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Have you had an extraordinary experience with an organ teacher? Email and we'll tell your story here. If available, please include a bio and photo of your teacher.


    I have great respect and reverence for my first piano and organ teacher, S. Leslie Grow, who was a prime mover in my life between the ages of 7 and 17. Unfortunately he passed away while I was in college so I didn't get a chance to really get to know him as an adult.

    Mr. Grow, I believe had been an English major at Yale University, and then was an organ scholarship student with Marcel Dupre at Saint Sulpice in Paris for I believe 6 months which was shortened due to homesickness reasons. (He was a newlywed at the time and his bride couldn't make the trip.)

    I first met him when I studied piano with him at his home and then three years later was able to study organ with him as well. He was the organist at the Congregational Church of San Mateo from 1942 - 1975 (where incidentally I am currently posted), and also played at Peninsula Temple Beth El.

    I really owe him a lot since he was the first professional person to kindle my passion for music and specifically my love of the French Romantic literature. I think it is because of his study with Dupre that I feel a deep kinship to St. Sulpice and especially to the works of Franck, Widor and Vierne.

    I always had a tremendous regard for his musicianship skills, his ability to modulate anywhere with ease, sightread, transpose, etc. He was the first person I knew to have an AAGO, and it was out of respect for him that I pursued that test myself, mostly to share in the similar experience. Even though I now share that credential, I still hold his musicianship up on a pedestal. I chuckle now because my first Bach on organ was how he would have learned it from Dupre, complete with opening and closing the box, but I don't consider myself any worse for wear. It has given me a historical insight into how a whole generation plus viewed Bach and played his works to their Romantic ideal.

    As a teacher, he always knew how to keep you challenged, keeping the new repertoire and goals flowing. Probably his most famous pupil was the late Keith Chapman who was the organist at Wanamaker's Department Store in Philadelphia before his tragic death.

    Along the cute side, Mr. Grow was fairly easy to caricature, as he had very curly hair, always had a ash-laden cigar in the corner of his mouth and, since he had had cataract surgery as a young adult, he wore huge "cataract glasses." Who knows if it is pure coincidence or just indirect reverence, but when I finished medical school, I specialized in Ophthalmology.

    Nonetheless, I find that overall Mr. Grow has had a tremendous influence on the course of my life in more ways than I can count. Thanks, Mr. Grow! Here's to you!
-Angela Kraft Cross


English doesn't have a phrase to honor Claude. Lieber meister, Cher Maitre, these are better. He was the Beloved Teacher.

He was a sensei, the Japanese word which means Revered Teacher, the second father of the student; he to whom the honor and responsibility is given.

He who has not taught his son a trade has taught his son to steal. My father taught me no trade. Claude did.

He taught what I needed, what I wanted since the age of four. He taught me to be a Church Musician, as Bach was.

It was no easy task. I was never a promising prodigy. "Count," "Curve your fingers," The list was endless. He never gave up. Why? Because I wanted to be an organist more than anybody else. It was my boundless desire. He would shake his head.

On a fun day, he'd even gossip. He would chat with this kid as if I were an adult.

"Want to hear some gossip?" he'd ask when the piano lessons just couldn't be borne any further.

He taught the bumbling children delivered him to play the piano. This he did for forty-six years. "A recital? If they had a recital, I'd lose half my pupils."

When he auditioned me at age eight for the choir, I was stunned at his ease and eloquence at the keyboard. He blew me away. On occasion, before rehearsals, he'd improvise at the piano. Everything was right. Nuance, keyboard harmony, the raw power to make something of nothing.

He was famous. He had a tune in the Hymnal 1940. We'd sing his music, published music that people in other places were singing.

When my great uncle, once a choirboy, took me to sing in the demanding choir of his Anglo-Catholic parish, the choirmaster auditioned on the Sunday morning. Uncle Bill was a Major Figure there, but so was the choir. Yes, I knew the Elgar Ave Verum. Yes, I knew the hymns, yes I knew the litany. Claude's work was replicable. I could do the job. Claude had taught me the trade.

He was the master of improvisation. He could play an interlude between hymn verses when the music wasn't long enough for the procession. He'd do turn-on-a-dime modulations that swept you away as Mozart might do. Although he didn't like Mozart much. "Don't tell anybody," he admonished. "People shouldn't say 'Mr. Means doesn't like Mozart.'"

He was tough with the choir. On a bad Sunday, he'd send a message that he wanted to see the entire choir in the chancel IMMEDIATELY after the service. Not good news. He'd make us sing the anthem again, but this time we'd do it right!

He attacked mistakes, laziness, inattention, insensitivity. When we'd done it RIGHT we could go. Parents could wait, the men could grumble. But we did what he said, the parents waited.

He did this in the elite and powerful community of Greenwich, Connecticut. Greenwich or no Greenwich, his choir would sing as they were told until it was right.

I'd run to answer his phone calls. Once when, as I'd been instructed, I asked if I could say who was calling. "This is Lady Ramsey," came the voice. "It's Lady Ramsey," I reported. "Oh, yes, Lady Ramsey," he answered easily. LADY? LADY RAMSEY?" He was chatting with the Nobility. It was unreal.

He bundled us up on the school bus every year and took us to the circus in New York. A parishioner felt this was an important prerogative for the choirboys. It was.

He bundled us up on the school bus, with some annoyance, to sing a funeral in a palace that had an organ. We processed down a double wide marble staircase to a congregation assembled on gilded chairs where Dr. Wilson sweated heavily in the heat among potted palms. And where a sumptuous buffet awaited mourners. We were NOT attending the buffet, but Miss Rae vested us in a perfect Louis seize bedroom. I was nine. I led the procession. It was the Greenwich answer to Busby Berklee. The organ was not up to his standards. We got five dollars each. In 1957. We were paid professionals.

Claude taught us what was expected of paid professionals. And those of us who were not in accordance with his standards, were fired. He used the word fired. Some us learned what it was to be fired. He called it Cleaning out the dead wood.

He was tough with himself. I'd listen as he practiced the hymns over and over and over. He'd practice the improvisations. His registrations were impeccable. He gave flawless recitals to which his colleagues would come humbly to listen.

He was the founder of the Stamford Connecticut AGO chapter. He was Program Chairman, he was Dean. He sat on the National Council in New York.

He dressed as impeccably as he played. His most damning word was "sloppy."

I would later learn that he was at heart the master of extraordinary humility. He was rather tongue-tied when he was forced to speak in public. Maybe that was why he was mostly a happy man. He would wise-crack with the choir or with me, or with the choirboys he loved.

"Sit there and meditate on your sins," he once quipped. "He's got rubber feet," he once remarked of an adult organ student.

He had a temper. He'd slam hands on the keyboard and stop the choir short. Not good news. But it worked. He cared so much.

We were paid for our work, and we were fined for misbehavior or for being late at rehearsals. "Eight fifteen SHARP."

He was a veteran. He knew what the army was like, and how his choir should conduct itself. We sat. We stood. We bowed. At his gesture.

A boy out of line was a boy who would stand up in disgrace in rehearsal. Until Claude decided he'd learned his lesson. A boy who messed up at a service would get a lecture and a fine.

"There will be no more GAWKING at the bride." He even taught us what monastics call "custody of the eyes."

He held three appointments in his life: St. John's Cathedral in Denver; Assistant to David McKaye Williams at Saint Bartholomew's in New York ("I didn't have a dime in those days."); and Christ Church, Greenwich, Connecticut, for forty-six years ("I came out to Greenwich from New York in a suit with a stiff collar...and a bowler." "I'm not going to retire until they give me a pension."). He didn't and they did. He founded and maintained a choir of men and boys for forty-six years.

His writing style was, to say the least, terse. On a Christmas card, "Quadruple bypass last September. All's well."

I went with the parish secretary and her mother to see him off to Europe on a real steamship. He sent me a postcard from Paris: "You must come to see this beautiful city as soon as you can." What was I when I got that card, eleven?

I wrote a descant. Outside after rehearsal, I watched him at the keyboard. He was playing my descant from my kid's manuscript. He was whistling it, as he often did when composing. Then we performed it. He let us perform my work, and the leaflet even said "The descant on the sermon hymn today was written by one of our choirboys, Peter Stapleton." My friends passed it down to me with secret excitement that Sunday. I was at the end of the line because I was still the shortest, so I sat at the end. I also led the choir behind the crucifer into church. Tell me that wasn't a rush!

I sent the first piece I published in manuscript. "Rewrite for Jr Choir," came his response. I sent him everything I published, yearning, even as an adult, for his approval. I think the most I got was "has some interesting modulations" I wonder if he recognized who had taught me to make interesting modulations.

When I had my appendix out at age ten, he came to the hospital with a book for me to read - PETER. It was British; it had color pictures. It was about a boy, named Peter who was a choirboy in different periods of English history. Superbly written, it was the most perfect present at the most perfect time.

Was I his favorite student? Probably not; I'll never know. God knows he was my favorite teacher. "He was very fond of you, Peter," wrote his companion of sixty years. "You were one of the few who came back." He sent me Claude's obituary, and the leaflet from his funeral. Claude would sometimes enclose a leaflet with a letter. Now Bill sent it. I cried for three days.

He did once tell me over lunch in his later years, "You've turned into a fascinating person." Or "Oh, Peter, you'll never starve," when hearing his eccentric student tell of his eccentric adventures.

Beloved teacher, sensei, lieber meister, cher maitre, Claude Means.
-Peter Stapleton, Cambridge, MA


James Dale was truly a great organist and teacher. I studied with him for several years. His vast repertoire and registrations were superior. He was kind, helpful and inspirational as a teacher. His recitals at the Naval Academy brought to Annapolis a wonderful appreciation of the organ. His selections were well chosen to appeal to his audience. The Halloween concert was especially fun with sound effects and visual effects. He was dean of our local Annapolis Chapters of the American Guild of Organists, 1987-1989, and was chairman of the Annapolis Regional Convention in 1991. James Dale played oboe in the Annapolis Symphony. At one concert at the Chapel, he played the oboe to his own accompaniment he had programmed on the Rodgers electronic organ. We in Annapolis who knew him well will miss his genius at the organ, his friendliness, and other abilities.
-Irma Lee Seek

James Dale, prominent Annapolis musician, died on August 5, 1996, at Anne Arundel Medical Center, after a long illness. James Dale was United States Naval Academy Chapel Organist and USNA Assistant Director of Musical Activities; he was principal oboist with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and in recent years had served on the Symphony Board of Directors, and was the orchestra's personnel manager.

Jim was born in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, October 18, 1947, one of two sons of Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Dale. His distinguished career as a church organist began at the age of 13, when he was employed as an organist for St. Paul's Church (Episcopal), in his home town of Wellsboro. As a high school senior, he was a finalist in solo competition at Mansfield State University; this enabled him to present a recital at the college and led to his admission and graduation in 1969 with majors in both organ and oboe.

James Dale enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1970, and reported to Annapolis as oboist in the Naval Academy Band. He quickly volunteered his skills as an organist, assisting Professor Donald Gilley with chapel services, and serving as accompanist for the Academy's Glee Club. Following Gilley's retirement in 1972, he was assigned to the chapel for the duration of his navy enlistment, and following his discharge from the Navy in 1974, James Dale continued his duties as organist and choir director in a civilian capacity.

After coming to Annapolis, Jim continued to pursue studies in both oboe and organ, completing his master's degree in performance in 1973 at Catholic University, studying organ with Albert Russell in Washington for several years and coaching with Virgil Fox. An organist of national stature, James Dale played recitals in many of America's most prominent churches, cathedrals, and concert halls, including the National Cathedral in Washington, St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, the Cathedral of Mary our Queen in Baltimore, Woolsey Hall at Yale University, and was a featured organ soloist with the Rochester Symphony and the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. In 1985 he was one of five finalists in the Diane Bish international organ competition at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a competition that seeks to recognize the world's most prominent young organists. He was an active member of the American Guild of Organists, served as Dean of the Annapolis Chapter and Dean of the Washington D.C. chapter of the guild.

James Dale's playing was recorded and broadcast in a variety of productions, including the Naval Academy's annual Messiah concerts which have been broadcast over Maryland Public Television and recorded by Richardson Recordings; he appeared in his regular capacity of chapel organist in the TV mini-series "Winds of War" and most recently, "Weddings of a Lifetime." His CD's can be found in local record stores under the Richardson Recordings label and the Pines Recordings labels.

James Dale was active as conductor of several local choral organizations, including the Annapolis Chorale, and at the Naval Academy he served at various times as director of the Antiphonal Choir, the Chapel Chorale, the Catholic Choir, the Women's Glee Club, and the Plebe Summer Choirs.

James Dale was a visionary in the field of organ design, substantially redesigning the Naval Academy organ in the late 1970s, eventually producing an instrument that is universally recognized as one of the finest products of the Moeller Organ Company. Jim's concept of a versatile instrument that could play the entire organ repertoire including the lost art of organ transcriptions of orchestral works stood very much against the then-fashionable trends in organ design of producing authentic period instruments that were conceived for a more narrowly defined repertoire. The popularity of his chapel recital series was a testimony to the breadth of his vision.

James Dale was also a prominent and influential figure in the growth and development of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. He was principal oboist for many years, and served on the two search committees that appointed Giselle Ben-Dor and her predecessor, Peter Bay as conductors for the symphony. His volunteer work on behalf of the symphony led to his appointment to the Board of Directors, and he subsequently resigned that position to become Personnel Manager for the Symphony.
-Dr. John Barry Talley, Annapolis, MD

Recordings by James Dale


My name is Zachary and I am in first grade at Matthew Whaley in Williamsburg, Va. I would like to nominate my favorite music teacher, Mrs. Lashinger. She is retiring after teaching 34 years and I have only had her two years but she has made me realize that I want to be a musician just like her and my parents. Today was her last production and we will never have her as a teacher again after school is out. Today was my saddest day in my whole life. I will miss her with my heart and will think of her everytime I learn to play a new instrument like her. I hope you will vote for her because she has worked very hard and made us cry by leaving. Thank you.
-Zachary, Williamsburg, VA


B.M., Oberlin College, 1951; M.M., 1955. Selby Houston Memorial Award (Organ and Theory), 1951. Member, Pi Kappa Lambda. Student of Andre Marchal, 1965. Faculty, Southwestern College, Winfield, Kansas, 1955-58; Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, 1958-59; Appointed Professor of Organ, Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, Oberlin, Ohio, 1959. Currently retired.

I studied with Garth Peacock from 1981-1987, when I attended Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. I first visited Oberlin in the fall of 1980 and immediately fell in love with the town, the college, and the people. After that visit, there was never any doubt that I wanted to study at the Conservatory but getting in was another story. At the time, I really wanted to study synthesizers but back then you could only have electronic music as your secondary major. You had to audition on and have as your major a "real" instrument. So I prepared a piano audition for the spring and arranged to also play it for the organ department.

When the time came, my piano audition went badly and I was crushed. I was ready to head out of town without so much as a thought about the organ department. However, while I had been off ruining my future in front of the piano department, my parents had bumped into one Garth Peacock, head of the organ department, who, recognizing the last name from his list of auditionees, proceeded to convince them that hearing me play would be the high point of his day. Not able to convince them otherwise, I auditioned for the organ program.

I'm sure none of the four organ professors could tell you about the piano repertoire I played for them that day but Garth for one never forgot the way I breezed through the hymn they asked me to sight read. I had been playing hymns for church and sunday school for years (without the pedals) so it was no big deal for me to sight read through a hymn on the piano. That hymn playing is what got me into the Conservatory. I studied the pedals all that summer to prepare for lessons with Garth although he had told me it wouldn't be necessary.

When I arrived that fall in Oberlin as a student, it was the beginning of six of the most challenging and rewarding years of my life. The person who contributed the most to that six-year experience was Garth Peacock. I don't know, maybe it had something to do with us both coming from small towns (Garth is originally from Protection, Kansas, and I'm originally from Ruffsdale, Pennsylvania) but Garth was always looking out for me. He was ever patient with this immature, irresponsible kid and took every opportunity to build up my self-confidence. In lessons, he helped me focus on relaxing while playing and also to trust my rhythmic instincts, two essential ideas that I return to every time I sit down at the console.

As a professor, Garth stuck by me and got me graduated. Without his tireless enthusiasm and encouragement, I would never have made it through a lesson let alone school. As a best friend, Garth Peacock taught me that there is a life and a world away from the organ. He understood and conveyed to me that performing isn't everything, that in the end, who you are and how you live your life is what really matters. Thank you, Garth!
-Dan Long, New York, NY