On Sunday, November 25, 1984, I played my first service as the newly minted Director of Music at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Sacramento. I hadn’t actually planned to start that day… I had a couple of Sundays in-between the church situation which I was leaving, and the start of my tenure at Trinity. But I got a call from the Dean, the Saturday night before, asking what I was planning to do on Sunday morning. I mentioned that I planned to come to church and sit through the services to get a feel for things. He said “bring some organ music with you.” My predecessor had gotten in an accident that day, and would not be able to finish out her time. So I was on!
And so began a journey which has lasted much longer than I ever imagined. The job was quarter-time, and didn’t pay very well, so I thought I’d put in a few years, and then move on to something bigger and better funded, and better paying. But the program grew over the years, and became a full-time job, and the “fit” continues to be perfect.
During my early time at the Cathedral, I met other musicians from around the Diocese, who told me that they’d never been asked to join in anything at the Cathedral. So the idea of a Diocesan Choir Festival was formed, where singers from around the Diocese could come for a day of singing under the direction of a distinguished guest conductor, finishing with a service of Choral Evensong. Evensong was not widely done in the Diocese in those days, so I thought there was some benefit to that as well. The first festival was conducted by my friend Dr John Fenstermaker, who was Canon for Music at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The festival was a resounding success, and despite some financial challenges, continues to this day. We have welcomed some of the most distinguished Anglican musicians from around the world over the thirty-three years of the Festival.
When I had been at the Cathedral for a few years, and the choir was growing and sounding pretty good, I began to formulate the idea of taking them to England to sing in the great Cathedrals. In England, the regular choirs take some time off during the summer, and choirs from around the world are invited to sing the daily services in their absence. We recorded an audition tape and sent them off to various Cathedrals, and received invitations to sing at Wells, Chichester, and Salisbury Cathedrals.
This was a huge challenge for the choir. The sheer amount of repertoire needed to do two weeks of residency can be pretty overwhelming. But we spent two years planning and rehearsing and fund-raising, and in the summer of 1990, we made our first “choir pilgrimage.” It was extremely successful, and we received many invitations to return. We have been back to England four more times, in 1993, 1997, 2000, and 2003. We’ve sung in some of England’s finest Cathedrals including Winchester, Lincoln, Norwich, Truro, Southwark, Peterborough, Canterbury, York Minster, and Westminster Abbey. To sing in a church which has offered music and prayer for a dozen centuries, is a profound and life changing experience.
It has been quite a while since our last visit, so we will be going again next summer, “in residence” at Beverley Minster and Durham Cathedral.
In the summer of 2004 I was able to take advantage of my first “sabbatical” leave. I wanted to do something really special, so spent the summer hiking in preparation for a climb of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. At a height of 19,340′, Kili is the highest mountain in Africa, and one of the world’s “Seven Summits.” It was physically the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I made it to the summit on July 19th, and then safely home. Mountain hiking continues to be one of my favorite passions, which feeds my soul away from the Cathedral.
By 2014, the Cathedral’s fine Reuter pipe organ had developed some serious problems. The pedal principal pipes in the façade pipes were collapsing under their own weight, the electronics in the console had developed reliability problems, the primary wind reservoir had water damage from a burst pipe, and more. A committee was formed to raise funds for the project, and those funds came quickly. The second goal of the project was to complete the long planned “Processional” division at the north end of the Cathedral. The project was completed in 2016, and we couldn’t be happier with the result!
I have been privileged to be the music director for the Consecration and Seating of two Bishops, and have somehow outlasted at least three Bishops and three Cathedral Deans. We have recently been joined by a wonderful new Bishop, and are currently in the midst of the search for a new Dean.
My personal life has changed in many ways too. I have raised three daughters, and been married three times! I have spent more than half of my life at Trinity Cathedral, which I find kind of astonishing. I believe I am the second-longest tenured Episcopal Cathedral Musician in the United States (my colleague in Oklahoma City has forty-one years under his belt!).
But all of this would not be possible without many others with whom I work. The number of immensely talented singers who have been members of my choirs over the years, is kind of overwhelming. The support of so many clergy and staff members has made my job easier every day. And the support of the vestry and congregation is an important partnership which I do not take for granted. Most of all, I appreciate the support of my family and especially my loving wife Sharene. I could not do this complicated work without her support.
And the future?? Some have quipped “and another thirty-five to go!” I’m not sure that I can continue to do this until I am 99 years old! But my hope is to retire from full-time Church music work at the age of 70, which is in six years. But for now, my heart is full of gratitude for this gift of my vocation at Trinity Cathedral.
I love you all!