I grew up in Aurora. My dad sang in the choir at our church, Fourth Street Methodist, where his dad had been the minister from 1919 to 1926. As a little child I would always end up near the organ console after church. It was an eight-rank tubular-pneumatic Hinners which had been donated by Andrew Carnegie in 1917. When I was five, my dad asked our organist if it was too early to start piano lessons. She replied, “Well, we can try”. Thus it began. At age eleven, she suggested organ lessons, and at age twelve, I played my first full service. Sixty-five years later I’m still at it, but I’m getting picky now.
I went to MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where I studied organ with Robert Glasgow. He taught there for some years before being called to a long and distinguished career at the university of Michigan. The chapel organ was a four-manual Aeolian-Skinner which was one of the last overseen by G. Donald Harrison. It was stunning. And to hear it played by such an artist as Dr. Glasgow was a thrill never to be forgotten. And to hear his organ accompaniments to Bach Cantata 140, Messiah, Fauré and Brahms Requiems – there were no orchestra players out in the sticks in those days – was unbelievable.
I did graduate work at Union Theological Seminary in New York where I studied organ with Searle Wright, a truly remarkable musician who was in charge or the music at St. Paul’s Chapel, Columbia University. The organ there was another four-manual Aeolian-Skinner which spoke into an acoustic of about five seconds of reverberation. Unforgettable! Oh, the Widor Toccata!
Then I taught at Aurora College for six years and was organist at the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Aurora. I had designed the Schantz organ there which is now in the University of Wisconsin, Parkside, but I have never been up to see it.
Then I began doctoral studies at Northwestern, was lucky enough to find Peg, got married and moved to Evanston, and got a job playing for Unity Lutheran Church in Chicago. One day I walked into the office at Millar Chapel as our beloved Dr. Enright was also coming in. He said, “Bill, would you like to play for a wedding in Wilmette?” I said, “Sure.” He said, “Call Donna Moss”. I did and she arranged for me to play this wedding. She was organist at St. John’s Lutheran Church and couldn’t be there for the wedding for some reason. She called me after the wedding had taken place and said that the people at St. John’s were thrilled with my playing, and she then told me that she might be leaving and asked if I would be interested in the job. Well, I began there on Reformation Day in 1971 and remained there for thirty-eight and one half years! In the mean time, I was also lucky enough to have been the organist for the Scottish Rite Cathedral of Chicago and of Medinah Temple. I left St. John’s in 2010 and have been filling in as substitute and interim in various locations since then.
It has been a great ride. I have been active in the past in both the AGO and OHS and have met many wonderful people thereby. I have truly enjoyed giving recitals and designing organs for several churches. We all have our stories, some of them pretty funny at times, and if all could be put together, they would fill a book. Mostly happy times and happy memories.