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Walker Cunningham

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Died unexpectedly at his home in San Francisco on May 14, 2013 at the age of 65. Walker condensed into one life the accomplishments of several. The son of Carleton and Newton Cunningham, both deceased, Walker grew up in Blackstone, Virginia where his mother encouraged him to pursue his love of music. From this small town in rural Virginia, Walker auditioned for and won a scholarship to Oberlin, a place that changed his life forever. In 1970 he graduated with a Bachelor of Music in organ performance from the Conservatory and B.A. degrees in music and German from the College. He then taught at Emma Willard School in Troy, New York where he was awarded an Andrew Mellon Foundation faculty grant to study with Marie Claire Alain at the Haarlem Summer Organ Academy in Haarlem, Holland and to do research in France. He spent 1973-74 as a research and performance fellow at the Institut de Musicologie, University of Fribourg, Switzerland where he studied organ with Luigi Tagliavini. Walker earned both an M.A. and Ph.D. in musicology at the University of California, Berkeley where he was awarded multiple fellowships. His performance career included dozens of organ concerts in the United States, including a keynote concert for the Columbia Bach Symposium in New York City, and in Europe where he performed in Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, and Austria at the Hofhaimer Competition in Innsbruch where he took Second Prize. He gave many harpsichord performances, conducted workshops, master classes, and lectures, and appeared as a regular continuo player and accompanist with chamber, choral, and symphonic organizations such as the Berkeley Pro Musica Chorus, California Bach Society, and San Francisco Symphony. He served as organist and music director for St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Berkeley, organist and choirmaster for St. John the Evangelist Episcopal in San Francisco, as well as in other churches wherever he lived or studied. Walker wrote "The Keyboard Music of John Bull" and produced the critically acclaimed CD "The Historic San Francisco Organ of the Church of St. John the Evangelist." He spoke French, German, Italian, and had taken up Portuguese in recent years. Walker applied his mind and will in the same way to overcoming AIDS as he did to excelling in the field of music. Thanks to his own research and the help of his doctors, he survived two bouts with AIDS and 29 years of HIV. When AIDS brought an end to his performing career, Walker moved on to become a highly respected technical editor and writer at Cisco Systems, and later a consultant. Whatever the challenge, Walker mustered the courage to master it fully and with flair. In his later years, few people knew of his musical career but were always impressed with his dignity, wit, startling intellect, and breadth of knowledge. His life touched many people and his death leaves a huge gap in the world for those who knew him. He is survived by his sister Joy Cunningham and two nieces Julia Kate and Emi of Austin, Texas, and his best friend Ben Bayol of San Francisco. Because Oberlin was such an important part of Walker's life, contributions in Walker's memory may be made to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music Scholarship Fund either online at https://new.oberlin.edu/office/development/donate or by check to Oberlin College, Department of Development, Room 005, 50 West Lorain Street, Oberlin, OH 44074. Details regarding Walker's memorial service will be forthcoming.

Published in San Francisco Chronicle on June 2, 2013
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