1920 - 2015
Charles Dodsley Walker (March 16,1920 - January 17, 2015)
Charles Dodsley Walker's musical talent was clear early on: as a youngster in New York City, he sang in the boys choir at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine where he also studied organ. After his first performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion when he was ten, he decided to be a church musician. He never wavered from this decision.
At age seventeen, when a freshman at Trinity College in Connecticut, he secured his first job as a choir director in a nearby church. After serving with distinction in the U. S. Navy in World War II, Walker received his Masters degree in music from Harvard University in 1947. Soon thereafter, Walker was made organist at the American Cathedral in Paris where he met and married American soprano Janet Hayes.
Back in New York City by 1950, Walker became organist and choir master at the Church of the Heavenly Rest, remaining there until 1988. In 1952, Walker founded the Canterbury Choral Society, initially an offshoot of the Heavenly Rest music program; Canterbury's unprecedented purpose was to present sacred choral music as originally scored for orchestra with a full volunteer chorus, professional soloists and orchestra, and children's choruses. Over sixty-three years, Canterbury has performed major as well as less well known works by more than ninety composers from the fourteenth through the twentieth centuries; Canterbury established for New York audiences high standards of excellence in a new form of choral performance.
With his wife Janet, who founded the York Theatre Company in 1969, Walker was at the center of overlapping circles of American musical and cultural life. For thirty-five years, Walker was musical director of the Blue Hill Troupe, conducting all thirteen Gilbert and Sullivan operettas many times over. In addition, in 1982, Walker co-founded the Berkshire Choral Festival and remained associated with it for eighteen years.
An influential educator, Walker chaired the Music Department at The Chapin School for twenty-four years and served as Organist at the Lake Delaware Boys' Camp from 1940 to 1990. He taught organ and choral conducting at New York University, Manhattan College of Music, S.U.N.Y.-Queens College and Union Theological Seminary. In many leadership roles, including the presidency, in the American Guild of Organists, Walker significantly expanded the organization's national influence and effectiveness; he had been a member since 1937.
After Janet Walker's death in 1997, Walker married Elizabeth Phillips in 2001. Throughout, he continued his demanding work as a church musician, at Trinity Church in Southport, Connecticut and then at St. Luke's Parish in Darien, as well as his vigorous leadership of the Canterbury Choral Society.
Survived by his wife Lise Phillips Walker, daughter Susan Starr Walker, son Peter Hayes Walker and three grandchildren, Charles Dodsley Walker is remembered not just for his wide-ranging professional accomplishments but for his elegant energy, gracious optimism and generous intellect, his convivial, quick wit, and his capacity to enable us all to find the best within ourselves.
Published in New York Times from Jan. 22 to Jan. 23, 2015.