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Ed Wallace (1926–2020): Church Musician, Mentor, Friend

August 29, 2023
Wallace and Jones
Ed Wallace, James F. Jones, Church of Saint Michael and Saint George, thirtieth anniversary of Ed’s career as organist and choirmaster

Dr. James F. Jones, Jr. is Canon Precentor Emeritus, Church of Saint Michael and Saint George, Saint Louis, Missouri; President Emeritus, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut; President Emeritus, Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Michigan; and former president, Sweet Briar College, Sweet Briar, Virginia.

It was Winston Churchill who once famously quipped that meeting Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the first time was akin only to having one’s first taste of champagne. I think many of us, still mourning the passing of Ed Wallace two covid-plagued years ago, would say the same thing about our departed friend.

I recall as if it were yesterday or the day before the first time I ever met Ed Wallace. It was in 1975, late fall I now think. I was beginning my career at Washington University as a novice assistant professor straight out of the doctoral program at Columbia, having been very active at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, which took up the entire view of 112th Street at Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan up from where our apartment building was situated. The departmental receptionist came into my office to tell me that a “Mr. Wallace” from the Church of Saint Michael and Saint George had called for an appointment to see me. Mrs. Nunning­—who once famously hung up on the Archbishop of Canterbury thinking it was a prank call when we were establishing the Anglican Institute—and Ed Wallace would over the next sixteen years become good friends.

Now I knew Ed Wallace at the time only because of a serendipitous occurrence right before we left Manhattan for Saint Louis. Good friends of ours had a lovely party to mark our departure at their penthouse at One East End Avenue. As night fell over Queens, the lights twinkling from the ships going up and down the East River, I epitomized that famous Steinberg cover of The New Yorker—you probably know the one to which I am referring since it is one of the most famous covers in the magazine’s long history. The geography of the United States is depicted in four-fifths of the cover as the island of Manhattan between the East River and the Hudson with everything else in our vast country squeezed into one-fifth of the cover, from Jersey City and Hoboken all the way to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Steinburg perfectly caught the elitism, snobbery, and geographic prejudice that I for one certainly epitomized at the time. I was going on and on about what was happening to my very pregnant wife and me as we planned to move from New York City to Saint Louis. I recall, now with shame, saying how unnerved I had been on my interview trip to Washington University when a member of the faculty drove me around Saint Louis, and I saw to my horror a large sign on the interstate that said Tulsa!

So here we were in this elegant penthouse overlooking the East River, and I was chattering arrogantly about having to substitute the marvels of New York City for Saint Louis, Columbia University for Washington University, and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine for God only knows what midwestern Episcopal parish. Steinburg’s cover was a perfect depiction of my own snobbery and prejudice.

The party included many individuals involved with Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue among whom was the then headmaster of the choir school, Gordon Clem; Gordon was so integral to the choir school that the magnificent residence for the choristers on Fifty-Eighth Street bears his name. After my ignorant prejudice had been shared, he said, “Well Jimmy, Saint Louis has a vibrant musical life. Leonard Slatkin directs the Symphony; Washington University is quickly becoming an international institution; and Ed Wallace is at the Church of Saint Michael and Saint George.” At the mention of Ed’s name, there was great nodding of heads and words of approval. Little did I know at the time what his name would come to mean to my life. Gordon and I would many years later chuckle at his comment to me when I would see him, Gerre Hancock, and my clergy friends at Saint Thomas where I tried to attend every Evensong I could when in Manhattan on Trinity College business. Gordon graduated from Trinity in 1949, and after I was appointed president there in 2004, he and I reminisced about our shared links any number of times, but the most prominent of them all was his first mentioning Ed’s name to me in 1975.

So, into my office that fall afternoon in 1975 entered Mr. Wallace, who looked perfectly turned out with his immaculate attire, fresh haircut, and Virginia accent. Without hesitating, he launched into a diatribe about how priests were no longer taught to chant properly, that he needed a precentor to start at once, and that he had heard I might be interested.

Well, to tell the truth, I was speechless: here I was the greenest assistant professor in my department, we had bought our first house, a new Buick, and we had just had our first child. I was desperately trying to get my first book manuscript off to my publisher in Geneva, was working upwards of ninety hours a week preparing my lectures and articles, all the while trying to learn to be a father. And Ed wanted to hire me to be the precentor? I told him that I had heard about him at the Cartwrights’ dinner party at One East End Avenue, that he had a sterling reputation as a musician, and that I knew he had been T. Tertius Noble’s last associate organist at Saint Thomas after Dr. Noble had lured the then young Ed Wallace away from Saint John the Divine, where Ed had been one of the assistant organists to Norman Coke-Jephcott. Ed said that all our various links could not be by chance, and off we went—Ed and I.

I put him off for a time, but every now and then, he would get an appointment with Mrs. Nunning and come to Ridgley Hall to call on me yet again at Washington University. Finally, I gave in. My wife Jan thought I had taken leave of whatever senses I might have ever had, and in August of 1976 I began one of the most wonderful chapters of my life. Ed and I planned literally hundreds of services of all kinds: morning prayer, countless communions, Easter days, Christmas Eves, All Saints’ days galore, week after week, year after year. We hired Christine Brewer in 1977 when we needed a lead soprano. And she went on to become an international celebrity, being named one of the twenty most important sopranos of the twentieth century in the world by the BBC. The choir attracted some of the greatest music talent of any parish in the country. Ed pushed us hard, demanded the best of all of us, and touched thousands of lives because of his immense knowledge and experience. We used the entrance on Easter Day right from Saint John the Divine as both Ed and I had been taught by Canon West. We used stations on several different festival services, and when I would finish chanting the collect, Ed would work his magic interpolating chords from the pitch of G I would try to end on to introduce the next stanza of the processional hymn. I can still recall those incredible interpolations even now after all these decades. Then came Evensong after Evensong. I still chant most of the services, but now only in the closet of my memories of those halcyon days. And I have used the “Oh Lord, support us all the day long” literally hundreds of times, never once chanting that beautiful prayer without remembering that it was Ed Wallace’s favorite.

But Ed could be full of mischief when one least expected it. We were having a staff meeting after one Christmas decades ago when the rector, then Ed Salmon of course before he became Bishop of South Carolina, said that we simply had to do something because the crowds at 4:00 p.m. and at 11:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve were just too large to be accommodated. The rector turned to Ed Wallace and wanted to know what we should do. Without ever once looking at me, Ed smilingly replied, “We should ask Father Jones. He will know what is best.” I could have kicked Mr. Wallace under the table. I thought for a moment that I should get him back, and so I said at once, “We should do a very high service at 6:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve, use only men, and sing the Missa di Angelis, the great Gregorian setting of the Mass for Christmas.” Ed Wallace looked as if he might faint, but then the rector said, “Well, I do not know what that is, but it better be good.” Two years later, we had as many congregants at 6:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve as we did at 11:00 p.m. It is most fitting that Ed Wallace requested his ashes to be interred in the columbarium at the Church of Saint Michael and Saint George next to those of his beloved friend and rector, Ed Salmon.

The one place I was a dismal failure in Ed’s estimation was in his obsessive quest for the perfect service leaflet covers. In those antediluvian days before the internet, one could not type “art with angels” or “art with empty crosses” to have Google provide the perfect answer. I used to think that Ed spent as much time on choosing what music we would use for this service or that as he did on finding the perfect cover for his service leaflets. Down to the beautiful public library in Saint Louis he would go; the librarians all knew him by name because of the hundreds of hours he spent pouring over art books looking for the perfect cover for his magnificent service leaflets. I have no design expertise whatsoever, and thus I failed Ed when he asked for my opinion about this possible cover or that until he just gave up. We had many congregants at Saint Michael and Saint George who collected Ed’s beautiful service leaflets as treasures in their own right.

Later we needed an organist at Washington University, and I thought Ed Wallace would be perfect. Little did I know what I was in store for when his appointment was announced. He found the organ in Graham Chapel in dreadful shape, and the next thing I knew, Bill Danforth, then chancellor at Washington University, put me in charge of a committee to rebuild the organ. Given Ed Wallace’s temperament and standards, I had to argue, cajole, argue, cajole for months as the organ was taken apart and shipped to Petty-Madden to be rebuilt. I had invited Simon Preston from Westminster Abbey to give the inaugural concert on the refurbished organ. I bit my nails to the quick, just praying that Ed Wallace would be satisfied, when our receptionist came into my office and said that I had to go to Graham Chapel immediately since Mr. Wallace was most upset.

I walked over to the chapel to find Ed beside himself because something was not perfect with the Tuba Magna. We were eight days from the inaugural concert to be played by Simon Preston. Off the Tuba Magna went, to England mind you; I never did inquire as to how much the revoicing of the stop cost, but I did not at least get fired. The revoiced Tuba Magna was returned two days before the inaugural concert, Simon came and gave a brilliant performance, Ed beamed with pride, I nearly collapsed from relief, and history was made there too, all thanks to Ed Wallace.

We commissioned the gifted Charles Callahan to compose a piece in Ed’s honor to be played as the encore at the inaugural concert that Simon so brilliantly gave at Graham Chapel. The Callahan Partita on Hyfrydol is a stunning composition, and as Simon said when he premiered the piece at Westminster Abbey the Sunday before the inaugural concert, the third movement is literally haunting. In an ideal world without covid, we would have used the Callahan composition as the prelude and Ed’s favorite hymn as the recessional at a memorial service as Ed Wallace had asked me decades ago.

As the shadows began to lengthen with speed for me a few years back, I have replayed one scene hundreds of times in my mind. Our last service together was in 1991 at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London after our residency at Westminster Abbey, our last Evensong of the scores we did over the years. The dean asked me to dismiss the clergy and choir after the retiring procession had left the nave. I prayed the same prayer I had prayed over the choir at Saint Michael hundreds of times over our years together:

Bless, O Lord, these Thy servants who minister in Thy temple. Grant that what they sing with their lips they may believe in their hearts, and that what they believe in their hearts they may show forth in their lives. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

As I made the sign of the Cross for the last time of my life over my beloved friends in the choir, Ed, and the clergy, I fought back tears that were flowing from mine and several other people’s eyes at that point.

The next morning, I took a train from Victoria Station to Exeter, where I had to take a small plane across the channel to go to a board meeting in Brittany. It was a typical English evening: a light rain was falling, the sun had gone down very early in the afternoon, it was decidedly gloomy, and I tried to have supper at a small restaurant, but I was too emotionally overwrought to finish my dinner. I paid the bill and started to make my way back to my hotel when I found myself outside ancient Saint David’s Church. The gate to the cemetery was open, and in I went. I wandered around, trying to cope with my emotions at having had to leave Ed and the choir when I came upon the gravestone of a canon precentor from yesteryear. Upon his gravestone was inscribed, “When we shall appear in yonder cloud with all the ransomed throng, then shall we sing more clear, more loud, and Christ shall be our song.” And I finally could cry tears, not of sorrow but of immense gratitude for all those years of working with Ed and the remarkable choir at Saint Michael and Saint George. A calling, an avocation, a blessing indeed was Ed to everyone with whom he came into contact.

I had the great privilege of taking Ed back to Saint Thomas one Sunday morning a few years ago when I was still president at Trinity College in Hartford. He was growing infirm. When it was time to go up to the high altar for communion, I helped him up from his kneeler and held on to him as we went down the center aisle to the altar. He told me we needed to go to the left side. I knew exactly why.  As we made our way down the southern corridor, he stopped at the organ. Alone in his memories, he stared for a long time at the instrument he had played all those decades ago under the tutelage of T. Tertius Noble. I fought back tears, Ed nodded, and I helped him back to our seats in the pew.

After the service was over, I took Ed to the University Club where he and Dr. Noble had eaten so many meals at “the Saint Thomas” table in the beautiful dining hall on the seventh floor. Ed was unusually quiet, looking around, reliving those years when he was so young. Then quite out of nowhere he asked me if I still had his old cassock and surplus. He had given them to me in 1979 because he said that the “cheap dryers” in the basement of Saint Michael and Saint George had caused them “to shrink.” I replied that I had worn that cassock and surplus every Sunday for the years we had worked together and in all the years that had disappeared with the snows of yesteryear ever since. He told me, for the hundredth time, that Dr. Noble had given the young Ed the cassock and surplus his last Sunday at Saint Thomas when he was leaving for Saint Louis. The cassock and surplus are among my life’s greatest treasures. When the bell tolls for me, my wife will give them to the brilliantly talented Christopher Houlihan, to whom I introduced Ed at an American Guild of Organists concert Chris gave at the chapel at Trinity. Chris is John Rose’s student and successor as organist at the chapel at Trinity College. Chris knows their provenance. He seems like the most appropriate individual to whom I should will a gift to Ed from 
T. Tertius Noble, who then gave them to me more than forty years ago.

So as we now bid farewell to our friend and colleague Ed Wallace, I think that his greatest gift to us all was to have guaranteed that “Christ shall be our song,” year after year, service after service, decade after decade. May flights of angels sing you, dear Ed Wallace, to your eternal rest, champagne glasses raised in joyous salute, properly voiced Tuba Magnas signaling, “Welcome home, thou good and faithful servant.”

For Edward A. Wallace’s obituary, visit: https://www.luptonchapel.com/obituary/dr-edward-wallace

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