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Celebrated church musician John Weaver honored on 80th birthday with gala concert

April 30 event featured organ and choral works performed by Weaver’s students and successors

by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service

Front row from left to right: Mary Wannamaker Huff, John Weaver, Marianne Weaver; back row from left to right: Andrew Henderson, Paul Jacobs, David Enlow. (Photo by Joe Routon)

NEW YORK – “Surely,” to quote the hymn composed in 2000 by John Weaver and written by Fred R. Anderson for and about the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church on the occasion of the rededication of its remodeled sanctuary, “the Lord is in this place.”

And as hundreds raised their voices to sing Weaver’s beloved composition on the afternoon of Sunday, April 30, as part of a gala concert honoring his 80th birthday on April 27, God was indeed in the very place that Weaver loved and served for 35 years.

“John Weaver’s contributions to Presbyterian worship and music have been profound and will long endure,” said the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, associate for Worship in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s office of Theology and Worship. “Generations of worshipers are now familiar with his harmonizations of beloved hymn tunes, among numerous other original works and arrangements. We are grateful for his creative and faithful service to the church.”

Greeted with thunderous applause and affirmed on Sunday by his successor at the Madison Avenue Church, Andrew Henderson, as “a wonderful teacher and an influential composer,” Weaver — the church’s director of music and organist from 1970-2005, a title he now holds as emeritus — served as chair of the organ departments of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (1972-2003) and The Juilliard School in New York City (1984-2004). Upon his retirement in 2005, Weaver continued to concertize and lead workshops and master classes around the world. His published works continue to be widely performed.

Weaver, who was seated at the front of the sanctuary with his wife, Marianne — whose April 30 birthday was simultaneously recognized — was then celebrated with a program of his own organ and choral compositions, along with organ works by Mozart and Brahms, performed by his students and successors: Paul Jacobs, chair of the organ department of The Juilliard School; David Enlow, organ faculty, The Juilliard School; Henderson, director of music and organist, Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church; and Mary Wannamaker Huff, associate director of music and artistic director of the New York City Children’s Chorus at Madison Avenue. Together, Henderson and Huff shared in conducting the church’s choir.

Paul Jacobs rehearses prior to the concert. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

“It is overwhelming to consider the life of John Weaver — as a performer, as a teacher, as a composer, as a dedicated church musician, as a father and as a friend,” Jacobs said in introducing his selections. “This was a gentleman in every sense of the word. What filtered into my own philosophy of teaching [from John Weaver] was to encourage students to develop their own musical signature in their artistry and in their playing.”

Gesturing toward Weaver, with whom he studied at the Curtis Institute, Jacobs closed by saying, “I owe you more than I can ever say. It is such an honor to be here to celebrate your 80th birthday.”

The proceeds from the April 30 birthday celebration will support the upcoming capital campaign of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians (PAM), Remember Well the Future, in honor of Weaver’s distinguished career and longtime devotion to PAM, which was represented on Sunday by Eve Hehn, interim executive director, Huff, a current member of PAM’s executive board, and others.

Prior to the 3 p.m. concert, three of Jacobs’s current Juilliard students — Daniel Ficarri, Alessandro Pittorino and Colin MacKnight — eagerly anticipated the program.

“It’s special to be here because our teacher studied with John Weaver and was his predecessor at Juilliard,” said Ficarri, who had recently served as assistant organist at the Hitchcock Presbyterian Church in Scarsdale, N.Y., where he became familiar with Weaver’s hymns.

“I’ve never heard his choral pieces before,” he added. “I’m excited.”


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