Baltimore Chapter of the American Guild of Organists
Enriching lives through organ and choral music

Dear John

John Walker, DMA is Artist-in-Residence at Church of the Redeemer, Baltimore, having served earlier as Minister of Music at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, and The Riverside Church in New York City. He is a member of the organ faculty at Peabody Conservatory of Music and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Organ at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, following previous teaching positions at Duquesne University, Manhattan School of Music, San Jose State University, and the American Conservatory of Music. His active performance schedule has taken him throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Dr. Walker has recorded frequently on the Pro Organo, Gothic, and JAV Recordings labels. As a student of Herbert Nanney, John Walker earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Stanford University, where he was also Assistant University Organist. He holds two Master of Music degrees cum laude from American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, where he was later a member of the faculty. Dr. Walker was the 1984 alumni recipient of the Professional Achievement Award from Westminster College. A Fellow of the American Guild of Organists, John Walker was elected President of the AGO in 2014, having previously served the Guild in numerous other capacities including several terms as Vice President and Treasurer.

In our "Dear John" series, Dr. Walker answers questions from our Chapter members. An experienced, knowledgeable, and pastoral member, he has graciously accepted the board’s invitation to lead an “advice” column for our chapter newsletter. Many thanks to Dr. John Walker for taking up this challenge. If you have an organ, choral, or church music question, please use our contact form to submit your question to Dr. Walker. He will then choose one question to answer each month.

Curious About Careers

Dear John,

Holding a part-time position in church music, I also work full-time in another profession. Is my situation unique, or does it have historical precedent?

- Curious about Careers

Dear Curious,

For several centuries organists have occupied part-time positions in church music in combination with other employment.

Dietrich Buxtehude was not only the organist but also the bookkeeper at St. Mary’s Church in Lübeck. The venerable Dr. Alec Wyton advised his students to hold more than one position, thereby being able to focus on the job which produces the greater joy and always to be happy! Among the multitude of illustrious American organists with multiple careers, here are three notable examples:

Ives, Charles (1874-1954)
Organist: church organist from 1888 (age 14) until 1902;
Athlete: Champion sprinter on the Yale Varsity Football Team
Life Insurance Executive: Ives & Myrick, 1899-1930
Composer: one of the first American composers of international significance
Philanthropist: great patron of twentieth century music, often supporting works that were written by other composers. He did this in secret.

Latrobe, Benjamin (1764-1820)
Organist: St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, DC
Architect: The Capitol Building, Washington, DC; The Baltimore Basilica (first cathedral in America)

Riess, Dorothy Young (b. 1931)
Organist: winner, National American Guild of Organists Young Artist Competition;
Associate Organist, First Christian Church, Las Vegas, Nevada Composer: works for piano, organ, solo instruments.
Physician: Doctor of Medicine; private practice, Internal Medicine, Pasadena, CA; First female president of Pasadena Medical Society and founder of San Gabriel Valley Women in Medicine Association.
Writer/historian: multiple published articles on medical history and ethics.
Commercial photographer: medical/surgical photography plus scenic/nature

I hope that the example of these outstanding colleagues might inspire each of us to live to the fullest extent of our creative capacities.

Creatively yours,

John Walker