Curtis “Curt” John Oliver, 74, died January 29 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Born September 6, 1943, in St. Paul, Minnesota, he began piano studies at an early age. By age 16 he became organist at Christ Lutheran Church, North St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1966, Oliver earned the Bachelor of Arts degree in music theory and composition from the University of Minnesota, where he studied organ with Lloyd Endter and Daniel Chorzempa and music theory and composition with Dominick Argento and Paul Fetler. During his time at the university, he served as organist for the Missouri Synod Lutheran student center and later at University Baptist Church. He continued at the university as a graduate student but was recruited by KUOM, the University of Minnesota’s Public Radio Station, where he was the music director from 1970 to 1993.
In 1971 Oliver was named organist at Macalester Plymouth United Church, St. Paul, Minnesota. He remained there for 42 years, eventually being named director of music and composer in residence, overseeing various choirs. After he left KUOM, he had more time to compose music. Over the years he wrote many introits, anthems, and cantatas, several of them subsequently published.
In 1981 Oliver earned the AAGO (Associate of the American Guild of Organists) certificate from the A. G. O. He was also a Life Member of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. While at Macalester Plymouth, he studied improvisation with Paul Manz and attended Westminster Choir College, Princeton, New Jersey, where he studied with Alice Parker, Joan Lippincott, James Litton, and Eric Routley.
Oliver initiated Macalester Plymouth Church’s annual hymn contest, calling for new hymn texts on current issues of social justice that could be sung to familiar hymn tunes. A timely topic is announced each year, and the contest has continued since 1996. From 1996 until 2011, he directed the Prospect Park Community Choir.
Curt Oliver and Gail Hanson, his life partner of 44 years, were married at Macalester Plymouth United Church on November 23, 2013. Oliver composed the music for the service, including several choral anthems.
A memorial service for Curtis John Oliver will be held May 6 at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. This service will include some of his choral and service music compositions.