Chances are, most people in the pew have not heard the name Wilbur Held (b. 1914) but if anyone has come to any services I’ve played, the odds are pretty good that he or she has heard his music. That’s because as a composer, he has written a ton of organ music which is used widely in churches all over the country. I especially cannot remember a Christmas season in which I didn’t play his music.
Wilbur Held did indeed have his 100th birthday on August 20th, and people are still celebrating. His mother was an accomplished violinist and he apparently took piano lessons, but didn’t get serious about music until after he graduated from high school. He received a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, and became Professor of Organ and Church Music at Ohio State University for over 30 years, and organist-choirmaster of Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbus, OH for most of that time.
I just went back and re-read my post, “Performing in the golden years” and you’ll read that Wilbur Held even made it to Hawaii, where we had a lovely dinner with him and his wife, Virginia (who is now deceased). You’ll read that my Maui organ student, Clay Logue, played some of Wilbur Held’s music in the service at Holy Innocents Episcopal and it happened that last April 2013 one of the church’s visitors was in fact a parishioner in the church in which Wilbur Held still plays! He was thrilled to learn that Wilbur Held’s music was played in Maui!
I remember Carl and I took the Helds to see the Beckerath organ at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu when they visited Hawaii. I had a lot of nerve in those days (well, don’t I still!) and I remember I played a lot of music (mostly Bach) for them which I had not practiced in years! Egad!
On FaceBook, Agnes Armstrong commented that she loves his music and will always remembering telling him that, to which he coyly replied, “Well, I guess you don’t like to practice much, do you?” Somewhere I read that he wrote mostly easy organ music because there was a dearth of it when he started composing, and he wanted to give his adult students something easy to play. In fact, just now I recall that one of Wilbur Held’s students was Cancy Hanley! (She was also one of Carl Crosier’s organ students.)
UPDATE: The death of Wilbur Held was announced on March 24, 2015. Please see his obituary on the MorningstarMusic website: