Nunc dimittis: Richard Davidson, Foster Diehl, Benjamin Mague, Donald McDonald

September 27, 2022

Richard French Davidson

Richard French Davidson, 80, died July 13 in Brick, New Jersey. Born June 18, 1942, and raised in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, he was active in the liturgical music of the Episcopal Church from an early age, serving as a chorister at his home parish of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Montclair, New Jersey, as well as seasonally at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City under the direction of Norman Coke-Jephcott.

Davidson graduated from Wagner College, Staten Island, New York, in 1964, earning a degree in clinical psychology while pursuing parallel studies in computer programming. He maintained a full-time career in data management with Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Continuing his involvement with the musical and liturgical life of the Episcopal Church, Davidson began in the late 1970s to be retained by churches and other institutions as a consultant on organ design and installations, both pipe and electronic, the latter being an area where he applied his postgraduate study and knowledge of psychoacoustics (the relationship between sound and its reception/interpretation by the human ear and mind) to the custom design of loudspeakers for organ installations. He expanded this business beyond the organ trade to the commercial design of loudspeakers for home stereo equipment in the high-end audiophile market, earning several awards and citations by trade groups and audiophile societies.

After leaving Chase, he assembled his various business pursuits under the umbrella of his own company, establishing Innovative Techniques Corporation (ITC) in Herbertsville, New Jersey, in 1980. In that decade, with his work as a consultant increasingly focused on pipe organ projects, he began studying pipe organ tuning and maintenance with organ builder Donald Davett in Hartford, Connecticut, pipe voicing with Gilbert Adams and Hans Schmidt, and tonal finishing with Ronald Thayer.

Having developed a regular pipe organ tuning and maintenance clientele in central New Jersey, Davidson began to design and build new pipe organs under the ITC nameplate after relocating the firm to Jackson, New Jersey, in 1992, where he expanded his facilities to include a complete organ shop, entering into partnership with Edward Hillis, formerly of Gress-Miles. During the 1990s the firm designed six new instruments, ranging from seven to 32 ranks, and rebuilt and revoiced several others in the New York and New Jersey area. In his approach to tonal design, Davidson would often cite “Father” Henry Willis, Ernest Skinner, and Cuthbert Harrison as his greatest influences.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s Davidson’s focus returned to electronic instruments, working first with Makin and later with Phoenix, designing compact and portable tone cabinets, their size facilitating ease of transport as well as placement and configuration during installation. During this period he also tonally finished instruments employing the customizable Hauptwerk system in several New Jersey churches. Davidson closed the ITC pipe organ shop in 2008 but continued to tune and maintain pipe organs through 2015. Davidson was in demand as a bass chorister, singing regularly at numerous Episcopal and Methodist churches in New Jersey, as well as Rutgers University, the annual choir festival in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and various community choruses.

Richard Davidson was predeceased in 1994 by his wife of 29 years, Ethel Burkey Davidson, an organist and fellow Episcopal Church chorister, who often served as demonstration organist on recordings of his instruments. Both were active members of the Monmouth County and Ocean County, New Jersey, chapters of the American Guild of Organists. The Davidsons were well known for their gracious hospitality, and their home was often a salon for singers and musicians. In his last years, as a widower and retiree, Davidson became a founding member of Franciscan Servants of God’s Grace, a group dedicated to caring for and ministering to elderly and infirm individuals in hospitals and nursing homes, many of whom had no other surviving families to care for their needs, and continued this charitable activity until just a few weeks before his death.

Richard French Davidson is survived by two brothers, Penn and John, a nephew Chris, and a niece Karen. Funeral services were held August 27 at Trinity Episcopal Church Red Bank, New Jersey, with burial in the parish churchyard.

Foster H. Diehl

Foster H. Diehl, 84, died August 26. He was born in Elmira, New York, and demonstrated a natural gift for sound and music in primary school, taking music lessons until he left for college. He held his first organist position at the age of 14 for a small country church outside Utica, New York.

Diehl was a resident student at the Royal School of Church Music in Addington Palace from 1958 until 1961 and was a graduate of Trinity College of Music, London, UK. In 1958 he received his A.R.C.M. diploma in organ performance from the Royal College of Music and won the highest marks awarded that year. He also held an L. Mus. degree with a major in organ and a minor in church music. In 1961 he earned a fellowship (F.T.C.L.) in organ with a minor in Gregorian chant.

Upon completion of his studies in England, Diehl returned to the United States where he was appointed organist and choirmaster at St. Joseph Catholic Church, West New York, New Jersey. He was married shortly thereafter to his British fiancée, Clare Harwood, an accomplished pianist. In 1964, at the age of 26, he was appointed organist for the Cathedral of the Holy Name, Chicago, Illinois, and subsequently assumed the position of choirmaster, leading both the men’s and boy’s choirs, and further served as director of music for Cathedral High School. In 1975 he was appointed organist and choirmaster of St. Petronille Catholic Church, Glen Ellyn, Illinois. In his later years he relocated to Florida and held two more positions, at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Largo, and later at Highland Presbyterian in Clearwater, where he finally retired at the age of 75.

Foster H. Diehl is survived by his daughters Renee and Erika, grandsons Cody and Cameron, great-granddaughter Morgan, and sister Donna. He was buried at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Cemetery, Royal Palm Beach, Florida.

Benjamin Goddard Mague

Benjamin Goddard Mague, 74, former president of Andover Organ Company, died July 4. He was born May 17, 1948, in Machias, Maine. His parents were Westminster Choir College graduates who, before settling in Maine, served as joint music directors at Plymouth Congregational Church, New Haven, Connecticut. Mague attended Mt. Hermon School and then Colby College, where he built his first organ as an interterm project. He received a Master

of Music degree in organ from the University of Wisconsin, where he also did a survey of contemporary North American tracker organ builders. A 4-1⁄2-year stint in the United States Navy as a Chaplain’s Yeoman found him in Cuba connecting with the chaplain’s daughter, Kathy, with whom he was married for 48 years.

Mague’s lifelong career was at the Andover Organ Company, where he started in 1975 and remained for 47 years, retiring in April 2022. He worked successively as a designer, project team leader, and shop manager, served as company treasurer from 1995 to 2012, and as president from 2012 to 2021. For over 52 years, Mague served as an organist at several churches and naval chapels. After overseeing the mechanical design and installation of Andover Opus 93 in 1985 at First Congregational Church of Milford, New Hampshire, he became the minister of music there, retiring in 2019.

Benjamin Goddard Mague is survived by his wife, Kathy; three children and their spouses, Jeremy (Danielle), Steve (Claire), and Anna (Garrett); and three grandchildren, Ryan, Kaylee, and Genevieve. A celebration of his life was held July 9 at First Congregational Church of Milford. Michael Eaton, an Andover colleague, played the organ that Mague designed and played for 34 years. Memorial gifts in his memory may be made to Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund by Global Giving or American Heart Association.

Donald Gordon McDonald

Donald Gordon McDonald, 97, died August 5 in Dallas, Texas. He was born February 22, 1925, in Waxahachie, Texas. In high school, he took organ lessons with Dora Poteet Barclay at Southern Methodist University. Following high school, he enrolled at SMU as a pre-med student, but left to serve in World War II in the United States Army Air Corps, Ninth Air Force, from 1943 until 1945 as a chaplain’s assistant. During the war, he was involved in the Northern France Campaign, the Ardennes Campaign, the Rhineland Campaign, and the Central Europe Campaign. For his service McDonald received the American Theater Service Medal, the European Theater Service Medal with four bronze battle stars, and the Victory Medal.

Returning from the war, McDonald attended Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to study with Alexander McCurdy, earning his Bachelor of Music degree in 1950. He continued his studies at Union Theological Seminary, New York City, where he obtained a Master of Sacred Music degree in 1952 and later a Doctor of Sacred Music degree in 1964.

McDonald served on the organ faculty at Westminster Choir College, Princeton, New Jersey, from 1952 to 1994 and at Union Theological Seminary from 1958 to 1966. An active recitalist, he was the first American organist to play at the annual organ week in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1963. From 1955 to 1975, he was a touring organ recitalist under the management of Colbert-LaBerge concert management. He served as the organist and minister of music at Christ Church, United Methodist, in New York City for 30 years.

Donald Gordon McDonald is survived by niece Cyndy Matthews and nephew Scotty Rutherford and their families. Memorial gifts may be given to the American Guild of Organists endowment fund at agohq.org or the Central Park Conservancy at centralparknyc.org.

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