Nunc Dimittis

August 4, 2014

Donald Trowbridge Bryant, age 95, died on April 11. Born in Chesterville, Ohio, he began piano study at age 8, and received bachelor’s degrees in music education and composition at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. After four years of service in the Army during World War II, he entered the Juilliard School of Music in 1946; he earned a master’s degree in piano, studied singing with Mack Harrell, and served as Harrell’s studio accompanist.

During the next 20 years, Donald Bryant served as director/pianist of the Columbus Boychoir, now known as the American Boychoir. The choir toured Japan, Italy, and South America, recorded ten albums for RCA and Columbia, and appeared many times on NBC-TV. The Columbus Boychoir was involved in such performances in New York as the official opening of Lincoln Center, the American premieres of Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 3 (“Kaddish”) and Britten’s War Requiem, and numerous concerts under Arturo Toscanini.  

In 1969, Bryant moved to Michigan to become the music director of the University Musical Society (UMS) Choral Union and director of music at First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor. At the church, he established the annual Boar’s Head Festival and Festival Sundays, which featured larger choral works.

Bryant’s compositions included anthems and responses, and an opera, The Tower of Babel. Commissions included settings for the poems of Hungarian poet Sandor Weores and Polish-American Nobel Laureate Ciesław Miłosz; a choral work, Death’s Echo, set to poetry of W. H. Auden for performance at the 1984 Ann Arbor Summer Festival; and a Missa Brevis, premiered at First Presbyterian in 1988. In honor of his retirement as director of the Choral Union, the UMS commissioned the three-act oratorio Genesis, given its world premiere in a special tribute concert to Bryant on January 14, 1990. In 1992, the U of M’s Museum of Art commissioned him to compose a choral work on the biblical Esther, which was premiered in conjunction with an exhibit featuring the museum’s painting by Guercino of Esther before Ahasuerus

After his retirement from First Presbyterian Church, Bryant continued to compose: A Requiem for Our Mothers (premiered at the Chapel of the Holy Trinity at Concordia University in Ann Arbor on June 5, 1999); a set of piano miniatures, Pictures from Childhood; and several songs based on texts by his ancestor, William Cullen Bryant. He also continued to conduct a small choir that performed several times a year, and to practice piano every day, performing a recital as recently as February 27, 2014, for his friends and new acquaintances at Chelsea Retirement Community. 

Bryant was awarded an honorary doctorate by Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey; an Annie Award by the Washtenaw Council of the Arts in Ann Arbor; and was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor. 

Donald Trowbridge Bryant was preceded in death by his wife of 62 years, Lela Neoma Cultice Bryant. He is survived by his sister, Doris (Theodore) Bruckner; his son, Milton Travis Bryant of New York City; son and daughter-in-law, Stephen Lee Bryant and Caryl Heaton Bryant of Montclair, New Jersey; grandsons David and Andrew Bryant; and friends and former students.


James K. Hill, age 72, died on April 16 in Bay City, Michigan. He received a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in organ performance from Central Michigan University, and a master’s degree in education from Michigan State University. He was a music and elementary teacher in the Essexville-Hampton Public Schools, and a member of the Saginaw Valley AGO chapter. Hill played organ at several regional churches, sang with the Bay Chorale, and played with the Saginaw Valley State University Collegium. 

James K. Hill is survived by his wife Rosemary, a son, a daughter, a granddaughter, a brother, a sister, a niece, and a nephew. 


Frances Kelly Holland died in Charlotte, North Carolina, on April 3; she was 92. Born in Mount Holly, North Carolina, she received a bachelor of music degree from Greensboro College in 1938. She served as organist and choir director at the First United Methodist Church, and the First Presbyterian Church, both in Mount Holly, for many years, until her retirement in 1984. Holland was an officer of the Charlotte AGO chapter for 22 years, and was certified as an organist by the Presbyterian Association of Musicians. Frances Kelly Holland is survived by her husband of 69 years, Thomas Marshall Holland, two children, five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. 


Ronald A. Nelson died April 18 at the age of 86. Born in Rockford, Illinois, he received a B.Mus. from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and an M.Mus. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 1955 he became music minister at Westwood Lutheran Church in suburban Minneapolis, serving for 37 years; he directed nine choirs and a resident orchestra and founded a children’s choir school. His compositions were published by Augsburg Fortress, GIA, Santa Barbara, and Selah; he is well known as the composer of Setting 2 of the Communion Service in the Lutheran Book of Worship. Nelson received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from St. Olaf College and the F. Melius Christiansen Award from Minnesota American Choral Directors Association.

Ronald A. Nelson is survived by his wife, Betty Lou, daughter Rachel, sons Peter and Paul, and
a grandson.


Robert J. Schaffer died on May 20 at the age of 92 in Edgewood, Kentucky. Born in 1921 in St. Bernard, Ohio, he received his early education in Cincinnati. During World War II, he served in England in a U.S. Army band, which played the national anthem for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower during the embarkation ceremony for troops heading to fight on Normandy’s beaches. After the war, he returned to Cincinnati, serving as an organist, freelance trombonist, and pianist, while studying Gregorian chant at the Athenaeum of Ohio and earning a bachelor’s degree in music from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He moved to New York and earned a master’s degree in musicology from New York University. 

In 1949 Schaffer was hired as organist by the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky, beginning an association that would endure for more than sixty years. After a short break to conclude his doctoral studies, he returned in 1952, and was named director of music in 1958. In 1953, Schaffer married his wife of 55 years, Rita, former organist at Cincinnati’s Christ Church Cathedral and Church of the Redeemer. She died in 2009. Schaffer composed several Masses and other compositions, which were published by World Library Publications. He taught music in the parish elementary school, in high schools, at Villa Madonna College (later Thomas More College) in Covington, and at St. Pius X Seminary, and served as an organist for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. In 1975, to celebrate the addition of the Matthias Schwab Organ to what were eventually the three organs of the basilica (the pipes and other parts were dismantled and carried two blocks from Old St. Joseph Church, which had formerly housed the instrument), Schaffer began the Cathedral Concert Series. Robert J. Schaffer is survived by his son Gregory Schaffer, daughter Rebecca Wells, and four grandchildren. 

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