Tag Archives: Virgil Fox

Roy Perry: Musician and Organ Builder

Copyright © 2013 Neal Campbell

at 1173 old console

Background

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

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

Introduction

Roy Perry’s association with G. Donald Harrison and his role and presence in the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company during the years just prior to and following Harrison’s death was significant, and there are several reasons for this:

First, his own larger than life personality and musicianship yielded an impressive list of sales for the company.  And, it must be said, at that time Aeolian-Skinner was the preferred organ of most organists, even of those couldn’t afford it or could not wait for the three-year backlog of orders. Roy often said that the organs sold themselves: once prospective customers heard his home organ at First Presbyterian Church, Aeolian-Skinner’s Opus 1173 or it’s sister organ in the First Baptist Church in Longview, one opus number younger, they were hooked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, of course, there is the not inconsequential work he undertook with Jim Williams apart from the company in the later years of Aeolian-Skinner’s existence, most of which still exists.  His final statement and undoubtedly his most highly visible work was the renovation of the organ in Washington Cathedral from 1973-76.  This large-scale project was indigenously complicated and was a committee-driven project occasioned by the cathedral’s unique physical properties and its liturgical and logistical requirements, all of which was undertaken just as the Aeolian-Skinner company ceased operations.  Ostensibly designed by Joseph Whiteford, who oversaw the work from his home in California, he never made the trip to Washington to see either the work in progress or the final outcome. Roy’s official title was supervising architect and finisher, but in practical matters, he was the boss of the job.

Early Life  

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

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

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

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

In the organ chamber, 1939

In the organ chamber, 1939

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

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

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

A4.Lou Della Crim on her front porch 2

W. R. and Moma Della had four children: J. Malcolm, Pauline Florence (later, after her first husband died, Pauline MacIntosh) John Thompson Crim (later, John T., Sr. after the birth of his son; Roy, who had a nickname for everyone, called him Santa Claus), and Liggett, the youngest, who was always interested in things theatrical.

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

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

The Crim family.

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

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

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

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

Downtown Kilgore at the height of the oil boom.

Downtown Kilgore at the height of the oil boom.

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

B4.one derrick

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

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

B9.McAmis at Kilgore flyerIn 1935 Roy established a recital series at the church on the new organ and brought noted organists to town, including Hugh McAmis, the civic organist of San Antonio, and a youthful Virgil Fox, then 23 years old. Virgil and Roy remained friends and Fox played and visited several times in Kilgore over the years.  Roy composed a piece titled Lamento for Fox’s 1936 debut in Carnegie Hall in New York, although the piece was not listed on the program.

Study in New York

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

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

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

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

David McK. Williams

David McK. Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Present Church 1939-1949

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

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

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

C3.1939 Church under construction

Roy was drafted into the Army, but soon received a medical discharge. He was even listed in the honor roll of the men of First Presbyterian Church who were in the service of their country. Never in what would be described as robust health, Roy evidenced problems with his sight fairly early in his Kilgore days. He once had an automobile accident while borrowing Liggett Crim’s car: he said he simply didn’t see the other car and he never drove again. His eyesight was always a difficult issue.  He also developed in the mid-1950s the tremor that was to plague his playing and handwriting for the rest of his life, presumably from Parkinson’s disease, although that diagnosis has been disputed by some, so it’s hard to confirm just what was the cause of the tremor.

C2.1939 church building during construction

RP conducting the Kilgore Civic Chorus

RP conducting the Kilgore Civic Chorus

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

the mystery of the Godhead,

the divine ordering of the universe,

life after death,

and other queries before which reason and experience are helpless.

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

a few flowers to a sick person,

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

an inquiry about a new baby,

postcards to your choir while on vacation—

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

***

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

D7

Perry's review of William Watkins' Kilgore recital.

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

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

The King of Instruments Series of Recordings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Trip to England and France

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

May 10, 1955

Dear Henry:

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

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

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

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

As ever,

Don[1]

_______________

[1] Callahan, 398.

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

Post G. Donald Harrison: 1956-1972

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

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

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

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

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

Frederick Swann and Roy Perry, 1967.

Frederick Swann and Roy Perry, 1966.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy Perry, ca. 1966

Roy Perry, ca. 1966

This article appeared in an abbreviated form

in the February 2013 issue of The Diapason.

Copyright © 2013 Neal Campbell

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy Perry at Opus 1174 during its tonal finishing, 1950

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

Festival Itinerary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Murray, Organist

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

First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore

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

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

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

Two Welsh Folk-Tune Arrangements—Vaughan Williams

Romanza “The White Rock”

Toccata “Saint David’s Day

Passacaglia, BWV 582—Bach

Intermission—Presentation to James Lynn Culp

Carillon, Op. 75—Elgar

Grande Pièce Symphonique—Franck

Picture2

First Presbyterian Church, view from the nave

Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walt Strony, Organist

First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore

Walt Strony at the console of 1173

Walt Strony at the console of 1173

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

Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde—Wagner

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

Thanksgiving (from Four Prayers in Tone)—Purvis

Two Hymn Arrangements—Strony

    His Eye is on the Sparrow; Joyful, joyful

Intermission

Tico, Tico—Zequinha de Abreu

Carmen Fantasy—Bizet, arr. Strony

Two Improvisations—Strony

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

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

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

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

The Trompette-en-Chamade and exposed Great upperwork

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

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

First Baptist Church in 1955

First Baptist Church in 1955

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

The Rev. Dr. W. Morris Ford

The Rev. Dr. W. Morris Ford

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

Dr. Ford singing with the choir

Dr. Ford singing with the choir

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

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

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

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

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

The interior of First Baptist Church

The interior of First Baptist Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Ford, left, and Lorenz Maycher

David Ford (left) and Lorenz Maycher

Richard Elliott, Organist

David Ford, Bass

The Alexander Boggs Ryan Memorial Concert

First Baptist Church, Longview

 *Chaconne—Louis Couperin

*+Toccata in F, BWV 540—Bach

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

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

+Recessional—Reginal De Koven

Cantilena—John Longhurst

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

*Variations sur un Noël—Dupré

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

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

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

Wednesday

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

CC and Frances Anderson

Charles Callahan and Frances Anderson at St. Luke’s

Charles Callahan, Organist

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Kilgore

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

Adagio and Rondo—Joseph-Hector Fiocco

Air and Variation—Charles Wesley

Voluntary in G—Samuel Wesley

Allegro all Marcia—Albert Lister Peace

Pastorale in D—William Walstenholme

Three Pieces—Callahan

Lauda Sion (from Gregorian Suite)

Prelude on Jewels (from Kilgore Suite)

Trumpet Tune (from Suite in D)

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

Ann Frohbieter, Organist

Ann Frohbieter

Ann Frohbieter

First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore

Introduction and Passacaglia—Reger

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

The Red Sea—Michael Horvit

Variations on AmericaIves

Adagio for Strings—Barber

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

Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H—Liszt

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

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

Christopher Houlihan, Organist

Christopher Houlihan at the console of 1175

Christopher Houlihan at the console of 1175

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Kilgore

Toccata—Sowerby

Trio Sonata in C major, BWV 529—Bach

Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582—Bach

Intermission

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

Andantino, from String Quartet, Op. 10—Debussy

From Symphony II—Vierne

Choral

Scherzo

Allegro

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

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

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

A full First Presbyterian on movie night

A full church on movie night

Thursday

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

Steve Emery and Scott Davis at First Baptist in Nacogdoches

Steve Emery and Scott Davis at First Baptist in Nacogdoches

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

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

Charles Callahan at the console of 1153-A

Charles Callahan at the console of 1153-A

Charles Callahan, Scott Davis, Organists

Rebecca Robbins, Horn

First Baptist Church, Nacogdoches

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

Memories—Clarence Dickinson

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

Fireside Fancies, Op 29 (1923)—Joseph Clokey

          A Cheerful Fire

          The Wind in the Chimney

          Old Aunt Chloe

          Grandfather’s Wooden Leg

Melody in Mauvre—Purvis

Alleluia (2011)—Callahan

Improvisation—Davis

Interior, First Baptist Church, Nacogdoches

Interior, First Baptist Church, Nacogdoches

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

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

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

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

Christopher Jennings, Organist

First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore

 Storm King Symphony—Dickinson

Allegro Maestoso

Canon

Scherzo

Intermezzo

Final

Intermission

Fanfare—Alec Wyton

Five Dances—Calvin Hampton

      The Primitives

      At the Ballet

      Those Americans

      An Exalted Ritual

      Everyone Dance

Toccata—Gerre Hancock

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

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

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

Ken Cowan greeting the audience after his stunning program.

Ken Cowan greeting the audience after his stunning program.

Ken Cowan, Organist

First Baptist Church, Longview

Sonata No. 1 in F minor—Mendelssohn

Allegro moderato e serioso

Adagio

Andante, Recitative

Allegro assai vivace

Danse macabre—Saent-Saëns, arr. Cowen

Suite, Op. 5—Duruflé

Prélude

Sicilienne

Toccata

Intermission

Étude Héroïque—Rachel Laurin

Elegiac Romance—John Ireland

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

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

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

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

Neal Campbell

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

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Aeolian-Skinner Organs in Morningside Heights, New York City

This article, originally titled Regal Instruments in the Neighborhood, was published in Poco a Poco, the Manhattan School of Music bi-weekly student newsletter, on September 2, 1992.  At the time it was the custom for doctoral students to write feature articles each week.

Copyright  © 1992 Neal Campbell

As with other facets of our culture, a rather complete history of the art and science of organ-building in American can be traced by studying the organs placed in auditoriums and houses of worship in New York City. Virtually every style and era of organ-building, both foreign and domestic, can be found in our city, dating back to the earliest time of the new colony, when an organ from England was placed in Trinity Church at Wall Street, to elaborate electronic substitutes such as the one installed in Carnegie Hall several years ago, to the retrospective baroque replica in Alice Tully Hall.  One important and uniquely American style of organ-building began to emerge in the early 20th century, and this style is also well represented in New York City, and specifically so in our neighborhood here in Morningside Heights.

Ernest M. Skinner

Ernest M. Skinner (1866-1960) established his own organ-building firm in Boston in 1901, after serving an apprenticeship in several other New England firms.  In the early days of electricity, Skinner developed a new type of electric action that was reliable and allowed divisions of the organ to be placed at distant parts of the room.  These divisions were connected to a console by means of various electronic linkages.  (Keep in mind  that before the advent of electricity, keyboards were connected to the pipe chests mechanically.  This type of playing action is known as tracker action, or mechanical action.)  Skinner, who loved the symphonic and operatic literature, also developed several imitative and evocative stops which yielded beautiful special effects that were popular with the public.  Such voices as the English horn, French horn, flauto mirabilis, corno di bassetto, and Erzähler became standard in the Skinner tonal palette.  Skinner’s early success in securing large contracts for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue assured him a commercial success from the start.  From this point onward, the firm built organs for the most prominent churches, cathedrals, concerts halls, and educational institutions.  A look at the Skinner opus list reads like a Who’s Who of important institutions in this country, and this near monopoly continued until the company went out of business in 1973.

G. Donald Harrison in an Aeolian-Skinner brochure.

In late 1927 the Skinner Organ Company took into its organization a young man from England named G. Donald Harrison (1889-1956).  Harrison had been a director of the venerable English organ-building firm of Willis and Sons.  In reaction to the orchestral organs popular at the time, with their collections of soft color stops and predominance of heavy fundamental tone (all of which were characteristic of the standard Skinner ensemble), Harrison soon became interested in building organs along more classical lines.  Scholarship had increased between the two world wars, and several leading American organists had traveled to Europe to see and hear the organs of the historic French and German schools.  This had a tremendous impact on Harrison in his desire to produce a unique American organ that would combine elements of the important historical periods with existing Skinner trademarks, such as the beautiful imitative sounds and the reliable electro-pneumatic action.  By the 1930s Harrison’s eclectic organs were gaining favor, and many important contracts came to the Skinner Company with specific instructions that the organs be designed by Harrison.  Naturally, friction developed between Skinner, who had never altered his ideas of tone, and the progressive Harrison.  Ultimately Skinner left the firm and, with varying degrees of success, tried to operate from other headquarters.  In the mid-1930s the Skinner Company purchased the residence organ division of the Aeolian Company, and the firm was known afterward as the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company until it ceased operation in 1973.[1]  During its history the company produced about 1,400 organs—not so many when compared with some of the more commercial builders.  Continuing interest in these American organs and their prominent locations attest to their superior artistic and technical properties.

St. Paul’s Chapel, Columbia University

In our immediate neighborhood, there exist four rather important organs designed by Harrison at different periods of his work.  The oldest of these four is in St. Paul’s Chapel of Columbia University.  This organ, Opus 985, dates from 1938 and was among the first of Harrison’s organs to take on the new classic style.  It contains two unenclosed baroque divisions on either side of the wide chancel, together with an appropriately developed pedal division to match—essential to playing trio sonatas in particular and contrapuntal music in general.  The organ has remained virtually unchanged except for some additions in the dome of the chapel, which Aeolian-Skinner added in the 1960s.[2]  Many of the leading organists of the world, including E. Power Biggs, played and recorded on the Chapel organ, and the instrument represented a turning point in the visibility of the new type of “American Classic” organ, as this style had by then come to be known.  Before the student riots in the late 1960s, there was an elaborate chapel music program, led by Searle Wright, that featured a large choir of students, faculty, staff, and community members, and their performances of innovative repertoire included many premieres.  Today there are frequent recitals in the chapel by students and visiting artists and a variety of concerts and symposia, even though the university no longer sponsors an active chapel music program.

The organ in our own Hubbard Hall[3] is Aeolian-Skinner’s opus 1272, from 1952.  At that time, of course, our building was the home of the Juilliard School of Music.  The Hubbard Hall organ was obviously designed with studio teaching and practice in mind.  The forward location across the front of the stage insures a clear line of sound, and the three manual and pedal divisions contain appropriate stops and ensembles for the convincing performance of a wide range of literature.  This organ has gone through several stages of damage and repair, but as it stands it is essentially the same as it was conceived, and it represents a continuation of the Aeolian-Skinner tradition of placing instruments in major American conservatories.  Aeolian-Skinner organs are also located in the Curtis Institute, Peabody Conservatory, the Eastman School of Music, and Westminster Choir College.

Aeolian-Skinner Organ, opus 1272, in Hubbard Hall, Manhattan School of Music (formerly Juilliard School of Music)

The organ in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is truly one of the great organs of the world.  As opus 150, it was one of Ernest Skinner’s early successes dating from 1910, and much of what he did there, particularly the mechanism, remains unchanged to this day. In 1953 the organ was rebuilt by G. Donald Harrison as opus 150-A, and much of the old pipework was replaced.

At the time of the original organ, the nave had not yet been constructed.  The vast space facilitated by the new nave, which opened in 1941, together with changing musical tastes necessitated a complete rethinking of the needs of the Cathedral organ.  Its main function, in accordance with the purpose of English cathedral organs, was to accompany daily choral services, an activity requiring great flexibility and range of tone.  It also had to have sufficient power to lead the occasional singing of a vast throng and to provide ceremonial effects inherent in the liturgy of so great a space.

The State Trumpet under the west rose window, Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Harrison drew on his past experience, repeating features from the design of the Liverpool Cathedral organ, which Willis had completed in 1924.  Liverpool Cathedral is almost as large as St. John the Divine, and many unique techniques in scaling and voicing were used in both places.  For example, the ranks of pipes are sometimes doubled or even tripled in the upper octaves to create a solid, even tone as the scale ascends.  One of the most dramatic innovations is the installation of the State Trumpet on the west wall under the great rose window, some 500-plus feet from the main organ.  This stop is voiced on extremely high wind pressure and it provides a telling presence for ceremonial occasions.  The organ, although awaiting a major restoration[4], remains in its 1953 state, and it is a lasting monument to American organ-building at its best in the first half of the 20th century.

St. John the Divine has been the scene of many important events—religious, civic, and musical.  Much of the organ music of Olivier Messiaen was heard there in its first American performances, and within a week of Messiaen’s death last May, Jon Gillock of the Juilliard faculty, who had been a student of Messiaen, played the complete Livre du Saint Sacrement as a memorial.  There are weekly organ meditations /recitals on Sunday evening following Vespers at 7:00 p.m.

Console of the new Aeolian-Skinner Organ, in the chancel of The Riverside Church, 1955.

The organ in The Riverside Church is another story completely.  It stands as one of the largest ever built by Aeolian-Skinner and is one of only four built by the company containing five manuals.  (The other three are in the Mormon Tabernacle, St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue, and the Curtis Institute of Music.)  the original organ for the new Rockefeller Church in 1930 was built by Hook & Hastings, a well-respected firm in the late 19th century.  By all accounts, however, the organ was never a success, either tonally or mechanically.  Virgil Fox, the popular, flamboyant virtuoso, was organist from 1946 to 1965, and he frequently fielded mechanical mishaps in imaginative ways which ensured that the full congregation of worshippers was made well aware of the organ’s inadequacies.  The new five-manual console was built first in 1948 as opus 1118, and a complete new organ was finished in 1955 as opus 1118-B.  Much of the design was dictated by Fox.  As a result, the organ was not so much a monument to Harrison’s current thinking as it was to Fox’s lavish sense of the grand symphonic style, accented by his particular flair for the dramatic.  The organ is unusually large and has gallery as well as chancel divisions.  It also used portions of the old organ.  While the Riverside organ incorporated Harrison’s basic concepts of the American Classic style throughout its divisions, it was first and foremost a “deluxe” church organ tailor-made to suit Fox’s dramatic style of service playing.  Through his concerts, oratorio accompaniments, and recordings, the organ became famous.

A publicity photograph of Virgil Fox at the console of the Riverside organ.

In 1967 the organ received a major renovation, and several stops have been added since then, including visible pipework in the gallery.  (Initially, church architects and officials had decreed that no pipework be visible in the church.)  There are frequent recitals and musical events at the church throughout the year, and many of the world’s best-known organists have performed there.  The past two organists of the church have been faculty members at MSM, and many of our students play their degree recitals there.

The chancel and a portion of the nave of The Riverside Church from an article in Life magazine, December 20, 1937.

It would be a mistake to suggest that these four organs are the most important in the city, but they do represent high watermarks in the history of a company that at one time was preeminent in the history of American organ-building.

For the intrepid organ-crawler, there are other interesting organs nearby.  James Chapel of Union Theological Seminary houses a fairly new tracker action organ built by Holtkamp.  An older Holtkamp is in Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church on 121st Street.  Also at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine are two two-manual Aeolian-Skinner organs in the side chapels, and there is a three-manual Ernest Skinner organ in the Synod Hall at 110th Street and Amsterdam Avenue (across from V & T Pizza).  The organs in St. Michael’s Church at 99th Street and Amsterdam Avenue are arguably the best mechanical action organs in the city.  A rather complete three-manual organ is located in the gallery and a small one-manual instrument is in the chapel.  Both organs were built in the mid-1960s by Rudolf von Beckerath of Hamburg, Germany.

Incidentally, the chancel and chapel of St. Michael’s contain the most extensive array of appointments by Louis Tiffany in existence.  Decorating schemes, windows, and mosaics throughout are executed by this renowned artist.


[1] In an email message to me dated April 14, 2012,  Allen Kinzey, who worked for Aeolian-Skinner for many years, tells the exact scenario:

On January 2, 1932 the Aeolian Company and the Skinner Organ Company formed a new, third company called the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company.  Aeolian owned 40% of the stock in Aeolian-Skinner, and the Skinner Organ Company owned 60%.

Aeolian closed its operations in Garwood, New Jersey, and sent uncompleted contracts, the glue press, some material, and one employee (Frances Brown, who was a young lady then, and she worked for A-S to the end, or almost the end) to Aeolian-Skinner.  The Skinner Organ Company deeded its property and turned over contracts, employees, materials, machinery, etc. to Aeolian-Skinner.

I assume Aeolian was hurt more by the depression as much of their work was residential. Therefore, they owned a lesser percent of Aeolian-Skinner.  Skinner Organ Company continued on.  Its sole purpose would have been as a holding company.

In Callahan’s The American Classic Organ [Richmond: OHS, 1990] on page 233 is a letter from GDH to Willis. I have always assumed that the third paragraph referred to buying out Aeolian’s stock. The $110,000 was about the value Aeolian put in its financial statement of its Aeolian-Skinner stock. “During the war —” would coincide with the 1943-44 ending of Aeolian’s listing of Aeolian-Skinner stock in its financial report and the end of Skinner Organ Company appearing in Moody’s. When Aeolian’s stock was purchased, there was no longer any purpose for Skinner Organ Company.

[2]  An email from Allen Kinzey to me dated April 15, 2012, tells the exact work that was done on the organ as opus 985-B under the direction of Searle Wright:

Choir Organ

new 8 Flauto Dolce in place of 8 Dulciana

new 8 Flute Celeste tc in place of 8 Unda Maris

new 8 Viola from 4’C up with existing basses rescaled

revoice 8 Concert Flute 2’C up

new 4 Prestant in place of 4 Fugara

4 Musette = old Orchestral Oboe moved down an octave

Swell Organ

8 Aeoline = old Choir Dulciana in place of 8 Diapason

4 Fugara          } = old Choir Fugara on new chest

2 2/3 Nazard   }    [tuned as a Nazard]

revoice 8 Hautbois

add 8 Vox Humana (Dome)

Brustwerk

new 8 Spitzgeigen in place of 8 Muted Viol

new 4 Montre on new chest

Pedal Organ

16 Montre        }  extension of Brustwerk 4 Montre

8 Montre        }  low 18 from existing facade pipes, rest new on new chest

add 16 Bombarde (Sw)

add   8 Solo Trumpet (Dome)

add 32 Bombarde        } low 12 notes electronic

add 32 Bourdon           } speakers located in the dome

Dome Organ – on Manual IV, enclosed (shades coupable to Swell and Choir shoes)

16 Solo Trumpet  tc     }

8 Solo Trumpet         }  new pipes on new chest

4 Solo Trumpet         }

8 Vox Humana new pipes on new chest

Robert Turner built a new four-manual console which was installed in 1997.

[3] Now Greenfield Hall; the organ no longer exists.

[4] Quimby Pipe Organs of Warrensburg, Missouri, completed a major restoration in 2009.

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Obituary: William Watkins

My obituary for William Watkins, my organ teacher from 1967 to 1972, which was published in the November 2004 issue of The American Organist:

William Watkins, AAGO, 82 years old, June 17, 2004, at Washington Hospice in Washington, D. C., of acute respiratory failure.  An honorary life member of all three Washington-area AGO chapters, Mr. Watkins was director of music and organist at Georgetown Presbyterian Church in Washington, D. C., from 1956 to 1997.  He held the position of director of music emeritus until his death.  William Watkins was born and raised in Danville, Va.  He began his academic music studies in 1941 at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Md.  After a break in his studies, when he served as a chaplain’s assistant in the U. S. Army, he returned to Peabody, where he was a pupil of Virgil Fox.  There he received the artist’s diploma, at that time awarded to only 18 students in the history of the conservatory, which was founded in 1888.

While a student in Baltimore, he held his first church position at Washington’s First Congregational Church in 1945.  In 1948 he became organist at Washington’s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, sharing his tenure with the well-known Scottish minister Peter Marshall, during which time large crowds filled the church at Sunday morning and evening services for the exceptional preaching and music.  During his eight years there he collaborated with G. Donald Harrison and Joseph S. Whiteford in rebuilding the church’s Skinner organ.

Publicity flyer from the early 1950s.

In 1949 Mr. Watkins’ career was launched after he competed in and won the Young Artists Award of the National Federation of Music Clubs, at the time the most prestigious music competition in the U. S.  The first organist to win the competition, Mr. Watkins played Leo Sowerby’s then new Sonatina.  This was the beginning of a life-long association with Sowerby’s music, culminating in his receiving a lifetime achievement and appreciation award from the Leo Sowerby Foundation in 1996 during the AGO National Convention in New York City.  He played solo recitals for national and regional conventions of the AGO, and was a judge for the 1956 National Organ Playing Competition.  He was the first organist to perform with the Dallas Symphony, the first organist to play in the Art Institute of Chicago, and the first organist to perform in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C.  His solo career was curtailed in late 1951 as a result of injuries he sustained in an automobile accident.

Aeolian-Skinner Organ, Opus 1306 from 1957, in the gallery of Georgetown Presbyterian Church, Washington, D. C.

In the early 1950s he began a noted teaching career that continued until his death.  Many of his students have won competitions and developed careers of their own in churches and academic institutions.  At various times he also taught organ at the Washington Musical Institute, the University of Maryland, and Catholic University of America.  He recorded for the Aeolian-Skinner “King of Instruments” series, McIntosh Records, and Washington Records.  Mr. Watkins’ professional career culminated as director of music and organist at Georgetown Presbyterian church in Washington.  Shortly after his appointment  he collaborated with Joseph S. Whiteford on the construction of a new 19-rank Aeolian-Skinner organ of unusual design, which he described in a brochure as “not large but extraordinarily resourceful . . . absolutely stunning for its capability, its flexibility, its variety, and its tonal beauty.”  With the new organ and the restoration of the historic building and its good acoustics, Mr. Watkins established the church as an important venue for choral and organ music in the oldest Presbyterian congregation in the nation’s capital.  He oversaw several additions to the organ over the years.

William Watkins leaves many devoted students upon whose lives he left an indelible mark through his artistry, devoted friendship, humility, and his love of the Aeolian-Skinner organ.  A memorial service and interment took place at Georgetown Presbyterian Church.  A musical memorial tribute is scheduled at the church on April 2, 2005.

–NEAL CAMPBELL

With Bill Watkins with Lorenz Maycher, 1995.

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New York Organists from the Past

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

Jack H. Ossewaarde (1918-2004)

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.

Jessie Craig Adam

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.

Norman Coke-Jephcott (1893-1962)

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)

Andrew Tietjen in the churchyard of Trinity Church. Photo courtesy of Yolande Tietjen Fitz-Gerald, Rowayton, Connecticut.

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.

Charlotte Garden

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

Harold Friedell (1905-1958)

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

Seth Bingham  (1882-1972)

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

T. Tertius Noble (1867-1953)

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.

Participants in the NYC AGO Presidents’ Day Conference 2011 on the Chancel steps with the Choir of St. Bartholomew’s Church. Photo by Steve Lawson.

Lilian Carpenter (1889-1973)

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.

Arthur Sewall Hyde

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)

Philip James, at work on the score of “Fanfare and Ceremonial” for band. Photographed by B. Perry, Aug 16, 1955, Francestown, New Hampshire. From “A Catalog of the Music Works of Philip James” comp. Helga James, 1981.

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 (1923-1979)

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 McK. Williams in his Canadian Army uniform in 1920.

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.

The Choir of St. Bartholomew’s Church in the 1940s. DMcKW is at the altar end of the first row on the right side.

Pietro Yon (1886-1943)

Yon at St. Francis Xavier, New York, in 1919

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.

Roberta Bailey

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.”

Warner Hawkins

Warner Hawkins, Mus.D., F.A.G.O.

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)

Claire Coci at the console of the organ in the West Point Cadet Chapel in the 1940s.

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.

Linzel article_four_1

Edward Linzel

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 and Albert Schweitzer at St. Thomas Church, Strasbourg, 1959.

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.

at Maison Schweitzer
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.

Bach EN-B 2
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.

Age 98 in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Age 98 in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

William Strickland (1914-1991)

William Strickland, from the program book of the AGO National Convention in New York, 1956.

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)

Paul J. Sifler

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.

Bronson Ragan

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

Anne Versteeg McKittrick

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

Channing

Channing Lefebvre, scanned from the 1940 AGO National Convention booklet.

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.

LefebvreTrinityEpis_EMSCons

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.”

Lefebvre

Rehearsing in the choir room at St. Paul’s School

T. Frederick H. Candlyn (1892-1964) Candlyn

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)

Markey

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)

Paul Callaway, Mus.D., F.A.G.O. in the 1940 Washington, DC AGO National Convention booklet.

Paul Callaway, Mus.D., F.A.G.O. in the 1940 Washington, DC AGO National Convention booklet.

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.

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Bach St. Matthew Passion at Peabody in the late 1950s.

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.

At the conclusion of a concert by the Cathedral Choral Society

At the conclusion of a concert by the Cathedral Choral Society

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.

8. Phila Orchestra Barber premiere

At the console of the new Aeolian-Skinner organ in the Philadelphia Academy of Music, 1960

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.

With Ronald Rice, a student at the College of Church Musicians who became the first organist of the new Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta.

With Ronald Rice, a student at the College of Church Musicians who became the first organist of the new Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta.

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 Callaway, 1977

Paul Callaway, 1977

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)  

Virgil Fox in 1932

Virgil Fox in 1932

 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.

Virgil Fox with Richard Weagly shortly after their appointment to Riverside.

Virgil Fox with Richard Weagly shortly after their appointment to Riverside.

While in Baltimore, Fox also taught organ at the Peabody Conservatory where among his pupils were Richard Wayne Dirksen, William Watkins, Milton Hodgson, Marie Schumacher, and Helen Howell Williams.

For the Sixtieth Anniversary AGO National Convention held in New York in 1956, Fox served with Robert Baker as co-chairman of the convention, which was attended by the largest number in the Guild’s history at the time. He also was a member of the AGO national council and was one of the organsts chosen to open the new organ in Philharmonic Hall, as Avery Fisher Hall was known when it was new.

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Virgil Fox at the organ in his home in Englewood, New Jersey, in the late 1970s.

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.

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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.

Alec Wyton (1921-2007)Picture2

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.

Taking a daily rehearsal at the Cathedral Choir School.

Taking a daily rehearsal at the Cathedral Choir School.

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.

With Leopold Stokowski at the Cathedral.

With Leopold Stokowski at 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.

At the console of the Cathedral Organ, Aeolian-Skinner Opus 150-A.

At the console of the Cathedral Organ, Aeolian-Skinner Opus 150-A.

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.

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Lillian ClarkClark Lillian article_four_1 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) SP4TD00Zis 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 no captionGottfried Federlein (1883-1952)

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.

William Whitehead (1938-2000) Whitehead, William

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.

J. Warren Andrews (1860-1942)Andrews

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 at the new Aeolian-Skinner organ in Christ Church, Bronxville, 1949.

Robert Owen at the new Aeolian-Skinner organ in Christ Church, Bronxville, 1949.

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)

Ray F. Brown

Ray F. Brown

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, Wm C at 1st Pres NYC

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)

White, Ernest in TAO March 49

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.

StMaryVirgin1940Pipes

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, ca. 1940

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)

1941 CDW at ChCh Cmbdge in TAO

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)Torrence, Richard

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:

http://www.circlesinternet.org/torrence/page0/page0.html

http://www.hectorsfriends.com/RichardTorrenceBio.htm

McNeil Robinson (1943-2015)

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At the 2006 Chicago AGO convention.

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.

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Gaston Dethier (1875-1958)

Dethier, Gaston 1919

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)

SmithFrankCedric

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.

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Harold Friedell: A Hundredth Anniversary Retrospective

Friedell at St Bartholomew’s Church

The following article, condensed from my doctoral dissertation, appeared in the October 2005 issue of  The American Organist:

HAROLD FRIEDELL  (1905-1958):                                      

A Hundredth Anniversary Retrospective

         Copyright © 2005 Neal Campbell

EARLY LIFE, FIRST TENURE AT CALVARY CHURCH

Harold William Friedell was born on 11 May 1905 at the home of his parents in Jamaica, Queens, in the City of New York.  It seems likely that the young Harold inherited musical talent from the Welsh influence of his mother’s side of the family.  While still a teenager, he gained his first appointment as organist at his family church, First Methodist in Jamaica.

Local newspaper photo of HF in his early teens

A one-page résumé prepared by Friedell sometime after 1946 indicates that his early organ study was with Clement Gale and David McK. Williams.  Gale was an Englishman who served several New York City churches and was a founder of the AGO in 1896.

In the early twentieth century it was not common for church musicians to hold a college degree.  The successful completion of the AGO examinations was the practical equivalent of a graduate degree and much of Friedell’s early study was in preparation for the exams.  He earned the A.A.G.O. just prior to his appointment as organist of Calvary Church in New York, which he assumed in December 1928, succeeding Hugh Porter, who had been the organist for four years.  In addition to his duties at Calvary, HF also trained a choir of boys and girls at the Church of St. James the Less in Scarsdale, New York.  This position was a minor one, consisting of leading the choir for rehearsals on selected weekday afternoons and occasional appearances at Sunday afternoon services or events.  He continued his studies and gained the F.A.G.O. in the spring of 1929 and studied composition with Bernard Wagenaar and Roger Sessions.

Bernard Wagenaar (1894-1971), of Dutch origin, came to Americain 1920 to play violin in the New York Philharmonic.  He taught fugue, orchestration, and composition from 1925 to 1968 at the Institute of Musical Art, which later became the Juilliard School.  In addition to HF, his long list of pupils includes Norman Dello Joio and Ned Rorem.  His First Symphony was premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1928, beginning a public career which included many awards and commissions.

HF’s recital programs show a definite catholicity of taste, including a lot of early music.  Alongside the standard repertoire of Bach and Franck, there are works by Pachelbel, Clérambault, Couperin, Scheidt, Muffat, LeBègue, Titelouze, and du Mage.  At the other end of the spectrum, he played regularly works by many lesser-knowns of the era, such as Karg-Elert, Rheinberger, Mulet, Guilmant, Lemmens, Parry, Bairstow, and West, and, of course, much from the repertoire of  Widor, Vierne, and Dupré.  He also programmed works of his colleagues Seth Bingham, T. Tertius Noble, Eric DeLamarter, Philip James, Carl McKinley, and T. Frederick H. Candlyn.  It is also fun to see lighter works crop up in the orders of service, such as an occasional transcription of works by Debussy or Wagner, a prelude by Scriabin, adapted works of Honegger and Stravinsky, as well as popular works by Chadwick and Borowski.  In fact, for the remainder of his career, he usually played a transcription of the Prelude to Parsifal at some point on Palm Sunday.  During his first tenure at Calvary, he also listed for the first time works by Vaughan Williams and Howells.  The works of these two English contemporaries held a special interest to him, and people close to him have remarked on the stylistic compositional influences each of these composers had on Friedell’s own works.[1]

Two months shy of his third anniversary at Calvary notice was made that Friedell “accepted a call to become Choirmaster and Organist of St. John’s Church, Jersey City.  We follow him with our interest and good wishes.”[2]  The following week the order of service listed William R. Strickland, Jr., as the organist.  This is the first recorded association between HF and Strickland.  It is not known exactly when they met, but their lives were closely linked throughout HF’s life, both professionally and personally.

THE JERSEY CITY YEARS

At St. John’s Church in Jersey City, New Jersey, Friedell had, for the first time, charge of an entire music program, including the direction of the choir. St. John’swas a prosperous parish with over one thousand communicants and was the largest of the eleven Episcopal churches in Jersey City.  In the area locally known as Jersey City Heights, or simply “the Heights,” St. John’s edifice has a commanding location high on a bluff overlooking lower Manhattan.  Designed in the Gothic Revival style, it sat approximately four hundred persons, with a high ceiling, shallow chancel, and excellent acoustics.    Following a serious fire in 1914, the entire chancel was renovated and a new Austin organ was installed, under the direction of Philip James.

St John’s Church, Jersey City, New Jersey

When Harold arrived at St. John’s, one of the sopranos in the choir was Amy Valleau McGown, the daughter of prominent members of the parish with strong family ties to Jersey City and the Episcopal Church.   They were married in St. John’s Churchon 22 October 1934.  William Strickland[3] played the organ and Paul Callaway was one of the witnesses.[4]

Amy and Harold Friedell on their wedding trip to Atlantic City

A period of youthful activity followed.  Amy, a graduate of New York University, taught music at Stevens Hoboken Academy and directed the glee club of the Jersey City Women’s Club, and pursued a career as a singer, in addition to her position in the choir of St. John’s Church.  In addition to his work at the church, Harold had by now developed a teaching studio, primarily in coaching students preparing to take the AGO examinations.  He was also the accompanist for the 200-voice Downtown Glee Club in New York, a group comprised primarily of businessmen.  He also played regular noonday recitals at Trinity Church, Wall Street, for a fee of twenty-five dollars each, and sang tenor in a group known as the Organists’ Quartet of New York,[5] a group previously unknown to this writer.

Friedell played many recitals but he rarely left New York in so doing.  However, in August 1936, he did make a recital appearance before a convention of the Canadian Collegeof Organists[6] inLondon, Ontario, at the Dundas United Church, which received the following review:

To members of the Canadian College, in attendance at the convention, and to London music lovers generally, last night’s program afforded opportunity of hearing one of the most interesting of the younger organists of the day.  Mr. Friedell plays with brilliance, with style and with authority.  He built up a distinctive program with distinctive skill.  He is a master of the richer, fuller tones of the organ and by the vigor and fluency of his playing adds a certain zest to the performance of even the most severe works.  All these interesting and vital qualities make Mr. Friedell a recitalist worth hearing and his choice of organ literature last evening, including two Bach preludes and closing on the rich dramatic music of the Cesar Franck Final in B flat, demonstrated the judgment and power of his interpretation and his assured ability as an interpreter.[7]

These remarks hint at his playing style, particularly about his being “master of the richer tones” (presumably a positive remark about his use of the organ), and his playing having “a certain zest.”  Each of these echo similar descriptions from those who describe HF’s playing later in his career.[8]

The years in Jersey City were also the most productive years for composition for Friedell, strictly in terms of quantity.  He composed anthems in a youthful style, but belonging

. . . by affinity of artistic temperament to the school of English composers who are writing a new chapter in music on the ancient “modes” as opposed to the schools which are evolving through tonality or atonality.[9]

Several of these early works were submitted under a nom de plume for competitions. By 1936 HF had composed what was to be his largest work, a Symphony for Organ in four movements, which received its first and only known performance by William Strickland, to whom it is dedicated.[10]  In 1937, also under a nom de plume, he composed his only orchestral work, Pavane, which has never been performed.

THE SECOND TENURE AT CALVARY CHURCH

In the fall of 1939 Vernon de Tar resigned as organist and choirmaster of Calvary Church, where he had followed Strickland, to take the position at the Church of the Ascension.  There he succeeded Jessie Craig Adam, one of several women organists who held positions at prominent churches in the New York area at the time.

A major achievement at Calvary during de Tar’s tenure was the rebuilding of the organ.  Calvary’s organ dated from the late nineteenth century and was built by Roosevelt.  The work was undertaken by Aeolian-Skinner, which kept some of the Roosevelt pipework, and one rank of Cavaillé-Coll reeds from the old organ. Otherwise, it provided an essentially new organ reflecting many of G. Donald Harrison’s early concepts of what soon came to be known as the American Classic Organ.

The printed order of service at Calvary indicates that HF had added the Fellowship from Trinity College of Music in London, England, to his F.A.G.O.  The F.T.C.L. examination was similar in content to the F.A.G.O. and was undertaken by many organists at the time.

In his music lists modern composers of the day were well represented in the services.  Works by Amy Beach, Seth Bingham, Warner Hawkins, Leo Sowerby, Herbert Howells, Healey Willan, and David McK. Williams find their place along side the masterpieces of Brahms, Mendelssohn, and a fairly large dose of Bach.  Several of Friedell’s own works began to appear in the rotation as well, including settings of the communion service, King of Glory, and When Christ Was Born of Mary Free.

In addition to a traditional performance of Bach’s St. John Passion on Palm Sunday, the choir presented three or four major choral works each season for the evening service.  At these services, works such as portions of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Mozart’s Requiem, Gounod’s Gallia, or Horatio Parker’s Hora Novissima would be sung in the context of a service.  With the coming of the new Aeolian-Skinner organ, recitals began to be part of the weekly life of music at Calvary and mid-week recitals were played after the noon service by HF, and guests.

The Friedells’ apartment was in the church house directly behind the church

In addition to the regular yearly cycle of church services, there were frequent special services.  There were many “St. George’s Societies” throughout Manhattan, gatherings of Episcopal lay people who organized themselves at their places of work.  There were St. George’s Societies within the Consolidated Edison Company, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, the telephone workers, the police department—even a St. George’s Society within the transit workers.   Each of these St. George’s Societies had annual services at one of the major Episcopal churches in the city, and Calvary got its share. Calvary’s choir also regularly sang for the annual American Guild of Organists’ service, held on Ascension Day in St. Bartholomew’s Church.  At that time St. Bartholomew’s was a sort of unofficial chapel for the AGO.  The church was located near AGO headquarters, and the annual meeting was always held in St. Bartholomew’s choir room, before the service. These services usually combined several choirs, of differing denominations, to sing Evensong together with a major choral work, or group of shorter works. By 1945, Friedell also taught on the faculty of the School of Sacred Music of Union Theological Seminary, teaching composition and improvisation.  Later, he joined the faculty of the Guilmant Organ School, as well.

As the effects of the Great Depression wore on, the fact that the position of organist at Calvarycame with an apartment was a significant benefit to a young man, now with a family.  Calvary House, as the church’s parish house was known, is an eight-story apartment house situated on the north side of Gramercy Park.  The lower floors of the building contain parish offices and common rooms typical of any church facility.  The upper floors contain apartments where the clergy and some of the lay staff, including the Friedells, lived.  There is every indication that HF always got along with everyone and enjoyed cordial and friendly relationships with everyone at Calvary, and especially so with the rector, the Rev. Samuel Shoemaker.  In his weekly announcements in the orders of service and in the annual year books, the rector spoke warmly about Friedell and the choir and reveled in  their accomplishments.

Likewise, in his Friedell paid homage to his rector, dedicating to him one of his recent anthems for Christmas, When Christ was born of Mary free.  HF continued to compose as much as he could, given the growing demands that the church job and family made on his time.  His anthem King of glory, King of peace, to a text by George Herbert, won the annual AGO anthem prize in 1941 and, although it was not his first published composition, it was his first to be published by H. W. Gray, was a very popular, and brought Friedell’s name to an even wider public.

By 1946 Friedell had established himself as one of the foremost church musicians, organists, and teachers in New York.  In addition to his teaching he had been the national treasurer of the American Guild of Organists since 1934, and was by now the chairman of the committee on examinations of the AGO.  He was also increasingly in demand as a summer workshop teacher.  In the summer of 1946, he was on the faculty of the Wellesley Conference School of Music, a noted ten-day summer conference held on the campus of Wellesley College in Massachusetts.  In June and July 1946, he shared faculty positions with his old friends William Strickland and Paul Callaway.

It was a complete shock when, early in November 1946, the rector of St. Bartholomew’s, the Reverend George Paull Torrence Sargent called, asking Friedell to stop by his office, telling that David McK. Williams would be leaving St. Bartholomew’s, and asking Friedell to be his successor.

ST. BARTHOLOMEW’S CHURCH, DAVID McK. WILLIAMS, AND THE RESIGNATION QUESTION

The Choir of St Bartholomew’s Church. David McK Williams is on the right side toward the back

It is difficult to adequately describe the singular significance of St. Bartholomew’s Church, and its music, as it evolved through the first half of the twentieth century to the point where Friedell found it at mid-century.  The church’s dramatic architecture and location, its social history and noted clergy, the large double organ and professional choir, and impressive heritage (including Leopold Stokowski) all set the stage for a superlative program.  Added to this was the dynamic, charismatic personality and creative musicianship of David McK. Williams, organist and choirmaster since 1920.

David McK. Williams was the stuff of legends.  To say he was colorful is a serious understatement.  Much of Virgil Fox’s playing style[11] and flamboyance, including his wearing of a cape,[12] were directly influenced by David McK.Williams.   DMcKW was well-known and liked, was a leader in AGO activities, and had many pupils and friends all over the country.  He also led a very public gay lifestyle, which, even for New York City in the 1940s, was cause for comment.[13]   By all accounts, his service playing—improvisations, hymns, and oratorio accompaniments—were brilliant.  People flocked to his musical services.  It is not an overstatement to say that by 1946 he was a legend.

St Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue in the 1950s

David McK. Williams’ leave taking from St. Bartholomew’s created a frenzy in the church music community.  In reality, he was terminated for an undisclosed indiscretion of some sort, which the church took significant pains to cover up.  The rector said in the weekly announcement sheet “The Message” that St. Bartholomew’s beloved Dr. Williams was taking a leave of absence because a hearing loss adversely affected his work, that he was seeking treatment, and that it was fervently hoped that he could return to his duties.  Vestry minutes contain elaborate, solicitous descriptions of DMcKW seeking treatments, together with discussions of favorable financial arrangements for both his temporary leave and, ultimately, his permanent retirement.  In an astonishing scenario, the rector even asks DMcKW on who ought to follow him.  The rector vetoed Vernon de Tar.  Paul Callaway and William Strickland were considered.  Strickland had just been appointed conductor of the Nashville Symphony and Callaway had just returned to Washington Cathedral following military service, so neither of them was interested.  So it was that David McK. Williams recommended his former student to succeed him.  Friedell was initially appointed as interim just before Advent 1946, his permanent appointment withheld until the following spring.  Stories, gossip, and innuendo were rampant.  Announcements in the magazines gave conflicting stories.  T. Scott Buhrman, writing in The American Organist of January 1947 said

I consider Dr. Williams the world’s greatest exponent of the beautiful and forceful in Episcopal music and it is not at all necessary to hear every other Episcopal church service in order to make such a statement.  It’s not necessary to be bitten by every rattlesnake in order to state without question that such an experience is painful. . . . Will Dr. Williams return?  I fervently hope so. . . . And now, temporarily at least, the music of St. Bartholomew’s drops back to ordinary excellence.  Its superexcellence will never return in this generation unless Dr. Williams comes back.[14]

This vein of thought was typical of many whose loyalty to Williams bordered on fanaticism.  Buhrman, to his credit, does finish his editorial acquiescing that, indeed, Friedell was the logical successor to Williams, and cited his good work at Calvary Church.  The Diapason of the same month reported the same story by simply stating the facts, quoting largely from the rector’s letter in “The Message.”

The only reason any of this is important (other than to provide an interesting social commentary on the era) is to observe the very visible nature of the job and to impart something of the scrutiny under which Harold Friedell began his work at St. Bartholomew’s.  All the more so in that Williams remained very much on the scene, traveling, leading workshops, and collaborating at friends’ churches around the country.  He did not lead the life of an ill man and lived into his 90s, although the talk of his hearing loss never dissipated.  I was among a large number present at a reception in the Community House auditorium of St. Bartholomew’s Church on his 90th birthday, following Evensong.  We had a brief, but very specific conversation about people we knew in common and he had no difficulty hearing me in the crowded room.

HAROLD FRIEDELL AT ST. BARTHOLOMEW’S

The appointment of Harold Friedell to St. Bartholomew’s Church in the City of New York was duly noted on page six of the April 1947 issue of The Diapason, complete with a recent portrait.  The news release gave the facts, citing Dr. Sargent’s letter to the congregation from the most recent issue of “The Message.”  In essence, Sargent’s letter (portions of which also appeared in The Diapason) told the church music world that David McK. Williams had submitted his resignation a second time, and that despite rest since December 1946, he felt that he could not resume his work.  His resignation was accepted with regret.  There followed the customary good wishes both for Friedell and Williams, with the particular hope that Dr. Williams’ hearing might eventually be restored.  Potential controversy was carefully averted, and a new day began.  In the elegant printed booklet containing the monthly order of service HF’s name and certification initials are listed with those of the parish clergy; his title was “Organist and Master of the Choir.”  Previously, Williams’ name was not listed on the printed order of service.

At the time HF moved to St. Bartholomew’s, he began to relinquish some of his other peripheral activities, including his two volunteer positions in the AGO.  He, of course, kept up cordial relations with the Guild, as it continued to hold their annual meeting and Ascension Day service at St. Bartholomew’s.  Later in his tenure, he again held national office as auditor.

HF seems to have weathered the transition at St. Bartholomew’s well.  He was highly respected as an organist, composer, and teacher.  He had an easy-going personality, good sense of humor, and a high degree of competence, all of which aided him in his ability to easily fit into his new position.  Dr. Sargent made considerable effort to support and accommodate Friedell, knowing full well the load that inevitably would fall to anyone following in the footsteps of DMcKW.  It must be said that Dr. Sargent was good for his word, and remained steadfast in his support.  This good will notwithstanding, there were echoes of jealousy and bitterness regarding his appointment which continued for the rest of his life.  Such was the nature of the much coveted position of organist of St. Bartholomew’s Church.  If there was any worry in Friedell’s mind pertaining to the circumstances of his appointment, there is no indication of it.  He appears to have assumed his tasks with a forthright confidence that comes from competence in one’s craft and security in knowing of the boss’s approval.  HF did cancel his advertisement in The American Organist at about this time.  For some time he felt that Buhrman’s style presented the profession in an undignified light.  For many years, it was Buhrman’s custom to attend church services throughout New York and review them in his magazine, dissecting every nuance of the service, its music, preachers, ushers, ladies apparel, etc. in a chatty style, in every way similar to that of a restaurant reviewer or gossip columnist.  In this practice, Buhrman had his favorites, and St. Bartholomew’s under David McK. was at the top of the list.  His accounts in hindsight are embarrassing in their obsequious superlatives.  Buhrman never reviewed any of Friedell’s services at St. Bartholomew’s, but he did review many of his compositions in The American Organist.

During his first season at St. Bartholomew’s, Friedell programmed much in the manner he did at Calvary.   There was an occasional anthem, or piece of service music of his own composing, but it could never be said that he used his position to promote his own works.  The compositions of his predecessors did get a significant hearing, particularly the works of Williams, but also incidental pieces of Arthur Hyde, and Stokowski’s setting of the Benedicite, which it appears tradition dictated be kept in the rotation.

There were more services at St. Bartholomew’s than at Calvary.  Evensong was sung every Sunday afternoon, together with a cantata or oratorio.  In addition to Sunday duties, there were many occasions for weekday services at which music was expected.  Even though the churchmanship at St. Bartholomew’s was militantly low (there was lively discussion, for example, in 1943, when it was first decided to use a processional cross)[15] the complete liturgical calendar was observed, and days such as Ash Wednesday were kept with services using organ and choir in the morning, afternoon, and evening.  During Lent, there were daily services of preaching, featuring well-known local and national clergy and lay speakers.  On Wednesday evenings in Lent and, sometimes in Advent as well, there were evenings of special music appropriate to the season.  Typically, the six Wednesday evenings in Lent would begin with the annual performance of the Verdi Requiem on Ash Wednesday, one or two organ recitals, a program with organ and other instruments, frequently featuring violinist Eugenie Limberg, (who frequently played major concertos for the violin, such as those of Beethoven, Saint-Saëns, or Bruch, with organ accompaniment), perhaps another choral work, or pageant prepared in conjunction with the choir of the community house.  The Lenten series always culminated with the singing of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion on Wednesday evening in Holy Week.

The Choir of St Bartholomew’s singing carols at a bank near the church at Christmas

On the staff of musicians at St. Bartholomew’s was always an assistant organist who played the early chapel service, and turned pages, and sometime accompanied the choir at the main services.  HF’s assistants, in succession, were, briefly John Morton, whom he inherited, Owen Brady, Lillian Clark, John Rodgers, Frederick Swann, George Powers, and Allen Sever.  Rodgers also worked as an editor at the H. W. Gray Company and edited many of Friedell’s compositions published by Gray.  Since Gray was also the American agent for Novello, Rodgers had access to many of the latest compositions by English composers and passed them along to Friedell.   Typically, Friedell played the entire service, including the prelude, which was usually improvised, and a postlude.  Friedell’s style of service playing was a continuation of what he assimilated from Williams.  It was essentially colorful and musical, with a fluid, legato style.  He used the organ well, soloing out melodies and counter melodies on distinctive stops.  He also improvised well and often, both as voluntaries before and after the service, and in the accompaniments to the hymns.

For his first Lenten series of Wednesday evening programs, Friedell maintained the traditional places of honor for the Verdi Requiem and Bach St. Matthew Passion.  He also played a recital the second week of Lent, consisting of the Prelude and Fugue in B minor of Bach, a chorale prelude on the hymn tune St. Flavian by Seth Bingham, and the three chorales of Franck.  The following week at an organ recital, Searle Wright included Ecologue, the only piece for organ written by Friedell’s old teacher, Bernard Wagenaar.  The fourth Wednesday evening, Ruth Diehl sang a program with organ accompaniment which included Weinberger’s solo cantata The Way to Emmaus.  Ruth Diehl had sung this work in previous years during Lent and it was something of a tradition.[16]  The fifth Wednesday evening featured a performance of Sowerby’s recently-composed Passiontide oratorio, Forsaken of Man.  This work, too, became a staple of the Lenten repertoire at St. Bartholomew’s.

In the 1930s St. Bartholomew’s organ received some significant additions to the 1918 Skinner.  When the dome over the crossing was completed in 1930, Skinner added a Celestial division in it, containing some very soft ethereal stops, as well as a commanding battery of chorus reeds on high pressure.  A fifth manual[17] was added to the existing four-manual console to control the dome division.  In 1936, an essentially new three-manual organ designed along classic lines by G. Donald Harrison, was placed in the gallery of the church.  The pipework formerly occupying that location was redistributed among the chancel divisions of the organ.

Shortly after Friedell’s arrival, discussions arose focusing on the deficiencies in the organ.  Finally, in November 1952, a contract was signed with Aeolian-Skinner for what was essentially a new organ in the chancel and a reconditioning of the other parts of the organ, together with a new five-manual console.  The general character of the organ remained the same, but from a mechanical standpoint it was much improved.

HF at the new Aeolian-Skinner console, ca 1953

Some of Friedell’s best-known compositions date from the mid 1950s and were sung for the first time by St. Bartholomew’s Choir from manuscript copies.  The Te Deum in B-flat was written for the service instituting the Reverend Anson Phelps Stokes as rector in 1950.  This Is the Day and Song of Mary  were composed to texts written or compiled by Leonard Young.  Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether was set in anthem form with an organ accompaniment from a hymn tune he had composed for use as an orison while at Calvary Church.  For This Cause was composed for the service instituting the Reverend Terence J. Finlay as rector in October 1955.

In the tradition of the collaboration between David McK. Williams and Leonard Young, Friedell wrote a pageant, The Feast of the Star, with Lee Hastings Bristol, Jr.,[18] which was produced first in 1956.  Friedell and Bristol had previously collaborated in Hymns for Children and Grownups, an ecumenical hymnal with texts and tunes appropriate for young people, for which they each wrote new tunes to several hymns.

With the advent of the new organ came increasingly more organ recitals.  Noonday programs on Wednesday, and later Friday, were added to the regular musical calendar of the church.  Friedell played many of these, taking turns with his assistants, students, and visiting organists traveling through New York.  In addition to the standard repertoire, Friedell occasionally planned programs entirely of early music, as well.  In June 1954, Friedell and assistant Frederick Swann played four successive programs devoted to the works of du Mage, Frescobaldi, Hanff, Mufatt, Titelouze, Clérambault, Krebs, Buxtehude, Purcell, Zipoli, Couperin, Böhm, Sweelinck, Vogler, Stanley, and Mozart.  It does appear that they were trying to make a point; such extensive forays into the pre-Bach literature were rare at St. Bartholomew’s.  The following fall saw the opening recital on more familiar ground, with works by Bach, Franck, and Percy Whitlock.

Local paper in Marshall, Missouri, announcing honorary degree candidates at Missouri Valley College

In June 1957 Missouri Valley College awarded Harold Friedell the honorary degree Doctor of Music.  Lee Hastings Bristol, Jr. was on the board of trustees and had an honorary degree from the college, and it is likely that he nominated Friedell for this honor. Friedell played a recital in the college chapel as part of the commencement weekend activities and took part in the degree ceremony.  From Missouri, Friedell flew alone to Houston, where he had been engaged to direct the annual diocesan choir festival at Christ Church Cathedral where Jack Ossewaarde, his former pupil, and successor at Calvary Church in New York, was now the organist and choirmaster.  The trip to the mid-west and Texas was more traveling than any of the Friedells had ever before undertaken.  It was, therefore, all the more unusual that the family traveled to Europe that summer, taking a six-week tour of England and France.   The impetus for the trip was the first International Congress of Organists, which was to take place in London in late July and early August, and which was a collaboration between the AGO and the Royal Canadian College of Organists and the Royal College of Organists.  Ralph Vaughan Williams was the honorary chairman of the congress, and Sir William McKie, the organist and master of the choristers of Westminster Abbey, was the chairman of the RCO planning group.  Friedell did not participate in the music making, and none of his music was heard,[19] but he attended many of the congress events and met both Vaughan Williams and Howells, whose music had influenced him since his youth.  In addition to the events surrounding the congress, the Friedell family toured France, where they spent a lot of time hearing services and recitals on the famous French organs.  HF was very interested in hearing for himself French organ playing, and he showed a special interest in hearing as much improvisation as he could, calling at the organ lofts of both St. Sulpice and Notre-Dame, where he spent time with Dupré and Cochereau, respectively.

HF and some relatives in England, summer 1957

Harold Friedell was never more confident and secure in his own work than in the opening weeks of the 1957 season as he experienced a rejuvenation from the summer’s trip, and from the acclaim his work received.[20]  In January 1958 a program devoted entirely to his compositions was given by the newly-formed New York City chapter of the AGO.  It is evident that he was at last gaining recognition for the merit of his own work, not simply as the one who followed David McK. Williams.

The last Sunday before Lent, 16 February 1958, was like most others for the Friedells—the early drive into the city from their home in Hastings-on-Hudson, Amy going to the Church of the Resurrection, where she was the soprano soloist, for the morning service, then joining Harold for Evensong at four o’clock at St. Bartholomew’s.

On the drive home to Hastings that evening it started to snow.   The following morning, Harold had to be in the city as usual, for a lesson.  By then it had snowed so much that Amy couldn’t get the car out of the garage to take Harold to the train, as was their normal routine, so he started to walk to the station.  Under normal conditions it would have been a leisurely walk, less than a mile down the hill toward the Hudson River.  By the time he crossed Broadway, the main thoroughfare through the towns along the Hudson, he started to feel badly.  When he reached the center of town, he stopped in a coffee shop, got on a stool, ordered a cup of coffee, and fell to the floor.  He had died of a heart attack, which came without warning.

Friedell in the classroom

On Thursday morning, following his death there was a simple, but impressive funeral in St. Bartholomew’s Church.  The church was full.  The choir and clergy processed silently into the church, before the coffin, on top of which was placed his doctoral hood.  Allen Sever, the assistant organist played the service.  Following the opening sentences, Psalms 23 and 121 were sung to Anglican chant.  Lessons were read, followed by hymns, “O what their joy and their glory must be,” and “Jerusalem! high tower thy glorious walls.”  Prayers followed, after which was sung one of Friedell’s most popular kneeling orisons “Day by day, dear Lord of thee three things I pray.”  Following Cardinal Newman’s prayer “O Lord support us all the day long” was sung verse five from Cecil Frances Alexander’s familiar hymn,

And our eyes at last shall see him,

Through his own redeeming love;

For that child so dear and gentle

Is our Lord in heav’n above.

And he leads his children on

To the place where he is gone.

Following the blessing and seven-fold Amen, the choir sang a setting of the Nunc dimittis by David McK. Williams, as it processed down the center aisle of the church, the coffin and family following.  On the steps and sidewalk in front of the church, the choir formed a double line, as the coffin and family walked between to the waiting hearse and funeral cars.  The funeral procession then made its way to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, just a few miles north of the Friedells’ home.  There Harold William Friedell is buried in a handsome plot along side many of his wife’s family.  Amy Valleau McGown, Mrs. Harold Friedell, died on 3 February 1994, and was buried there on 13 February 1994.

EPILOGUE 

Harold Friedell’s death was duly announced in The Diapason on page one of the March 1958 issue, and in The American Organist with a recent photograph.  At St. Bartholomew’s, “The Message” the following week contained a tribute, and at the vestry meeting of 10 March 1958 the rector noted his passing and thanked the members of the vestry who had attended the funeral.  A motion made by Walter Hoving, president of Tiffany’s, was passed, which called for an amount equal to Friedell’s salary to be sent to Mrs. Friedell through October.  A memorial account was also set up to channel contributions toward an education fund for the Friedell children.  The rector also noted that he had received several nominations and applications for the position.  In fact, there was a large list of people who wanted the job badly, including Virgil Fox, organist of the Riverside Church, who made quite a campaign to Dr. Finlay in the time before Friedell’s successor was announced.[21]

The musical activities of the Lenten season progressed as usual and the music of Friedell was especially prominent in on the music list during the months following his death.  In the meantime, Dr. Finlay consulted about the matter of a successor with David McK. Williams and Lee Bristol who each vetoed several names.  Before presenting the name of his choice to the vestry, Dr. Finlay spoke with Mrs. Friedell, asking her opinion of two or three leading candidates, including Vernon de Tar, which pleased her—both the gesture of his asking and his choice of Jack Ossewaarde.

Continuing the legacy and memory of Friedell’s life most of all, however, is his music, which has continued to be used throughout the country and recently in England.  Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether is the best-known, selling as many as 20,000 copies in a given year.  Its appearance in hymn-tune form in several hymnals has enhanced its appeal and renown even more.    Newly-published manuscripts and reprints of older works also have begun to appear in recent catalogs.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                    

Neal Campbell is the organist and choirmaster of St. Stephen’s Church, Richmond, Virginia, and is a member of the adjunct faculty of the University of Richmond.  For his DMA degree in 1996 from the Manhattan School of Music his dissertation dealt with the life and works of Harold Friedell and is available as UMI #9703850 from www.umi.com.  Most of Friedell’s music is available from Pine Hill Press at www.pinehillmusic.com.  A chronology, opus list, and discography of Friedell’s music is available from the author at nealcampbell@ymail.com


[1]Eugenie Limberg Dengel, New York; interview by author, Feb. 1996.

[2]Order of service,Calvary Church,New York, 11 October 1931.

[3]Strickland and Friedell were close friends; at one point prior to Friedell’s marriage, they roomed together.  Several of Friedell’s organ works are dedicated to him, and he played the first (sometimes, only) performances. Always passionately involved in contemporary music, he initiated and edited a series published by the H. W. Gray Co., which commissioned organ works from well-known composers who typically did not write for the organ.  The result was a collection, still in print, of original works for organ by such composers as Henry Cowell, Aaron Copland, Ernst Krenek, Darius Milhaud, Walter Piston, Douglas Moore, Virgil Thomson, Roger Sessions, and Arnold Schoenberg.

[4]Callaway was a pupil of T. Tertius Noble of St. Thomas Church. From 1939 to 1977 he was the organist and choirmaster of Washington Cathedral.  During his student days inNew York he was the organist and choirmaster of St. Thomas Chapel, now All Saints’ Church, on E. 60th St., where Sunday evening services were held late enough that he first attended Evensong at St. Bartholomew’s at four o’clock, often turning pages for Williams. It is likely that he knew Friedell from this association.

[5]Hudson Dispatch, 16 Sept. 1936.

[6]Now the Royal Canadian College of Organists.

[7]Hudson Dispatch, 16 Sept. 1936.

[8]Thomas Atkin, Jack Ossewaarde, Frederick Swann, and others; interviews with the author, 1985-96.

[9]Hudson Dispatch, 16 Sept. 1936.  Probably a reference to Vaughan Williams and Howells. Although this is not identified as a quotation of Friedell’s, it seems likely that the unidentified writer was using his language to describe his compositions. It is an articulate and accurately succinct description of his works.

[10]The slow movement, Cantabile, was published posthumously, and has  been performed and recorded.

[11] Tapes of Fox masterclasses at http://www.virgilfox.com

[12] Richard Torrence & Marshall Yaeger. Virgil Fox (The Dish): An Irreverent Biography of the Great American Organist.  New York: Circles International, 2001.  85.

[13] Anthony Tommassini. Virgil Thomson: Composer on the Aisle. New York, Norton, 1997.

14 T. Scott Buhrman, editorial in The American Organist, 30:1 (Jan. 1947).  At the time The Diapason was the official journal of the AGO and TAO was a separate, independent magazine reflecting to a large degree Burnham’s personal views.  It had no relation to the present-day TAO.

[15]Minutes of the vestry of St. Bartholomew’s Church, 3 May 1943.

[16]Frederick Swann later introduced this same work to a younger generation, creating a tradition at The Riverside Church, performing it yearly on the afternoon of Easter Day, with soprano Louise Natalie.

[17]This fifth manual stayed until the arrival of the new five-manual console in 1953, at which time this single, additional keyboard became the property of Aeolian-Skinner, and saw use as a tuning and finishing keyboard–literally traveling around the country on installation jobs.   When Aeolian-Skinner closed for business in 1973, this same keyboard was procured by Anthony Bufano, then curator of the organ at St. Bartholomew’s, who placed it in the Celestial organ in the dome as a tuning keyboard, where it exists today.

[18]Bristol, heir to the pharmaceutical company, and his family, were prominent members of St. Bartholomew’s. Bristol later made significant contributions to church music as a member of the Joint Commission on Church Music of the Episcopal Church, and as president of Westminster Choir College.

[19]Friedell had recently composed a particularly effective setting of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in F, at the request of Searle Wright.  Wright was the program chairman of the American wing of the ICO, and there was some discussion as to the possibility of using Friedell’s canticles for the opening Evensong at Westminster Abbey.  Instead, Howells’ recently completed Westminster Service was sung.

[20]Searle Wright; interview by author, February 1996.

[21]The Rev. Terence J. Finlay; interview by author, Washington, DC, March 1985.

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