Today I attended Samuel Lam‘s last service as organist of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. I’ve known Sam for years now ever since he moved back to Hawaii in 1985 after getting his doctorate at the University of Michigan and living in Ann Arbor, MI. Sam grew up in Honolulu and graduated from Hawaiian Mission Academy. I was also surprised to learn that he attended Indiana University in Bloomington for his master’s degree! Two years ago, he came out of retirement when he was asked to substitute, which extended to a couple of years. Now, he is retiring again, and this time for good.
Here’s what Father Paul Lillie (himself an organist!) wrote in the church’s newsletter:
Good church musicians are a rare breed these days, and so St. Mark’s was very fortunate a few years ago when Sam Lam came out of retirement to be our regular organist. Every Sunday we have enjoyed his great talent, and his improvisation skills have been a particular blessing for our liturgies at St. Mark’s. One of my favorite moments occurs each Sunday at the offertory of high mass when Sam begins to improvise as the altar and people are censed. He is so masterful in his support of the liturgy, and he has been a real blessing to the congregation and the choir through his music.
I know exactly what Sam is going through—mixed emotions. Happy that he will have his Sunday mornings back and won’t have to climb those stairs to the organ loft anymore! And sad—not to have this creative outlet in supporting people at worship and playing the organ. I asked Sam whether he has an organ or a piano to play at home, and he said, “no.”
I’m happy also that I had this opportunity to hear Sam play a service. So often church organists are “stuck” at their own parishes and aren’t able to get out and hear their colleagues play. Sam played the “Fantasy in G major,” by Bach for the prelude, and a “Plein Jeu” by DeGrigny for the postlude. He also did quite a bit of improvisation throughout the service, before and after the Gospel procession, at the elevation, and at the dismissal before the “Angelus Domini,” as well as the hymn introductions and harmonizations.
After the service, I took pictures of Sam descending down those steps for the last time.
After the service at the coffee hour, the choir honored Sam by singing “Aloha Oe” and presenting him with a number of gifts. The church also furnished ice cream and cupcakes, some of which I promptly spilled on my white pants!
Here’s a picture of Sam with the choir at St. Mark’s. I’m pleased to say that my student, Steven Severin, who has studied with me less than a year, will be taking Sam’s place at St. Mark’s. Steven has made fantastic progress and will continue to take lessons after he starts next Sunday. He substituted for Sam during the month of July (part of that time, Sam and I attended the Organ Historical Society convention in Philadelphia.) Steven has already played some Wednesday Evensong services and is ready to go next Sunday.