Nunc dimittis

November 24, 2020

Philip Klepfer Gehring, 94, died October 6, 2020, in Oak Park, Illinois. Born November 27, 1925, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, he graduated from Carlisle High School in 1943. He studied for one year at Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, before interrupting his education for three years in the United States Navy as an ensign. Upon completion of service, he continued studies at Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music, Oberlin, Ohio, graduating with Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Music degrees in 1950. During this time, he was awarded prizes in theory and organ and was a student conductor of the college choir.

From 1950 until 1952, he served as organist and choirmaster for Kimball Memorial Lutheran Church, Kannapolis, North Carolina. On August 26, 1951, in Clear Lake, Iowa, he married Betty Burns. The following year, he began graduate studies at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, where he earned a Master of Music degree in 1955. His principal organ teachers were Bernard Wert, Fenner Douglas, and Arthur Poister. Composition teachers included Herbert Elwell and Ernst Bacon. He was a Fellow of the American Guild of Organists.

Philip Gehring was assistant professor of music and college organist at Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, from 1952 to 1958. He studied organ with André Marchal in France in 1957 under a grant from Southern Fellowships. He would later study with Harold Vogel and William Porter.

In 1958, Gehring joined the faculty of Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana. The university’s Memorial Chapel, since renamed the Chapel of the Resurrection, was opened that September and dedicated the following year, along with its large Schlicker organ that would become an iconic instrument in the American Orgelbewegung movement. There he taught organ, improvisation, and other subjects and served as university organist. During leaves from the university in 1960–1961 and 1962–1963 he pursued doctoral studies at Syracuse University with a grant from Danforth Teacher Study Grants, earning the Doctor of Philosophy degree in humanities in 1963 with a dissertation, “Improvisation in Contemporary Organ Playing.” In 1985, Gehring was named the first Frederick A. and Maize N. Reddel Professor of Music at Valparaiso University. That same year, he was elected an honorary alumnus of the institution. In 2010, the Institute of Liturgical Studies at the university awarded Gehring its second Christus Rex Award for significant contributions to Lutheran liturgical scholarship and renewal.

In 1970, Gehring won the national improvisation competition of the AGO, and the following year he participated by invitation in the International Organ Improvisation Competition in Haarlem, the Netherlands. He was a visiting scholar at Stanford University.

Gehring served on the national council of the AGO, was president of the Lutheran Society for Music, Worship, and the Arts, a predecessor to the Institute of Liturgical Studies, and vice president of the international Lutheran church music organization, Ecclesia Cantans. His research was published in various journals, particularly on the subjects of performance practice in the organ works of Bach and on contemporary organ literature. As a composer, his organ and choral works were published by Concordia Publishing House, Augsburg-Fortress, MorningStar, Hinshaw, Brodt, and E. C. Schirmer.

Philip Gehring performed organ recitals and presented lectures and hymn festivals across the United States, including performances at three conventions of the AGO, as well as in Canada and Europe. He was represented by Phyllis Stringham Concert Management for many years. In 1982, he was a recitalist and judge for the Manchester (England) International Organ Competition. He frequently appeared in performance with his wife, Betty, a violinist who also served on the faculty of Valparaiso University. Philip Gehring recorded two LPs: one on the Reddel Memorial Schlicker organ in the Valparaiso University chapel with works by Schumann, Pachelbel, Barber, and Read; and An organ recital by Philip Gehring honoring Dr. Eugene Megerle, recorded on the Link organ in the Stadtkirche of Schorndorf, Germany, and featuring works by Lübeck, Bach, Pepping, and Mendelssohn.

After retirement from Valparaiso University in 1989, he remained active as a composer and performer. From 1993 until 1996, he served as founding editor of CrossAccent, the journal of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians. Annual Christmas letters from the Gehrings included a freshly composed canon on a Christmas text. He and his wife Betty would move to Oak Park, Illinois, to be near children and grandchildren.

Philip Klepfer Gehring is survived by his wife, Betty; three children, Kristin Gehring and husband Walter Miller, Thomas Gehring, and Martin Gehring and wife Ruth Gehring; seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. A memorial service will be held at a later date at First United Church, Oak Park, Illinois.


Allen Jay Sever, 91, died in Minneapolis on September 29. Born in Kansas City, Kansas, he graduated from the conservatory at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, in 1951 with a double major in piano and organ. After serving in the Air Force, completing a Master of Sacred Music degree at Union Theological Seminary, New York City, and studying on a Fulbright Scholarship at the Royal School of Church Music in England, Sever played the organ and directed the choir at West End Collegiate Church, New York, New York, for more than fifty years. He also played at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue for more than forty years and taught at the Manhattan School of Music and at Hebrew Union College. He was preceded in death by his wife Kathryn Cozine Sever. 

Allen Jay Sever is survived by his two children, Alicia (Eric Johnson) Cozine and Kirk (Elizabeth Short) Cozine of Minneapolis, and two grandchildren, Owen and McLean. A celebration of his life will be held in Minneapolis in September 2021.