John Scott Organist and Director of Music of Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue left us two years ago today. To most organists he was a musical superman. A Horowitz among organists. A choir trainer that kept the highest musical standard with the men and boys of Saint Thomas Choir School. He expected excellence and perfection and he accomplished the same through his tireless work. Most importantly, he cared for those with whom he worked.
John Scott was hooked on the pipe organ at a young age. As a child, he had an old windup gramophone about which he recalled: “I can remember to this day the sheer excitement of listening to G.D. Cunningham playing the Toccata and Fugue in d minor on the organ at the Queen’s Hall”.
At seven years of age, John Scott started piano studies and became a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral. He studied organ there, it prepared him for future training at Saint John’s College, Cambridge. At Cambridge, under George Guest, he accompanied the choir in daily services and studied organ with Gillian Weir.
In 1977 John Scott made his debut at The Proms in Royal Albert Hall, playing the Reubke Sonata. In 1978 after his studies in Cambridge he was invited to be assistant to both Barry Rose at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London and Harry Bramma at Southwark Cathedral. Playing services at both cathedrals proved challenging. He related to Craig Whitney that “on Tuesdays I played Evensong at both establishments – Saint Paul’s sang at 4:00 pm and Southwark at 5:30 pm, which meant an anxious time at Saint Paul’s hoping that the readings for the day were not going to be too long, and then playing a short voluntary and running like the clappers over London Bridge to get to Southwark.” In 1990 Mr. Scott succeeded Barry Rose as Organist and Director of Music at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London. After 14 years, in 2004, he succeeded Gerre Hancock at Saint Thomas Church New York City where he worked until his untimely death.
John Scott’s life was a list of musical achievements too numerous to list. In 2004 Queen Elizabeth II appointed him as a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order. The Royal Victorian Order is a recognition of distinguished personal service to the monarch, members of the monarch’s family or any viceroy or senior representative of the monarch.
For all of his success, John Scott was a humble man of deep faith who gave generously of his time. On August 13, 2015, at a Mass for the repose of his soul, The Rev’d Canon Carl Turner, Rector of Saint Thomas Church said: “John Scott taught us about humility… I have met many church musicians in my life, not many of them I have met have first talked about the Glory of God, and the need to help people discover Jesus Christ in their lives, but John did and he was remarkable for that…he taught people to sing the story of our Faith…he taught us to believe what we sing.”
Can you imagine Vladimir Horowitz riding the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn on multiple occasions to do a friend a favor? John Scott and his wife Lily took the B Train from 57th Street near their home at the Saint Thomas Choir School to Newkirk Plaza in Brooklyn several times in October 2013. They walked the few blocks to Our Lady of Refuge, a Catholic parish church in Brooklyn to rehearse and record Mendelssohn and Bridge on the newly-restored Kilgen Organ. John volunteered to do this, he would accept nothing in exchange. The recording session went late into the evening. But John would not accept the offer of a car service to take him and his wife back to Manhattan. He said that they would just take the subway back. Several years earlier, John recorded the Final from Vierne’s first organ symphony at Saint Thomas Church to be included on a CD to raise money to restore the Kilgen organ at Our Lady of Refuge Church in Brooklyn. Before Quimby Pipe Organs had finished re-installing the organ John offered to record on the restored organ. He also expressed his regrets that he could not attend the dedication of the organ the following week by Olivier Latry.
Why did he do this? Why did he help so many people with his tremendous talent?
Sometimes, people are generous to others solely for selfish reasons. Their altruism quickly disappears. John Scott had tremendous resources at his disposal. He had no reason to work with Joe Vitacco of JAV Recordings nor help a little Brooklyn parish church. Both John and Lily went out of their way to give their time and talent and looked for nothing in return. Over time, Great People can be identified as those who, motivated by the desire to leave things just a little better, go out of their way to do things they do not have to do and ask for nothing in return. John Scott was a great person whom I will never forget. Today, please take a minute and say a prayer for the repose of his soul.
The world needs more people like John and Lily Scott. Ora Labora
Recording of John Scott playing Num komm der Heiden Heiland from the Great 18
Joe Vitacco, JAV Recordings, Inc
Re-edit of John Scott Organist performance of Johann Sebastian Bach: Prelude and Fugue in a minor, BWV 543 on the Taylor and Boody Organ at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue.
This was original posted on June 2, 2009. This new version is greatly improved. The hum and background hiss is gone, the color balance much improved. The original Final Cut file was lost, but raw video was not lost. Stephen Buzard, a former associate at Saint Thomas Church listened to the session tapes and gave me a road map to re-edit the video. I post this again to honor the memory of John Scott.
(Please send me any requests to use the media on this page. I send the media at the correct resolution. I will gladly share it, request a standard photo credit)