Let me confess, straight off, that this post is personal for me. I have, you see, been a church musician longer than I have been a journalist -- dating back to singing soprano in a classical boys choir. In college I was blessed to sing under the great Anglican choirmaster Robert H. Young (yes, at Baylor University) in his classical touring choir and I missed only two rehearsals in six years of undergraduate and graduate work. There is no way to express what sacred choral music means to me.
Thus, I know first hand the tensions that exist between the standards of classical performance and the singing done by normal church sanctuary choirs. I have known my share of elite choir snobs. At one point I was an elite choir snob.
So I read with great interest the New York Times piece on the recent death of the great organist and choirmaster John Scott, an Anglican who most recently was director of music at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
The article -- as it should -- emphasized his achievements as a performing artist on both sides of the Atlantic. He had just returned from recitals in Europe and was poised to begin the second leg of that tour. His second wife is expecting their first child in a few weeks. There is much to report about his life and career:
Mr. Scott played at the Boston Early Music Festival in June. His last American appearance was a Bach recital at St. Thomas on June 20.
He was perhaps best known to New York audiences for his performances with the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, which he trained meticulously and directed passionately in concert. His annual performances of Handel’s “Messiah” with the choir and the period-instrument band Concert Royal were invariably regarded as among the finest in the city.
And then this:
He spent 26 years at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, rising from assistant organist and sub-organist to organist and director of music in 1990. He remained in that position until he left for New York in 2004, motivated partly by a desire among some in the cathedral clergy to move in different, nontraditional musical directions, according to Larry Trupiano, who worked closely with Mr. Scott as curator of organs at St. Thomas.
“No one retires from St. Paul’s Cathedral,” Mr. Trupiano quoted Mr. Scott as saying, suggesting that he felt his hand had been forced, whether intentionally or not. Mr. Trupiano added, “It was our luck that he became available.”
What is missing from this picture of a man and his life's work?
Let me state it this way: When the Times said that his "last American appearance was a Bach recital at St. Thomas on June 20" does that include his work in, well, church services?
Just asking. After all, Scott was, first and foremost, a church musician. To be blunt, the Times article suggests that his real life was in classical performance and, oh yeah, there were those day jobs helping lead worship services in church sanctuaries.
I kept reading, waiting for some reference to this part of Scott's life and work.
Finally, at -- literally -- the very end there was this:
For all his success, prominence and acclaim, he cut a modest, almost self-effacing figure in public. ...
He was also a consummate church musician, the Rev. Canon Carl F. Turner, the rector at St. Thomas, an Episcopal church, said at a requiem service for Mr. Scott on Thursday. “The glory he wanted was the glory of God.”
Yes, that was important. Thank you.