The strife is o’er


John McCreary

John McCreary

And with these words from my Iolani colleague, John Alexander (and former LCH pianist), came the news that our colleague and friend, John McCreary, passed from this earthly life to life with the angels, and is now conducting the heavenly choir. It was just this morning that my husband Carl was reminiscing about his first Easter in Hawaii in 1972, and before he ever had a church job. Not knowing the time of the services, he arrived at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Honolulu, where John was the Organist/Choirmaster for over thirty years. At the 9:30 am service, girls from the St. Andrew’s Priory School sang and were dressed in beautiful Easter dresses (complete with Easter hats!). Carl remembers hearing John play the Widor Toccata as the postlude. Carl was so impressed that he then stayed for the 11:00 am service.

“It was at St. Andrew’s Cathedral that I heard Gregorian propers for the first time,” Carl said, “and I was so amazed by the quality of the choir. And I was so happy to hear quality church music in Hawaii.”

I took this picture of John McCreary and his grandson, Jordan (left) and Joey Fala.

I took this picture of John McCreary and his grandson, Jordan (left) and Joey Fala, both of whom studied organ with me.

Former Organ Scholar Joseph Pettit said it best, “A great musician is silenced. Canon Organist and Choirmaster Emeritus John McCreary of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Honolulu, has just died this night. This night. This is the night. This is the night my friend, mentor, colleague chose to depart this life, the most important moment in the Christian liturgical year, the annual sacred cycle with which his life was inextricably entwined and which informed every note of music played and led by him. No greater tribute, no more profound anthem can be sung in his honor at this moment than the Exsultet, appointed for this very moment, proclaiming the deepest mystery of the faith, resounding around the globe as it spins its daily course. This, this is the night.”

John McCreary (who called himself “Da Greatest”) was known for his skill in organ registration and truly made the organ sound like an orchestra. He could push pistons like no one else! We also can never forget his great humor and his onomatopeic names for all his choristers and friends; he called us Carnivorous Carl and Kathy-kins, Others were Dirty Dave, Wicked Wanda, Lecherous Larry, Galloping Guy, and Cheerful Charley. (St. Andrew’s Choir people, can you please help me with more of John’s nicknames for you?!)  

Even though John lightheartedly referred to us at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu “the enemy,” he in fact sang with the LCH Compline Choir for a number of years after his retirement.

John of course was for many years the Director of Choral Activities/Organist at Iolani School, where I had very big shoes to fill as Chapel Organist following his retirement.

Knowing John, he’s probably already busy tuning the heavenly organs!

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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22 Responses to The strife is o’er

  1. Anna Blackwell says:

    Audacious Anna, Adorable Anne, Cheerful Charlie (Scharbach) Chirping Cherubically, Loveable Louie (X), Jaded John the Automaton (John Alexander) Peppermint Pat (Weissich) Prodigious Paul (Beck, Weissich), Effervescent Ella, Jovial Jesse (Blackwell, who didn’t sing, but who fed us and brought us water), Dirty Dave, Pebbles/Cupcake (Susie McCreary Duprey), Bambam (son Kendall), Dreamboat (wife Betsy). Kathy Meyer was also Karniverous.

  2. Anna Blackwell says:

    Lecherous Larry (Paxton)

  3. Jim McCreary says:

    You might be amused to hear that John’s childhood church was the Lutheran church in Indiana, PA, to which his father was extremely devoted. His mother’s family was Episcopalian.

  4. Helen Welford says:

    Daffy Dick and Hot Lips Helen!!

    • Helen Welford says:

      Also Catastrophic Clint, Bodacious Betty, and Bellicose Bill. From that same era (1973-74), we knew John as Jaded John, the Kindly Choirmaster…

  5. Charlie Nolte says:

    I am one of John’s Brothers-in-Law. He also called me Cheerful Charlie. I guess he figured that since I did not live in Hawaii, it would not be a conflict with your local guy of the same name. One of my biggest thrills would be when I would visit was to play John’s Steinway while he played his in-house beautiful organ. Gave me “goose-bumps”.

    Charlie Nolte

  6. david stuart kayner says:

    And there were Big Mac (George Macdonald) and Little Mac (I don’t remember who). And I think someone was Bodacious. You should also remember the Alphabet referrals, as in “A” (as in Arcadelt’s Ave Maria) and “W” (as in Water Wiggle) — signed Dirty Dave.

  7. david stuart kayner says:

    And we must not forget Loretta (Yamaguchi), also Loveable, but a Loveable Lush (dd)

  8. david stuart kayner says:

    But the most serious nickname, never to be forgotten, was the one bestowed on the middle-aged (at least), unsmiling, long-time waitress at the Columbia Inn: “Garconette.”

  9. From Betsy McCreary:

    It is Easter. He is risen. Alleluia.
    John left us just before 5:30 pm on Holy Saturday. The family – Susie, Bryan, Kendall, Teresa and me were all there – along with John Alexander and friends AdaMei and Vincent Tai who had come to say good-bye. John A had brought corrected copies of John’s much beloved composition “Na Kea Kua ‘Oe E Kia’i” (God will take care of you). We surrounded his bed.

    I read the following translation to John :
    Verse 1. Do not fret when trouble comes. God is watching. Under his wings He will provide you with shelter.
    Chorus: God will always watch over you. He will provide you with shelter. He will watch over you.
    Verse 2. When you are tired and breathless, God is watching; when misfortune comes, He will provide you with shelter.

    I felt like God was telling John it’s ok to come now.
    Then we sang in Hawaiian the first verse and chorus. We didn’t sound all that good. Some wanted to try again. Suddenly we noticed that his labored breathing had stopped. John had been comforted by God’s promise of shelter (and probably by the beckoning of angel choruses who could do justice to his beautiful Na Kea Kua.

    Dean Brownridge came and anointed John again and said prayers.then, my sister from Baltimore arrived. Her plane had just landed when John died. What a blessing how John orchestrated the timing so family could’ve there, and my sister—who has come to help me in this time of unbelievable loss—had landed safely.

    I am so relieved he is no longer suffering. He fought long and hard and amazed doctors with his resilience, but this latest infection proved too much for his body. Now he is free and has “Easter triumph, Easter joy…”

    Please pray for his soul and for comfort and strength for his family. We loved him and will miss him so much.

  10. Chotard Doll says:

    Betsy, your account of John’s death is a great tribute to him and to your faith. John gave so many gifts to the church, and this last passage on Holy Saturday was a gift too. How appropriate for him to die on that day, and a reminder of eternal life given to us all on Easter Day. Thank you for sharing it with us. I hope you can all feel the prayers and love from around the nation and the world.
    And in the days to come, as life settles in new patterns, we will continue to pray for you all. Much love. Toad

  11. Deborah Kraak says:

    Mr. McCreary’s choir at St. Andrews in 1971/1972 is a major reason why I became an Episcopalian. Singing the Vaughan Williams Te Deum in G in the chancel in the second half of rehearsal one night, it was like we were singing for God alone. I thought to myself “I always want to sing this music.” –and the works of other great composers Mr. McCreary so masterfully–and autocratically!–conducted. It was an incredible spiritual experience–just think of the impact he had on so many people. What a witness. I am deeply grateful and have never forgotten what I owed to him.

  12. David Onasch, Iolani' 78 says:

    A note of thanksgiving from one of the choirboys…

    Oh, John. You gave me a precious gift. You entered my life and you shared your passion for music with me, and for that I am forever grateful.

    You taught me self-discipline and teamwork and the pursuit of excellence. You were the greatest of teachers.

    You taught me how to sing.

    I still sing, John, even after my departure from the Iolani choir 35 years ago. I have never stopped; I can’t because music is etched in my soul.

    I cherish the long hours of relentless practice in choir. I cherish the honor of singing for you in the cathedral choir.

    Thank you, John, my kindly choirmaster. Thank you for the Messiah and Mozart’s Requiem (I still know it) as an alto and as a tenor. Thank you for “Rubber Ducky” and “Missa Puer Natus”, and “Thou too Sail on, Oh Ship of State.” Thank you for it all.

    I would not have gotten through Iolani without you. I will think about you a lot, and when I sing, I will sing for you. You were, and always will be my hero. All my love and all my prayers. D

  13. Lynn Mazzarella (RPCS '57) says:

    April 3rd
    Dear Betsy,
    I am very sorry to hear about the loss of your husband, and then your fall and breaking both wrists. You have such a beautiful spirit, and I am sure it has been and will be tempered by adversity, like now. (Sorry for my poor English)
    That was a beautiful theme you were given, the beautiful hymn of the Easter vigil you used at the time of John’s passing. (My favorite phrase from that is “this is the night.”) Perhaps this line from Colossians (3:1-2) will also give you a bit of comfort:
    “If you have risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God; mind the things that are above, alleluia.”
    God bless you as you walk through the valley of the shadow,
    Love, Lynn (McManus) Mazzarella

  14. Marita Nelson says:

    John was a masterful musician who made it look so easy – but it was a challenge for me. He invited me to join his choir for those incredible concerts in 5 days…rehearse Monday-Friday and give a concert on Saturday. I don’t remember how many of those I did but I do remember and always will the Bach B minor. It was my first and only time to sing it and what an experience! Although we were all exhausted by Saturday, singing that with John at the organ was so exhilarating and wonderful. Thank you, John, for allowing me to make music with you. You were De Greatess!

  15. Pingback: Remembering John McCreary | Another Year of Insanity

  16. Bonnie Chock Burke says:

    like Marita I was able to do one of those rehearse five days in a row,do the concert Saturday experiences. IT was a wonderful experience. I learned so much and it really changed my thinking process as far as rehearsing and performing. I have been advocating rehearsing in this fashion ever since. Which means unbeknownst to John, I have been trying to tell choirs to do this for the last twenty five years.
    singing with John at the organ in the Magnificant cathedral, those are memories that time cannot erase. I thank him for creating these profound and moving moments for so many people.
    John was truly a gift to the world and I consider myself lucky to have known him

  17. Johannes Bendtz says:

    Eternal Memory! Вечная Память!

    I recall Canon MacCreary’s humor when I sang with the Compline Choir. Of course, I fondly remember his Organ Recitals and all other musical events he so masterfully arranged. My prayers go out to his family in this their hour of pain.

    • Dale Noble says:

      Aloha Johannes: It was wonderful seeing your most appropriate comment
      regarding John’s passing. Thanks for sharing from another part of the world.
      Alice and I would love to hear from you some time. We are now living in
      Santa Barbara, CA and it appears that you are presently living in Russia.

  18. Lou Paff says:

    Lynn and I sang in the Cathedral Choral Society from 1970 to 1972, and we loved every second of it. We loved John’s sense of humor as he rehearsed us while sitting cross-legged on the grand piano. I’ll always remember his boom-clutch-clutch in describing 3/4 time. We moved away from Hawaii in 1972 but saw John a number of times over the years. I loved to hear him play the wonderful Aeolian-Skinner organ at St. Andrews Cathedral with his masterful registrations making the organ into an effective orchestra. I especially enjoyed listening to him play the French repertoire and standing behind the console as he played postludes. I was so motivated by hearing his playing that I took organ lessons and eventually built a pipe organ in my home, just as he did in his.

    Betsy and family, our thoughts are with you, and your description of your last hours with John was just beautiful. May the peace of the Lord be with you and with John.

  19. Jeff "Mattsyboo" Matt says:

    Mr. McCreary,
    This sad news took a little time to make its way to San Francisco. Thank you for everything you gave me- especially my continuing love of classical music but also for a respite from the academic school day spent learning beautiful music, even if I wasn’t fond of some of the crowd-pleasing pop hits. (Especially thanks for “Rubber Ducky”!) Your way with us in the choir was wonderful and I always felt like a part of something great and not just a kid when we performed.

    Tears welled upon reading “Na Kea Kua ‘Oe E Kia’i” in translation; I am sorry I graduated before that was in the repertoire. So many of us were changed by your vision for what a school choir could be- I will never forget the chicken skin that walking down the center aisle chanting Gregorian psalms at St. Andrew’s produced. We were connected to a great artistic tradition, even if we were not always that great, and it has left a lasting impact. Take care of yourselves Susie, Kendall, Betsy, John- just slightly more than a quarter of a century after I last sang under his direction his passing moves me to tears and I am obviously not alone. What a legacy, we should all aspire to such influence in our art and actions.

    With all my best,

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