart in Lent, and there were big crowds, and wide newspaper coverage.
NC: How did the organ in the American Cathedral really stack up in comparison with the famous Paris organs?
CDW: Well, for one thing, it was in better tune than any of the others, and that was because of the Germans. They had taken over the cathedral and used it as their army church. Say what you will about their politics, but by golly if they were going to have a Wehrmachtskirche, it was going to have an organ that was in tune. So the organ was in great shape when I got there. It was amazing.
NC: Did you have an opportunity to hear any of these organists in their own churches?
CDW: Very little. Duruflé, for example, at St.-Etienne-du-Mont didn’t have the organ; it was down. I don’t think he had any organ to play. Somehow or another with all my duties I didn’t get to other churches very often. In retrospect, I certainly wish I could have heard more. I did go to Ste. Clotilde from time to time, because I was very close to Langlais.
One thing that might be of interest is my impressions of these great men as they came to the cathedral to practice. For one thing, I was . . . skeptical is too strong a word, but I was not convinced that every note that Messian wrote down was for real, or whether he was trying for effect in one way or the other. But of all those organists, Messiaen was the one who practiced the longest and he actually got me in there and asked me to play some passages (and I’d never even played any of his music), but he wanted to hear what it sounded like out in the church. And before he came to practice he said “you know I want to have some time there pour choisir mes couleurs, to choose my colors.” And he went way up in my estimation. But he was the most concerned that it be a good recital.
The main thing I remember about Duruflé was that he arrived at the appointed time outside the cathedral riding a bicycle.
NC: How did you happen to go back to New York?
CDW: One of the real reasons I wanted to come back was, as you can imagine, I got to be so busy being the director of the Center—I think we had five or six hundred members. It wasn’t a musical job at all, but it was my full time job, and the cathedral position was secondary.
But when I found out that Heavenly Rest had an opening, I made every effort to look into it. It was the Rev. Richard R. P. Coombs, who had been a tenor in my choir in Cambridge, and who had gone to seminary during the war, and who had told me of the opening at the Paris Cathedral—he was now the curate at Heavenly Rest and told me of the vacancy there.
NC: So he had a hand in your going to Paris and in your coming back to New York?
CDW: He did!
NC: What sort of process did you have to go through when you applied for the job?
CDW: I simply wrote to anybody who was anybody who knew my work—Frank Sayre [the Very Rev. Francis B. Sayre, Jr], Eddie West at the Cathedral [Canon Edward N. West, later Sub-Dean of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York]—I mean personal friends who were in a position to be helpful and who knew my work.
NC: Who was the rector who hired you.
CDW: John Ellis Large, D.D., a blessed man.
NC: Who was your predecessor?
CDW: A man named J. Lawrence Slater, an Englishman.
NC: What was the musical tradition at HR as you found it?
CDW: For one thing, there was an assistant organist I inherited, so that made a smooth transition. I had never heard a service there previously, but my impression was that it was pretty run of the mill. They did have a men and boys choir, but with some female ringers in it. One of my so called claims to being a candidate was that I was considered experienced at dealing with boys. And I built up that choir a lot. Until, one fine day when every one of the best boys I had, every one of them—let’s say there were thirty kids and the eight best ones either went of to prep school or their voices changed. And with what I had left I felt I really couldn’t do the repertoire, so I wrote the vestry saying I thought we needed to strengthen the women’s sections, and from that time you really couldn’t say it was a boy choir.
Although, we continued to have a boy choir as a separate choir and we did lots of things, including several television performances. One with Victor Borge, on a program with him at Christmas time—just because it was Christmas time and I had a boys’ choir.
Talk about TV—I did later do a program with CCS with Robert Merrill on “I’ve Got a Secret” and the secret was the star, it was his birthday. So, in the course of the show, they had a barbershop quartet sing “Happy Birthday” to him. Then they laughed and scratched for a while, then a larger group came in and they sang “Happy Birthday” to him. And they laughed and scratched and did some more things. Meanwhile there was a stage at the other end of the studio with the curtains closed, and at the given point the curtains were opened and there were one hundred members of the Canterbury Choral Society and Robert Merrill in the middle of them to put the finishing touches of “Happy Birthday” in a paraphrase of a Mozart opera chorus, as I recall. . That was a lot of fun.
NC: What was the organ like at Heavenly Rest as you found it.
CDW: It was a 1929 Austin and it had either three or four 8’ Diapasons on the Great and they were all leather lipped. It was a big four-manual organ with a typical complement of stops on each division, except it only had about four ranks in the Pedal! It did have a drawknob console. Anyway, it was like a whole set of fog horns.
NC: It must have been quite a difference from the Cavaille-Coll at the Paris Cathedral?
CDW: It sure was! I had correspondence with G. Donald Harrison about ways to improve the organ and he suggested ways to brighten up the Great reeds, which Austin revoiced to have a little more overtone interest, a little more French sound. Of course I later had Austin completely renovate the organ.
NC: I’m eager to hear you talk about the beginnings of the Canterbury Choral Society.
CDW: Well, one day the rector came to me and said “Charlie, all the big churches have Evensong on Sunday afternoons at 4:00. The Cathedral has Evensong, St. Thomas has Evensong, St. Bartholomew’s has Evensong. What’s the matter with us. Let’s have some Evensong services.” So I said “well, you know we have a paid choir, you’re talking about some serious changes in the budget.” He said “just get a bunch of volunteers.” [Huge laughter from each of us.] And so I said “yes, sir.” And so I talked to some of the paid singers and asked if they would volunteer to start this Evensong choir and they said they would.
NC: Did he have in mind doing this every Sunday?
CDW: Well I think he did, but we started out with doing them just in Advent.
NC: Did he have any idea what he was asking for, do you think?
NC: Was this typical of his approach to work?
CDW: No, he was really a fine man and smart, but he just had this idea and hadn’t really thought it out. I can imagine that from other clergy I’ve known! [More laughter.] Anyway, some of the members in the choir were personal friends by this time and said that they would try it for a while, and so forth. And one of the vestrymen was a former member of the Harvard Glee Club, and he said he would be glad to volunteer to sing bass. He had a daughter who taught at the Chapin School and he talked her into getting friends of hers from Chapin to come sing in this volunteer Evensong choir.
So, I said we were going to do a chorus from Messiah on each of the first three Sundays in Advent, and on the Fourth Sunday I said I was going to get some instruments and do the entire first part of Messiah. And, it was quite successful; we had between thirty and forty singers, and the soloists were professionals from the church choir. In every case, the choir outnumbered the congregation. So the rector said “OK, we’re not the Cathedral, we’re not St. Bartholomew’s, we’re not St. Thomas, nobody’s coming to our Evensongs, so let’s forget it.”
Then, when I told the chorus that they were no longer needed, they said “we like singing here and want to keep coming.” This was Advent of 1951, after I arrived in January.
So, I said how would you like to sing Brahms’ Requiem? And they said, “wonderful.” And more people joined. So we put on the Brahms in the spring of 1952. We billed ourselves as the Oratorio Choir of the Church of the Heavenly Rest.
The concert was a success. We had harp and timpani in addition to the organ accompaniment, which was played by my assistant, Marion Engle. Anyway, after we did this successfully, we had a meeting and everyone wanted this organization to be permanent. So I said “well, we’ve got to have a name for ourselves, how about the Carnegie Hill Choral Society?” You know that part of Manhattan is called Carnegie Hill, the Carnegie mansion is across the street from the church. Well, they said “it sounds too much like Carnegie Hall Choral Society,” and so forth and someone finally said let’s call it Canterbury Choral Society. We are Anglican, after all, even though this is to be a community chorus, and so the name chosen was Canterbury Choral Society..
At this time it was rare to have an orchestra in church. I think Trinity Church may have had one on Ascension Day and St. Mary the Virgin from time to time. But the norm was to do oratorios with organ accompaniment, and there were organists who did it very well—I’ve mentioned David McK. Williams. But to do these works with the instrumentation as envisioned by the composer was something I really wanted to do. Of course this took money, so we set up a system of membership—friends, sponsors, and so forth. For the first season of this new plan, we had two sponsors at $25 each, and one was my father!
NC: Was this under the aegis of the church?
CDW: It was a choir of the church, but membership was open to anyone who could pass the audition. I handled it as a choir of the church, in that the professional singers of the church choir were required to sing in it, and the assistant organist was the accompanist. But a big part of my time in those days was spent raising money for this new organization.
NC: From a practical point of view, this must have doubled your work load, a big additional choir and the fundraising aspect. Did the church recognize this in any way, such as a salary raise?
CDW: It was more work, but not more compensation. I was making $4,000 a year and I don’t think they raised that in the first decade at the church. But I loved what I was doing, and I had a nice school job. From 1952-61 I was director of music at Kew Forest School out on Long Island in Forest Hills. Up until then, I really had been living from hand to mouth. The school had a Hammond organ, and the headmaster loved organ music, and was thrilled to have someone on his staff who knew about the organ. I was involved in the Guild more and more at that time and he would excuse me from staff meetings and classes when Guild duties conflicted. His name was Dr. James L. Dixon and he was a lovely person to work for. I distinctly remember the job paid $3,400. Well, to jump from $4,000 to $7,400—it was just wonderful! Of course, it was hard working two jobs.
By the way, it so happens that one of my students there was Donald Trump. He was one of these kids who needs personal attention. There would be twenty kids in the room and you’d have to focus on him. He could sing all right, but he was difficult.
So, anyway, the next big thing that happened is that Eleanor Steber came into the picture. She was a big star at the Met by this time, but we had known her previously and we were together at a dinner party one night. After dinner and much of our host’s fine Perrier Jouet champagne I went up to her and said “Eleanor, my choral society is going to be singing Brahms’ Requiem with orchestra in about a month and a half and I don’t have a soprano soloist yet, will you do it?” And she said “Brahms Requiem, I love that work—sure, I’ll do it.” For $100, by the way! [Laughing.] She sang for me once again and I paid her $100, and she sent it back! She wasn’t interested in the money, she was a good friend. I mean, she was a big star at the Met by this time, singing all the Mozart operas, Rosenkavalier and so forth. She also had a radio program. This was in 1955 and she was really famous.
So, having secured Eleanor Steber to sing the soprano solo, I pulled out the same technique I had used in Paris! I picked up the phone and called John Brownlee, one of the leading baritones at the Met who worked with Eleanor all the time, especially in Mozart operas. And I said “Mr. Brownlee, I’m doing Brahms Requiem, isn’t it a wonderful work?” “Oh, yes it’s a wonderful work” he replied in his deep voice. And I continued “Eleanor Steber is going to be my soprano and I need a really good baritone. Would you do it?” [Laughing] And he immediately said . . . he was an Australian, did you know that?
NC: I did not know that.
CDW: . . . so he said [imitating an Australian accent] “Well, if Eleanor is going to do it, of course I’ll do it. Count me in.” So, that really packed the house. This was our third season, March 1955. I was just lucky to have an “in” with a couple of these prominent people.
And then, I’d call up people I didn’t know who were at the Met, and just asked them. I had Jean Kraft as my alto, and Shirley Love, Ara Berberian—he was an old friend. I gave him his first paid date in New York.
NC: In a nutshell, it sounds like the Canterbury Choral Society took off right from the start.
CDW: Yeah, it really did. The next thing we had Eleanor for was the Mozart C minor Mass. She was Soprano I and Phyllis Curtin was Soprano II. Mack Harrell was the bass, and David Lloyd was the tenor.
NC: I sense that the social aspect of CCS is important now. Was it always?
CDW: I think it was. And I think that perhaps is the thing that differentiates it from many other choral groups. They love to party. And they love to sing.
NC: I know that you later got to presenting the Mahler Eighth Symphony at regular intervals, but prior to that, what were some of the early high points?
CDW: Well, I’ll tell you. We did the Berlioz Te Deum at the Cathedral [of St John the Divine] and that was tremendous. I struck up a friendship with Hugh Ross, who was a leading musician of the city for years. He was the director of the Schola Cantorum, which did all of the choral work with the New York Philharmonic, and he taught at Spence School and Hewitt School, and his kids, David and Grace, sang in my choir. It was he who put the idea in my head that there are lots of important choral works that features children’s choirs and encouraged me to do that. So, for this Berlioz we had scores and scores of children in the chorus, from Brearley School chorus–this was in 1968 so I was already teaching at the Chapin School, so we had the Chapin Chorus, and others . . . lots of children.
NC: What prompted you to have the concert at the cathedral, as opposed to Heavenly Rest? Space?
CDW: In addition to that, we were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Church of the Heavenly Rest, and I took the position that we ought to observe the occasion at the cathedral church.
NC: Was this the first time CCS had held a concert off the campus of Heavenly Rest?
CDW: [Thinking for a while.] No. Nineteen fifty nine was the 200th anniversary of Handel’s death, so all the musicians of New York collaborated in a city-wide Handel festival. I decided to do Handel’s Samson. And we did that at St. Thomas Church, since it was in mid town nearer where the other concerts were held. Ara Berberian sang the bass lead. We also had a choir of girls, because in Samson Delilah has an entourage which in the score is called “Delilah’s Virgins” but I called them, to be discreet, “Delilah’s Handmaidens.” [Much laughter.] Anyway, it was broadcast by the Voice of America all over the world. I got a tape of it later. So that was a big event, in 1959.
And then our appearances on television . . . I guess it was in the 50s that we did the most TV dates.
NC: Was there someone at the church in broadcasting that facilitated these appearances?
CDW: As a matter of fact, yes. The father of two of my choir boys, one of whom was Philip Morehead, who later became the director of the Chicago Opera Chorus . . . this father was related to the director of the CBS studio orchestra, so I did have an entree through him. And, some good looking gal in CCS was the casting director of “I’ve Got a Secret.” That’s how we got on that show with Robert Merrill.
NC: You worked with a lot of well known soloists over the years. At the risk of appearing to be name dropping, who among them stands out?
CDW: Well, in addition to Eleanor Steber and John Brownlee whom I mentioned . . .
Adele Addison who sang a lot . . . people like Robert Shaw used her.
Donald Gramm was a star at the Met and he sang a lot for us, particularly the Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs I remember. He was just one of those people I was fortunate enough to be able to call and say “are you available on May 14” and he would if he could.
Louise Natale was the soloist at Riverside Church for Richard Weagley, and she was really wonderful. I remember particularly a Haydn Creation she did. A very good, real top notch singer, and very funny and down to earth. I think her husband was a fire fighter in Nutley, New Jersey, or someplace like that.
And I’ve mentioned Ara Berberian. He had been a lawyer, and he was in the Army Chorus in Washington. He sang in the Heavenly Rest choir for a while when he first came to New York.
The first time I did a Verdi Requiem, I had Ellen Faull as the soprano. The mezzo was Rosalind Elias who was a big star at the Met and a friend of Janet’s from New England Conservatory. I then found out that these two were part of a road company who would travel around the country giving concerts. And the other two were Gabor Corelli, another Met singer, and Louis Sgarro, whom I remember particularly as being mentioned by the announcers at the Met broadcasts. So I thought it was really something to have four well known Metropolitan Opera stars to sing my Verdi Requiem! And we packed them in.
We did the Bloch Sacred Service and Arthur Wolfson, the cantor of Temple Emanu-El sang the part of the cantor. We did it again with Howard Nevison, who was an excellent cantor at Emanu-El after Wolfson.
Seth McCoy . . . he sang with us several times . . .
NC: Was that ever an issue at Heavenly Rest in those days? The racial thing?
CDW: Yes . . . yes it was. You know there’s a kook in every crowd, and . . . you remember Richard Neel who sings in CCS?
CDW: He went to some advanced type school, his mother was quite a liberal thinker for that era . . .
NC: She was the famous artist, Alice Neel?
CDW: Yes. Richard and his brother sang in my boy choir, and we encouraged the boys to bring in friends. The choir up to that point was lily white, and Richard brought in this African-American boy and I auditioned him, and he was good! So I took him into the choir. I later got a phone call—I remember the unpleasant tone of the voice—from the mother of one of the other boys in the choir saying “you took a black boy into the choir without consulting with us.” And I said “yes, I did!”
NC: Did it ever go further than that? To the rector or vestry?
CDW: No, but can you imagine the nerve of that woman? I think I did tell the rector about it and he said that I should ignore that telephone call.
NC: You talked once about Thomas Beveridge, can you tell me a little more about him?
CDW: Tom was in my choir at the age of nine, and he was an ideal chorister in every way, bright and talented. I was honored that his father, Lowell Beveridge—one of the most distinguished members of our profession—was encouraging his boy to be in my choir. For many years I didn’t see him, but he later became a singer and I hired him for a performance. His father, Lowell Beveridge, was the director of music at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University which used to be a big job. Searle Wright was his successor. And, Lowell went from there to Virginia Theological Seminary.
NC: We haven’t talked a lot about church life at Heavenly Rest. What were services like?
CDW: They were sort of middle-to-low church, Morning Prayer, and all that. And they had lots of extremely fancy weddings, sometimes in questionable taste. The one I remember most clearly was a bride that came up to me and said “I’ve been to some of your concerts and I know you know how to conduct an orchestra.” And I said “sure.” She said “I’d like to have an orchestra at my wedding.” And she requested that we do the Siegfried Idyll, you know, the piece that Wagner composed for his wife on Christmas morning? So I had to have a pretty big orchestra.
NC: Talk about the Blue Hill Troupe which you directed for a long time.
CDW: A wonderful organization that does Gilbert and Sullivan operas. During my time we did every one of the thirteen operas at least twice, with full pit orchestra and staging, which I liked a lot. I became the director in 1955 and stayed for thirty-five years.
NC: When you left Heavenly Rest did that alter the life of CCS?
CDW: Musically it didn’t affect it at all. We had to go through all the legalities of making it a separate non-profit organization, separate from the church. We still had most of our concerts at the church, where I now had the title of Organist and Choirmaster Emeritus. The church gave us an office and storage space for music. But we did have to find the money to pay the professional singers and the accompanist, and we pay the church for using the facilities.
NC: So as a result you had to have some fundraisers.
CDW: Yes, you’re leading up to the Mahler! I first became aware of the Mahler Eighth Symphony when I was AGO president. I went into the office one day (this was back when the offices were at 630 Fifth Avenue across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral) and picked up a copy of The Cathedral Age [magazine of Washington Cathedral] and read about Paul Callaway doing it at Washington Cathedral, and I salivated at the idea of this huge choral work, and just wondered if we could pull this off.
So, first we programmed Part I, which is only 25 minutes long, and paired it with Jean Kraft singing the Kindertotenlieder. I arranged for hundreds of kids from various schools and churches to sing the Knabenchor and we put this on in the Heavenly Rest. By then we had started the tradition of doing a concert every five years at either Philharmonic Hall [later named Avery Fisher Hall] or Carnegie Hall. So the next fifth year anniversary was in 1977. We already had Part I under our belts, so we took the bit in our teeth and hired Philharmonic Hall and I got hold of hundreds of kids, eight soloists, and the huge orchestra. And I went into it with fear and trepidation, but we pulled it off. We packed the place and did it again in ’82. Then I decided to do it in Carnegie Hall in ’87, then in ’92, ’97, ’02, and of course in ‘07 when Saint Luke’s participated with us.
And what happened was that we made enough money on those concerts to cover the annual deficits for the next five years. We’re in a little downturn right now in this economy and need to do a bit more fundraising, but that has been the pattern. But it’s remarkable—it actually makes money! Everybody loses money on a big production like that, but we charge the market price for tickets, and have good, loyal financial backing from our friends and patrons.
NC: After Heavenly Rest, you took up a new job didn’t you?
CDW: Yes, I was for almost twenty years at Trinity Church in Southport, Connecticut, where there already existed the Trinity Chorale, a choral society, and we did concerts there and they joined with CCS on occasions, as well.
Incidentally, Lise and I were married there in the context of the regular Sunday morning service, which is sort of unusual. [Janet Hayes Walker, Mrs. CDW died in 1997.] So we had a full choir, and it was really wonderful. That was on January 14, 2001. I had met Lise Phillips as a singer in CCS. She has been a very devoted wife, and it’s not always easy or exciting to hear a lot of talk about the organ! [Laughing.] But it was a big community affair. Everyone in the church was invited to the wedding and to the reception, which was arranged by CCS. And quite a few members of Canterbury came out to Connecticut, sat up in the gallery and sang along with the church choir.
NC: What do you admire about church music or church life in general these days, what’s changed for the better since the early days of your career?
CDW: [Longer pause than usual.]
NC: Maybe nothing! [Both laughing.]
CDW: No, that’s a good question, one that makes you want to think. I think of my first teacher as being an exemplary practitioner of the art of church music, as an organist, as a choirmaster, and as a teacher—Coke-Jephcott. He was a hard working, dedicated musician in the service of the church. He was a real inspiration.
NC: I know that by nature you are an optimistic person not inclined to the negative, but from your perspective, what could be better these days?
CDW: I do think it is regrettable . . . this tendency on the part of some, to make musical choices reflecting the tastes of people with no musical background at all, with the result that music of inferior quality has, in many places, risen into such prominence in church life . . . whereas music of good quality could be lifting up the noble and worthy aspects of worship to their rightful place.
NC: You’ve never really retired, have you?
CDW: No! I just love doing what I do, playing, conducting, teaching. I would feel strange not doing it, but guess you can’t do it forever. I’m just very glad to be here.
NC: As you reflect on your long career, for what would you like most to be remembered?
CDW: Well, I feel that to be a good church musician, doing your job from Sunday to Sunday, is a very worthy thing to be doing, and if you have the good fortune to be able to develop more elaborate musical programs—that’s good, too. But our job as church musicians is to provide, with the resources available, the best possible music for our church, week by week. I like that.