An organist in the Neighborhood

Yesterday, I received the following post from Happiness Heroes and shared it on my Facebook wall.

Mister Rogers

Mister Rogers

In 1969, Mr. Rogers gave the following emotional plea to a Senate Subcommittee. Nixon was trying to cut funding for PBS. Mr. Rogers was trying to save it. This speech is one of many fantastic memories that remind us just how fantastic a happiness hero this man really was.

Somehow using nothing but a few minutes of gentle words, Mr. Rogers was able to convince them not to pull funding from public television. The transition of the committee’s chairman from skeptical and dismissive at the beginning to having an attitude of outright admiration at the end is beautiful to behold. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when kindness and the happiness of others is your goal.

With the impending birth of my first grandchild, I did some further research into Fred Rogers, and found out that he was a musician! Here’s what I found in “The Music of Mister Rogers.”

Fred Rogers, best known as the creator and host of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, was a gifted musician. He was a Grammy Award winning song writer, a pianist, a singer and a four time Emmy winning performer. Fred Rogers composed over two hundred songs, nine children’s operas and released twelve albums of children’s recordings. His songs were delightful melodies with heartfelt lyrics that reassure children about their lives and concerns such as the compositions. “It Such a Good Feeling”, “It’s You I Like”, “Everybody’s Fancy”, and “You Can’t Go Down the Drain”. Music was central to Fred’s life and his television career. As a child he studied piano along with organ and began writing songs.  After earning a degree in music composition he began his career working as a production assistant on the NBC television network’s music programs: the NBC Television Opera Theatre, Your Lucky Strike Hit Parade, and The Kate Smith Hour. Moving to WQED in Pittsburgh he worked with Josie Carey on the pioneering award winning children’s program the Children’s Corner where he co-wrote 65 children’s songs with Carey, played the organ, and sang as the voice of several puppet characters. As the host of his own series that ran new episodes on PBS for 33 years Rogers wrote and produced more than 1,000 original shows which featured his original songs and his musical performances as Mr. Rogers and as the voice of his beloved puppet characters.

Hey! Did you know that Mister Rogers played the organ? I surely didn’t. Apparently he was a child prodigy and played songs on the piano at age five that he heard on the radio. He started piano lessons at age six with Miss Johnson at his parent’s church. He graduated in 1951 with a B.A. in music composition at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. His wife, Sara, had a master’s degree in piano performance.

“My first love is music. It is a unique way for me to express who I am and what I am feeling. Music was always my way of saying who I was and how I felt. I was always able to cry or laugh or say I was angry through the tips of my fingers on the piano. I would go to the piano even when I was five years old. I started to play how I felt. And so it was very natural for me to become a composer. Having written all of the music for the Neighborhood I feel as if that’s one of my gifts to children…There is something very mystical and wonderful about how music can touch us. You know it’s elemental…  It must be what Heaven is like” -Fred Rogers

In 1954, a children’s show which was a forerunner of Mr Roger’s Neighborhood, “The Children’s Corner,” was produced and performed by Fred Rogers with Josie Carey; Fred became a co-writer with Josie and was the puppeteer and organist.

In The Neighborhood Archive — All Things Mister Rogers, Episode 1673, Mister Rogers arrives with two bags — one filled with left shoes and the other filled with right shoes. One by one, he matches the shoes into pairs. One particular pair of shoes belongs to Alan Morrison, a friend of Mister Rogers who plays the pipe organ.

Visiting a nearby church, Mister Rogers introduces Mr. Morrison who is playing the organ. Showing the various parts of the organ, Mr. Morrison plays several pieces demonstrating his wondrous musical talents. He also talks about the special shoes he wears to operate part of the organ and shares some music he might play to express various feelings.

The Mr. Morrison referred to was Alan Morrison, the head of the organ department at The Curtis Institute of Music , organ faculty at Westminster Choir College, organist at Ursinus College, and Organist in Residence at Spivey Hall. He played the organ at Mister Rogers’ funeral on May 3rd, 2003. He is a second generation musician whose mother, Jeannine Morrison, met Fred and Joanne Rogers at Rollins College.

Mr. Rogers plays the Stalacpipe organ in Luray Caverns.

Mr. Rogers plays the Stalacpipe organ in Luray Caverns.

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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One Response to An organist in the Neighborhood

  1. john bicknell says:

    wonderful story!

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