Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Albany Diocesan Choir Festival

A few weeks ago, St. Paul’s choir sang “Christ whose glory fills the skies,” one of the most popular works of T.Frederick H. Candlyn, our organist from 1915 until 1943.

T.F.H. Candlyn 25th Anniversary at St. Paul’s

As we finished singing the piece (one that we regularly perform with pleasure), I noticed the note on the last page: “Copyright 1942. Commissioned by the Eleventh Albany Diocesan Choir Festival, Albert F. Robinson, director,” and wondered (not for the first time) what the Festival was. Within the past ten years, the Cathedral of All Saints has hosted an Epiphany choir event, in which the choirs of Albany deanery parishes joined. Was the 1942 Festival similar to this more recent “Battle of the Choirs?” No one seemed to know, but the answer was to be found in newspapers of the time. And a very interesting story it was.

T. Frederick H. Candlyn at St. Paul’s organ.

The Albany Diocesan Choir Festival was begun in 1931 by J. William Jones, organist and choirmaster at All Saints Cathedral from 1929 until 1939. In the early years, these were small events, with just a few local choirs. But by the fourth annual Festival in 1935, with 22 choirs taking part, the festival had become a huge occasion, with (as a contemporary newspaper reported) “hundreds of voices” that was “attended each year by throngs.”

The 1935 festival was the culmination of a six-day “Festival Week of Music” at the Cathedral, including a concert of Candlyn’s compositions, sung by St. Paul’s choir and Candlyn’s chorus from the State College for Teachers. The week’s schedule was:

  • Monday: recital by the Cathedral choir featuring works of Palestrina
  • Tuesday: organ recital by Ernest White of Trinity Church, Lenox, Massachusetts
  • Wednesday: recital by Major John A. Warner piano, Earle Hummel violin
  • Thursday: concert of works of T. Frederick H. Candlyn
  • Friday: a chorus of American Guild of Organist choirs, conducted by Dr. Russell Carter. The  massed choir was composed of choirs from Reformed, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist congregations in Capital District.
  • Saturday: Fourth Annual Diocesan Choir Festival, conducted by J. William Jones. Part of this service was broadcast on radio station WGY.

Candlyn was again involved in the 1936 event as accompanist. That year also he was also president of the Albany Diocesan Choirmasters’ Association, which was very active in promoting and organizing the festivals, but also in sponsoring recitals, conferences and in commissioning choral works. The Association even published a newsletter, “The Chorister.”

Cover of “The Chorister,” May 1941

Candlyn was also accompanist in 1937, when twenty massed choirs sang his work “Thee we adore,” which he dedicated to the Festival choir.

St. Paul’s Choir, with T.F.H. Candlyn, 1937

By 1938, the Festival had “grown to be of national importance,” and had become the model for other festivals across the United States. That year, the Albany Diocesan Choirmasters’ Association conducted district festivals in each of the diocese’s deaneries, preparing the parish choirs for the diocesan event in Albany. The Ogdensburg event, for example, gathered 200 choristers from 14 choirs to St. John’s, Ogdensburg for rehearsals and for a choral service presided over by Bishop G. AShton Oldham.

George Ashton Oldham, Bishop of Albany

1938 was also the first year that the Albany Diocesan Choirmasters’ Association commissioned new works to be performed at the festival. The composers and their works were:

  • Healey Willan (1880 – 1968) of Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto: “Before the ending of the day”
  • Everett Titcomb (1884 – 1968) of Church of St. John the Evangelist, Boston, Massachusetts: “Benedictus es, Domine”
  • Gardner C. Evans (1897 – 1951) of Church of Our Savior, Brookline, Massachusetts: “Thy kingdom come”

The Association arranged for publication of these works (as well as “Magnificat and Nun Dimittis” by Titcomb) by Carl Fischer, Inc., in Series I of The Albany Diocesan Choir Festival Series.

Healey Willan, “Before the Ending of the Day” cover obverse

In 1939, the Choir Festival was again part of “Festival of Music Week.” That year, the schedule was:

  • Monday: Albany Federal Orchestra (an organization supported by the Works Project Administration)
  • Tuesday: Liszt Choristers, Booker T. Washington Choral Society, Schenectady NYA Choir
  • Wednesday: chamber music recital, again with pianist Major John A. Warner, as well as a violinist, a horn player and four cellists.
  • Thursday: J. Stanley Lansing, Dean of the Eastern New York Chapter of the American Guild of Organists conducted a massed choir from nine area congregations
  • Friday: organ recital by Thomas Mathews of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Philadelphia
  • Saturday: Albany Diocesan Festival, with 50 choirs, Mr. Jones conducting

William Jones, whose energy had moved the festival from small beginning into a project that “has spread throughout the length and breadth of the Diocese of Albany, with a fine organization of choirmasters and clergy as its sponsor and its own magazine which now has a national circulation” resigned from the Cathedral staff effective December 1, 1939, his tenth anniversary at the cathedral.

“Cathedral of All Saints” by Earle L. Kempton

Jones’ place as director of the Festival was taken by Albert F. Robinson, organist and choirmaster at Trinity Church, Potsdam. Albert F. Robinson oversaw the district festivals that year. We have a record of the Albany deanery festival, which drew 10 choirs to St. Andrew’s Church in Albany.

The 1941 Festival may have been the grandest of them all, with 50 choirs and 500 voices joined. Two new anthems were commissioned for the service:

  • Alfred Whitehead (1887 – 1974) of Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal: “Come Thou Almighty King”
  • Gardner C. Evans (1897 – 1951) of Church of Our Savior, Brookline, Massachusetts: “O Saving Victim”

These, along with the following piece (probably commissioned for the 1940 Festival) were published by the Diocesan Choirmasters’ Association in Series II of Fischer’s The Albany Diocesan Choir Festival Series:

  • Charles O’Neill (1882-1964), professor at the State Teachers’ College at Potsdam, New York (now the Crane School of Music): “I will extol Thee”

As mentioned above, Candlyn’s work “Christ whose glory fills the skies” was commissioned for the 1942 festival. It also was published in Series II of the Fischer series. With the war on, this was a smaller event, held in conjunction with the Diocesan convention “to aid in conservation necessitated for war measures.” We assume that this refers to gasoline rationing, which would have made it very difficult to transport 50 choirs for a separate event. This year was to be Candlyn’s last at the Festival: in 1943 he resigned from St. Paul’s to become organist and choirmaster at St. Thomas Church in Manhatttan.

Healey Willan, “Before the Ending of the Day” cover reverse

The Diocesan Choir Festivals for 1943 and 1944 were again held in conjunction with the diocesan convention. There seems to have been a break during the last years of World War II.

The first Festival after the war was in 1947, when 500 singers from all parts of the diocese were directed by Duncan Trotter Gillespie, of St. George’s, Schenectady, and accompanied by organ and a brass choir from Albany High School. In 1950, in a sign that the festival had returned to its former glory, the regional festivals were held once again: the Albany deanery met at St. Andrew’s, and other events were held in Cohoes, Staatsville, Morris and Ogdensburg.

1951 was a slightly smaller event, with 25 choirs attending, but scheduling the festival with the newly-organized Tulip Festival helped with attendance: the audience, we are told, filled the cathedral to overflowing.

All Saints Cathedral (credit: Albany Group Archive)

Starting in the 1954, when the Choir Festival was again held in conjunction with the Tulip Festival, the director was W. Judson Rand Jr., organist and choirmaster of St. Peter’s church, who had been the festival’s organist back in 1941. The Diocesan Choirmasters’ Association continued to organize the event, which attracted 200 singer in 1955.

The last reference to the Festival that I’ve been able to find is an advertisement from 1965. It is a pity that we have lost this element of diocesan life. With smaller congregations and smaller choirs in many Episcopal churches, it would be difficult to organize such a festival today. But think of the benefits of bringing together musicians from across the diocese to meet, to form friendships, and to join together in song.

 

The Geer Memorial Pulpit

Last year St. Paul’s Church celebrated its fiftieth year in the Hackett Boulevard building. Some parishioners have wondered why there are so few items from the previous church in this 1966 building. Today we discuss one item from the Lancaster Street Church that could not be incorporated into the new building, and how it came to be preserved and protected for future generations.

When St. Paul’s vestry met on September 12, 1962 with William F. Meyers, New York State’s Assistant Commissioner of Housing, he told them that they would have three years before the building was demolished. It was to be a far shorter time. Because St. Paul’s property (church, parish house and rectory) were in the area designated for the South Mall’s central air conditioning and main transformer vault, the demolition had to occur early in the mall’s construction. In May 1964 the vestry was told that they would have to vacate the building by the end of August of that year. After some negotiation, the congregation agreed to hold their last service in the building on July 26, 1964. That same day, ground was broken for the Hackett Boulevard building.

Architect’s rendering, Swann Street Building, South Mall

Father Nelson Parke had passionately argued for the value of the many memorials in the Lancaster Street building. And Grace Gunderson, a member of the Temporary State Commission on the Capital City (the organization that was planning the South Mall), had proposed “to save and move the sanctuary and memorial objects such as the stained glass windows, and build a new church around them.” The vestry had to quickly determine which objects from the Lancaster Street building could be moved to the Hackett Boulevard church.

J. and R. Lamb windows, Hackett Boulevard Narthex

A dozen of the stained glass windows from the Lancaster Street building would be placed in the new church’s narthex. Room was also found for brass plaques honoring Harry Van Allen and those who lost their lives in World War II. Many items from the chapel could be used in the new building; many other memorials would be buried under the new altar.

Harry Van Allen Memorial Plaque

Memorial plaque for World War II Dead

The solution, however left a large number of other objects which could not be used in the new building. All of these objects were the property of New York State, which had taken the entire church by eminent domain on March 27, 1962. The State sold fifty-five lots of items at auction held in the last days of July 1964, including smaller stained glass windows, pews, paintings and doors. Lot number 44 “Pulpit – decorative sold oak” went to the Champlain Conference of the Wesleyan Methodist Church for $13.00.

The pulpit had originally been donated in 1883 by Robert Geer, in memory of his two wives: Mary Sophie Gere (1837 – 1868) and Rhoda Kellogg Shed (1837 – 1882). Robert Geer was born in Ledyard, Connecticut in 1837. He worked as a druggist in Norwich, Connecticut, then in Syracuse, New York. In 1865, he moved to Albany, where he represented the Salt Company of Onondaga, in which his first wife’s family played a prominent role. In Albany, Robert Geer was also president of the Board of Trade and served as a bank director.

In 1883, six months after the death of his second wife, Robert Geer wrote a confidential letter to St. Paul’s vestry, explaining that during her last year Rhoda S. Geer had “several times expressed the wish that some one would place a new memorial pulpit in St. Paul’s Church.” Both women had been confirmed at St. Paul’s and were communicants of the congregation. Having consulted with the rector, J. Livingston Reese, Geer commissioned the pulpit in memory of his wives, and asked the vestry’s permission to place it in the church.

J. Livingston Reese

From church records, we know that work was designed by Robert W. Gibson, architect of All Saints’ Cathedral, and designer of the pulpit in St. Peter’s Church. The pulpit was executed by Annesley & Co., the Albany firm that also made the bishop’s throne at the Cathedral of All Saints.

The Geer memorial pulpit remained in place in the Lancaster Street building for the next 81 years, but its future in summer of 1964 was far from certain. If the pulpit was not claimed by the Wesleyan Methodists before demolition began, it would become the property of the demolition contractor, to be disposed of as the contractor saw fit.

Flora Myers Brady Gavit Memorial Organ and Geer Memorial Pulpit

But two weeks following the sale, Hugh M. Flick, Associate Commissioner of State Department of Education (and State Historian) intervened. In an August 14, 1964 letter to General C.V.R. Schuyler, Commissioner of New York State Office of General Services, Frick wrote:

“…I have personally examined the carved wooden pulpit in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on the Mall. This pulpit was carved by Camillo Kramer and is an unusually fine example of Albany handicrafts. Miss Camilla Kramer is still living and we will seek to glean from her reminiscences concerning her father and other woodcarvers in Albany.”

Flick formally requested that the pulpit be preserved, and transferred to the collection of the State Department of Education. General Schuyler responded positively the next day, and within the week, arrangements had been made to remove the pulpit from the church and place it in the Department of Education warehouse at 1260 Broadway. If it had not been for Hugh M. Flick’s intervention, the pulpit might have permanently left the city of Albany, or might even have been destroyed.

Geer Memorial Pulpit

It is certainly a impressive piece of furniture: almost seven feet from base to top of the lectern, and monumental in scale. But it must have been the angels that impressed Flick. Each figure is carved in fine detail, with very distinctive features, as though each were based upon a real individual. How did Flick recognize it as the work of Camillo Kramer? We have been unable to locate any further documentation from the State Education Department, though I have not yet checked Hugh M. Flick’s correspondence from this period. I have been unable to find other examples of Kramer’s work, but Flick was too careful a historian to make an attribution without some evidence.

Geer Memorial Pulpit: Angel with hands clasped

Camillo Kramer was born in Prussia in 1846, and emigrated to the United States about 1870, settling first in New York City. He must have trained as a wood carver in Germany, because that is the first occupation listed in city directories. Kramer came to Cohoes about 1877, working as a carver for a furniture manufacturer. He came to Albany in 1882, the year our pulpit was built. He does not appear in business listings for several years, and we assume that he was working for other firms, possibly including Annesley. He established a shop at 8 Green Street (on the corner of Beaver Street) in 1888. That first year he is listed as a wood carver, but by the next year he had switched to another line of business: bicycles. Kramer sold bicycles and tricycles in the Green Street shop from 1889 until 1891. By 1893 he was back to wood carving, the occupation he continued until his retirement in 1912.

Geer Memoiral Pulpit: Angel with crossed arms

Camillo Craver was not only a craftsman. Even as a young man in Cohoes he obtained a patent for a table, and over his lifetime was granted other patents for a velocipede, velocipede wheels, a pipe wrench, and a shoe fastener.

Geer Memorial Pulpit: Angel with harp

Geer Memorial Pulpit: Angel with cross

The pulpit remains in the State Museum collection. In October 2015, thanks to Department of Education staff, I was able to see the pulpit in their Rotterdam storage facility, and take the photographs that accompany this post. The pulpit was most recently displayed in the museum in the mid-1990s. We can hope that Flick’s promise of inclusion in new museum displays can continue to be fulfilled, and that it will be displayed regularly, as envisioned in Flick’s 1964 letter to General Schuyler:

“In the light of the historical interest of this unusual example of the work of an Albany artisan, I would like to most sincerely request that consideration be given to the preservation of this pulpit and that it be included in the historical collections of the State Education Department. It is anticipated that when the new museum rises on the Mall, exhibits such as this will add a good deal to the value of the exhibits.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From St. Paul’s Church to San Quentin: the Life of William Henry Hill

William Ingraham Kip (portrait attributed to Asa Weston Twitchell )

In his first decade as rector of St. Paul’s, William Ingraham Kip saw three young man enter the ministry from the congregation. We have already spoken of Sylvanus Reed, but the first of these three was William Henry Hill, who was not only an active member of the congregation, but also followed Kip to California. How Hill came to serve eight years at San Quentin Prison is only one of the fascinating things about this son of St. Paul’s Church.

William H. Hill was born in Connecticut in 1816, and came to Albany at age 15. He became a communicant of St. Paul’s in 1839, shortly after Kip arrived here as rector. Hill was soon busy in the life of the parish, particularly as “chorister” (then used to mean the leader of the church choir) intermittently from 1841 until 1845, while the organist was composer Oliver J. Shaw. He also represented the congregation at diocesan conventions in 1844 (during the contentious discussion of the fate of disgraced Bishop Benjamin T. Onderdonk) and again in 1846. During this period, he worked as a reporter and assistant editor for the Albany Evening Journal, owned and edited by the powerful Whig politician Thurlow Weed.

William Henry Hill

William H. Hill became a candidate for ordination in 1844, and was ordained deacon in 1846 and priest the next year. His first pastoral assignment was St. Paul’s, Brownville (Jefferson County, New York), where he served from 1846 until 1851. Interestingly, the Brownville church’s first rector was William Linn Keese, who was also the second rector of St. Paul’s, Albany. William H. Hill was then rector at Zion Church, Morris (Otsego County, New York) from 1851 until 1855.

California Clipper advertisement (image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

William Ingraham Kip was elected Missionary Bishop of California in late 1853. A year later, William H. Hill followed him to the far distant west, which was still in the throes of the Gold Rush of 1849—1855.

Nevada City, California about 1856 (image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Initially he served the church in Nevada City, and next was rector of Grace Church, Sacramento (where he also served several terms as superintendent of the city schools) from 1856 until 1871. His final parish assignment was at St. Athanasius, Los Angeles from approximately 1871 until 1878.

 

 

 

 

William H. Hill (San Francisco Chronicle 28 Oct 1896)

Have you been worrying about how Hill came to serve time at San Quentin? Well, you can relax, because he was definitely on the right side of the bars. William H. Hill was chaplain at San Quentin from 1878 until 1885. After a few years as a traveling missionary, he retired to Berkeley, where he died in 1896.

San Quentin Prison (image credit: Wikimedia Commons)