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Hundreds at birthday recital of John Schaefer, unsung hero of the music scene

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A love fest for music lovers and friends of John Schaefer


Sub-titled "John Schaefer and friends," the Thursday, August 7 program at Grace & Holy Trinity (Episcopal) Cathedral in Kansas City, treated the crowd assembled in the nave to a series of musical highs.

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“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ― Confucius

Musical highs have become common under the guidance of music director, organist, impresario, Canon John Schaefer, during his tenure at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Kansas City (no not the one with the gold dome, it's two blocks south of that one). The Summer Music at the Cathedrals series he helped found 32 years ago is only one of the additions he has made to music in Kansas City. The Cathedral has become the home of the American Guild of Organists' annual Bachathon the first Sunday of May for 35 years. He led in the founding and provided rehearsal and performance space for the Simon Carrington Singers, whose glorious sounds provided a cool breeze for the musical world for a few years. In short, dozens of musical events and customs in Kansas City have John Schaefer's hand print on them, but not his name. That is not his style.

Now as to the music tonight. A solo organ highlight was a Bach-like performance of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. It would have been a total flop as mood music for Halloween, it sounded like, well, Bach. The intricate decorations and important sub-melodies were well-orchestrated, aided by the newly added winds from the Quimby Pipe Organ Co. It was as if one announced the "William Tell Overture," and the gorgeous flute and oboe duet preceded the "Lone Ranger Theme," you know, the way Rossini composed it.

The evening began with a fine reading of Bach's Fugue in C, the Fanfare, followed by the pastoral Prelude and Fugue in G by Felix Mendelssohn. with a lovely bass introduction of the fugue theme. Louis Vierne's Maestoso in C# minor began with a bang, but was decidedly mournful, developing into a sense of redemption and strength.

The four Ralph Vaughn Williams' (pronounced rafe) hymns sung by tenor, Frank Fleschner, joined by Mr. Schaefer playing the Steinway grand piano, and Monty Carter,Violist, gave the opportunity to present Schaefer as a sensitive ensemble member. Mr. Fleschner, a member of the Grammy awarded Kansas City Chorale, delivered the hymns with the clear voice of a Bach evangelist, presenting the words as beautifully as possible, but without any self-aggrandizing.

Variations on 'Veni Creator Spiritus', by Michael McCabe, was a gorgeous study on the familiar Gregorian tune, which specifically featured the newly installed winds, demonstrating their round sound that blossomed within the rock walls of the cathedral. Michael McCabe, Music Director of Christ the King Church, in Omaha, Neb. is a frequent collaborator with Mr. Schaefer, having fulfilled several commissioned compositions for the cathedral choir, and joining the choir on one of its European tours.

Louis Vierne's Symphonie V: "Toccata," with Keith Benjamin playing trumpet was like whipped cream on an already fine cake with strawberries. For Dr. Benjamin to play above the organ he first played his standard, burnished, Bb trumpet, but later employed the piccolo trumpet, which, deceptively resembled a toy in his hands. Dr. Benjamin passed the task of playing the little trumpet in tune, with sweet tones (nothing like a dog whistle) and the blending timbre of just another rank of pipes. The duet was well coordinated, clear and exciting. The men have developed this piece as an added bit of musical substance for cathedral weddings.

The finale prompted a wholehearted standing ovation from the nave-filling audience, who instantly rose, turned around to face the organ in the rear of the church, some actually (gasp!) cheered. John quieted the crowd, thanked it for making him feel loved, and announced an encore, celebrating the 100th birthday of Wilbur Held, his 1964 Partita on "O Sons and Daughters," a masterwork, featuring an oboe verse, an angelic choir verse, a flighty verse over bass pedal point and completing its (9 verse?) course with triumphal brass.

Not content with a roomful of music lovers and nothing for them to do, this church musician asked the (now) congregation to open the hymnals (yes they do still exist) and sing Charles Wesley's prayer to Jesus, "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," to the Welsh tune, HYFRYDOL. The choir of the whole was magnificent, like a Mennonite church.

Happy Birthday, Canon John Schaefer.


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