Growing up on a farm in a small community in Central Illinois (Paxton), I was very fortunate to have excellent teachers and mentors who helped to foster my love of architecture and music. All throughout grade school and high school I played French Horn and trumpet in all of the bands and many instrumental ensembles. Of course one could not leave out choral activities, so I was a member of of the many school choruses and small special singing groups.
It was probably as a sophomore in high school when I was very attracted to listening and desirous of wanting to play the historic 1911 Hinners tracker organ in my hometown church (a combination of Presbyterian and Congregational congregations)! With a few lessons under my belt, I would spend several evenings every week after school practicing on the organ and before school activities such as play practice, etc. One Sunday morning as I was sitting in the Pastor’s Sunday School class, the organist of the church called in sick – the Pastor came to me and asked if I would be so kind as to take over for playing for the church service. Of course I readily agreed as it turned out to be my very first time of playing for a church service and more importantly, it just happened to Easter Sunday!
Time for college and I enrolled at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana to study architectural engineering. (I had firmly decided to be an architect in the sixth grade) Not forgetting about the pipe organ, I took several lessons with the university organist Paul Pettinga (a long-time student of Marcel Dupre). With barely any extra time from my architectural studies, I still found a few rare moments to substitute at various churches in the area and eventually to take a part-time playing position for a few months prior to graduation.
Moving to Chicago I worked for the City of Chicago on so many of the public buildings that the City owns. Further organ study for a few years was with Gladys Christensen, AAGO at Wheaton College. Somehow I was able to combine both architectural and musical careers working with the City of Chicago Department of Public Works and the Department of Aviation along with directing the music and playing the organ at two Lutheran churches in the city (actually one church had five singing choirs that I led). Later I served as the Director of Architecture for the Chicago Airport System managing the myriad of design elements on large-scale projects such as the International Terminal at O’Hare International Airport and the new Midway Airport Terminal Complex.
One of the highlights of my musical career was planning for, directing the many musical ensembles and playing the organ for the Easter Sunday service during the Bicentennial Year with King Karl XVI Gustave, King of Sweden in attendance.
As to professional musical organizations, my involvement has been to serve as President of the Chicago-Midwest Chapter of the Organ Historical Society (two terms), Dean of the Chicago Chapter AGO (three terms) and lastly as Treasurer and President of the ChicAGO 2006 Foundation. While not spending time reading books, I am certainly quite busy as a substitute organist.
Robert Woodworth, board member