Friday evening, Aug. 7, was a grand celebration of John Schaefer’s birthday at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Kansas City. It was not listed as a birthday concert, but the audience broke into “Happy Birthday,” during the final comments from Mr. Schaefer to the eighty or so assembled concert goers. Why would a man choose to work on the very evening of his birthday? He didn’t; he is of the very luckiest of people who earns his livelihood from the activity he most enjoys.
Canon John Schaefer has been Organist-Director of Music at the cathedral four nearly four decades; He is organist at Park University, a position he has held for over a quarter century. During his cathedral tenure, music there has become the pride of at least Kansas City. The Trinity choir regularly tours great churches and cathedrals of the United Kingdom, singing services in each. The cathedral is now a favorite venue for numerous musical performances, including Bachathon, traveling musicians, Advent Season Paul Mesner Puppets performances, among many others.
Mr. Schaefer began with J.S. Bach’s (1685-1750) Prelude in E-flat Major, BWV 552; no, he didn’t omit the fugue, he played it as the ending bookend for the first half of the program. Baroque-style terraced dynamics and well-orchestrated contrapuntal voices gave the piece excitement and made the lines easy to follow; it was played with forward-leaning urgency.
Soprano, Kayleigh Aytes, who is well-known for her local solo and ensemble work, sang Richard Proulx’s (1937-2010) “Beloved, Let Us Love,” with a strong, firm, vocal approach built upon a well-supported and smooth range movement. The text, based on I John 4:7-8. travels through various aspects of love; the words were easily understood.
“The Prayer of St Gregory,” by Alan Hovhaness (1911–2000) a duet for trumpet and pipe organ was absolutely breathtaking, due, in no small measure, to the smooth trumpet skills of Keith Benjamin, Professor of Trumpet at UMKC, who frequently fills a seat for the Kansas City Symphony, and regular collaborator with Mr. Schaefer, whose organ sounds blended perfectly with the soloist.
“At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners,” by Geoffrey Burgon (1941-2010) a setting of John Donne’s poetry involved organ and alternating trumpet of Dr. Benjamin and text sung by Ms Aytes. The close-knit ensemble between the three musicians interpreted the modern harmonies of the piece to present a contemporary prayer of submission.
Violinist Susan Goldenberg (of the Goldenberg Duo and the Kansas City Symphony) joined Mr. Schaefer on “Variations on Amazing Grace,” by Wilbur Held (1914-2015) as a particular honor to the recently departed composer. Ms Goldenberg’s violin parts had no difficulty being heard and differentiated from the organ, due to the players’ skills and the fine orchestration of Mr. Held. Susan’s 1820 Samuel Gilken violin easily filled the cathedral nave with a mellow, full sound.
This was followed by “Pastorale and Aviary,” by Myron Roberts (1912-2004) a very friendly piece with many musical puns. You must have the program notes in hand to appreciate the humor, such as “a coda many colors.” Read it again, it will come.
Two short pieces ended the announced program: “Even Song,” by John La Montaine (1920-2013) and “Toccata,” by John Weaver (b. 1937). The former could accompany a drifting swan or a breeze-carried snowflake. Very light, it demonstrated how the soft values of the organ can cause the thinking processes to slow down to listen. The “Toccata” begins with an extended fanfare, transitions to a short, softer development section, and fulfills the axiom, all’s well that ends loudly.
A set of treats was added to the program, after “Happy Birthday,” was sung, John Schaefer played Michael McCabe’s (who was present) variations on “Now the Green Blade Rises” both to acknowledge their long friendship and cooperative efforts, and because it is a fine piece of music. The honoree requested all present to open “The Hymnal,” to join in a fine hymn, which they did, with gusto and skill.