Saturday, February 9, 2013


I have been blessed to have had not one, but five magnificent master organ teachers during my student career:  David Spicer, John Weaver, Clarence Watters, David Craighead, and Wilma Jensen.  Today I want to share my tribute written for David Craighead's memorial celebration last weekend in Rochester, NY.



I can’t remember the first time someone said to me, “You should study with David Craighead.”  The reason I can’t remember is that it happened so early on, and so often.  Craighead’s name had long been a towering one in our field by the 1970s when I was first studying:  a renowned performer, a master teacher, the “organists’ organist”.  I knew that studying with him would be extremely beneficial to my training and my career.

There was only one problem.  He played tracker organs. Don’t get me wrong — I loved the way this man played. I just didn’t understand how those contraptions really worked! I had grown up playing Bach fugues on 4-manual electro-pneumatic instruments using 16 generals, multi-tasking multiple swell pedals, and orchestrating the music so that it sounded nothing like the original. Even after graduating from Curtis I was still a bit nervous about going over to “the other side”, but I was also eager to see what new musical horizons awaited me at Eastman. 


WELL. The last thing I expected was that David Craighead was psychic. Unlike my colleagues who were advanced enough for a first lesson working on an entire measure, mine was an introduction spent with him acknowleding my unspoken (and honestly, unconscious) fear that this might be a rough transition. He spoke of his own journey through various styles of playing, and we talked of our shared lineage through Curtis and the great Lynnwood Farnam. David assured me that if I stuck with these lessons and what he had to offer, I might glean some things that — perhaps years later — I may appreciate, and to able to apply to my music. It completely brings me to tears to think of what an incredible understatement this has proven to be.

David was patient in introducing me to various stylistic concepts and techniques, the details to which I needn’t even refer with this particular audience. In time I grew skilled at manipulating the Van Daalen — a victory in and of itself — controlling my rhythm, refining the registrations, and fingering Reger passages so as to be actually manageable. What strikes me in hindsight is that he seemed to understand all along that it might be years before much of his teaching would take hold with me, and that I might not even be completely grateful for some time. This was my first lesson in good parenting!


I am certain that all of us students have experienced the phenomenon of hearing his voice years later, not only when pulling out the old war horses, but while in the throes of learning new repertoire as well. How is it possible that we continually comprehend his teaching in a new way, and at a deeper level? What a gift it is to have a teacher who continues to teach long after the student departs. And it makes me wonder, who is doing the teaching now? Are we all channeling our inner Craigheads, or is there something else going on? (Marian would insert a good wisecrack here, I am sure.)

Speaking of Marian… how grateful we students are to have had her in our lives as well. Many of you are aware that their mutual teacher Alexander McCurdy used to tell David that Marian was the better organist, while he would tell Marian that David was better! Whether hearing about her ideas and thoughts during a lesson with David, getting to know her (and her priceless opinions and stories) at parties or on other occasions, listening to her play in concert or at church, we all benefitted enormously from the other half of this incredible team of compassionate, talented, humble, and hard-working organists.


I think it was through Marian that David developed what I consider to be one of his most precious characteristics: the ability to embrace and utilize every moment of life. Because both of them were so fully occupied with teaching, church, concerts, and family, they had to find a way to keep the wheels greased, so to speak. These two embodied the concept of efficient synchronicity long before it was popular. I’ll never forget realizing that David prepared almost all of his astonishing repertoire during 15-minute bouts, in between other demands.

This concept extended to other aspects of their lives, as they regularly took time for family, friends, parishioners and students just as surely as they took time to eat. No one who ever dined with David, consulted with him about a difficult issue, received one of his letters of wisdom and encouragement, or received a hand-written thank-you note after a visit or concert (usually penned at the airport on his way home), will ever doubt his genuine interest in others, nor his unfailing affection. In the end, he always managed to accomplish the important things in life, and in the end, it was always people who came first.


And so here we are — people whom David put at the forefront of his life — to pay tribute to not only a musical giant, but a gentle and kind father figure to us all, and to give thanks for the incredible legacy which is ours. I am so grateful for those people who said to me, “You should study with David Craighead,” and every day I thank God that David Craighead thought that, just maybe, that was a good idea too.

Diane Meredith Belcher