Alexander McCurdy

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Alexander McCurdy Jr.
McCurdy at Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, 1940s
Background information
Birth nameAlexander McCurdy Jr.
Born(1905-08-18)August 18, 1905
Eureka, California
DiedJune 1, 1983(1983-06-01) (aged 77)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Genresclassical music
Occupation(s)organist, choirmaster, educator
Years activec.1915[1]–1972

Alexander McCurdy Jr. (August 18, 1905 in Eureka, California – June 1, 1983 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was an organist and educator who taught a generation of America's most-prominent performers.[2][3][4]

Education and family[edit]

After overcoming early struggles with infantile paralysis, McCurdy moved east to study organ with T. Tertius Noble. Dr. Noble was unable to take any more students and so suggested that McCurdy study instead with the great Lynnwood Farnam, first in New York (1924–1927) and then in Philadelphia's newly established Curtis Institute of Music. In 1931, McCurdy became one of the Institute's earliest graduates,[5] and received his diploma at the first official commencement ceremony in 1934.[6] He had already made his professional concert debut at New York's Town Hall in 1926, and thereafter toured as a recitalist, often in duo performances with his wife since 1932, harpist Flora Greenwood. They had two children, Alexander "Sandy" McCurdy III (a prominent minister and psychoanalyst) and Xandra McCurdy Schultz (whose son produced a televised mini-documentary about his organist grandfather).[7]

Career and musical legacy[edit]

McCurdy was organist and choirmaster at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in San Francisco from 1921 until 1924.[1] He became organist and choirmaster at Philadelphia's Second Presbyterian Church in 1927, where he greatly enlarged the pipe organ. After a 1949 merger, this was the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, from which he retired in 1971.[8]

McCurdy headed the organ department at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute from 1935 to 1972 and also at Princeton's Westminster Choir College (later part of Rider University) from 1940 to 1965, where he received an honorary doctorate at the conclusion of his tenure.[9] He taught hundreds of organ students over the years, with many becoming prominent concert performers, composers and educators. These included Walter Baker,[10] Richard Purvis, David N. Johnson, Gordon Young, David Craighead, Thomas Schippers, James Litton, Barbara Owen,[11] Temple Painter, Robert Carwithen,[12] Hedley Yost,[13] John Weaver, Joan Hult Lippincott, William S. Wrenn,[14] William Whitehead,[15] George W. Decker, Cherry Rhodes,[16] John Binsfeld,[17] Keith Chapman, David Spicer, John Tuttle, Michael Stairs,[18] Gordon Turk, Karl Watson,[19] and Charles Callahan.[20]

McCurdy's students generally manifested a sublime lyricism in playing, and more than a few shared his affinity for the Symphonic school of pipe-organ design. This affinity has helped preserve several important symphonic organs in Philadelphia, particularly the Wanamaker Organ, the E.M. Skinner organ at Girard College Chapel, and the Curtis Organ at Irvine Auditorium (University of Pennsylvania).

On May 13, 2005, Westminster Choir College celebrated McCurdy’s centennial year with a daylong series of concerts and remembrances at the Princeton University Chapel and Westminster’s Bristol Chapel, including featured performances by Weaver, Lippincott, Tuttle, and Stairs.[21][22][23] For many years, Westminster held the annual "Alexander McCurdy Competition in Organ Performance" among its students.

McCurdy bequeathed his music collection to the Bagaduce Music Lending Library.[24]

Selected works[edit]

  • "Notable Organs of America," Alexander McCurdy, The Etude, June 1947.
  • "Keeping Up Mendelssohn," Alexander McCurdy, The Etude, February 1948.
  • "Music for Harp and Organ," Alexander McCurdy, The Etude, September 1954 (including cover photo with his wife).[25]


  1. ^ a b "Noted Virtuoso of Organ to Give Public Concert Here". Wilmington Morning News. October 23, 1941. Dr. McCurdy, when he was nine years old, was playing at church services. At the age of 15, he became organist in the largest church in Oakland, Calif., and the same year was selected over several older men for organist at St. Luke's Church in San Francisco.
  2. ^ "Alexander McCurdy Jr., Organist", Burr Van Atta. The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 3, 1983, p.12-D.
  3. ^ The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, Don Michael Randel, editor. Harvard University Press, 1996, p.530–531. ISBN 978-0-674-37299-3
  4. ^ Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Centennial Edition, Nicolas Slonimsky, editor emeritus. Schirmer, 2001. ISBN 978-0-028-65525-3
  5. ^ "Full Alumni Listing". Curtis Institute of Music. Archived from the original on December 24, 2013.
  6. ^ Overtones 1933–1934. Curtis Institute of Music. 1934.
  7. ^ "In Search of Alexander", State of the Arts: American Originals, New Jersey Network Public Television, May 21, 2005.
  8. ^ The Mother of Us All: First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, 1698–1998, Donald Roth Kocher. First Presbyterian Church (Philadelphia), 1998.
  9. ^ "Speakers, Charges and Honorary Degrees". August 27, 2010.
  10. ^ "Walter Baker: American Romantic Organ Virtuoso".
  11. ^ "Owen, Barbara : Oxford Music Online - oi".
  12. ^ "Biography".
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Sowerby Symphony in G Major, by William Whitehead, Order Online".
  16. ^ "Cherry Rhodes | USC Thornton School of Music".
  17. ^ "Who is the man giving Alex Dilan a rest?". St. Thomas More Catholic Church, Sarasota. January 6, 2013. Archived from the original on February 3, 2014.
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Karl Watson | the Diapason".
  20. ^ "Faculty & Staff". Vermont Organ Academy. Archived from the original on December 24, 2013.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  21. ^ The Life and Legacy of Alexander McCurdy, Jr. (1905–1983): booklet, Westminster Choir College of Rider University, 2005.
  22. ^ The Life and Legacy of Alexander McCurdy, Jr. (1905–1983): audio CD, Westminster Choir College of Rider University, 2005.
  23. ^ "Alexander McCurdy as Legendary Teacher," Pipedreams: The Weaver’s Tale, American Public Media, April 23, 2007.
  24. ^ "Bagaduce Music Lending Library: A National Music Library Resource -".
  25. ^ "September, 1954 - "The Etude" Magazine".