University of Pittsburgh

In Memoriam

The Department of Music is a community that is often bursting with energy and life, and so it is difficult to face the reality of some of our treasured colleagues passing on from this life. It is with sadness and a deep sense of loss that we remember three colleagues who left us in the last year: Professor of Music, Emeritus Robert Sutherland Lord, saxophone instructor James “Buster” Alston, and receptionist Janet Vogt.

University Organist and Professor of Music, Emeritus Robert Sutherland Lord died on July 24, 2014. Dr. Lord taught both organ and music history at Pitt for 37 years before retiring in 1999. For his retirement, then Department of Music Chair David Brodbeck wrote a tribute to Dr. Lord. We have reprinted that tribute in full at the end of this article, but the following excerpt sums up many of Dr. Lord’s qualities and achievements eloquently.

“Lord is an internationally prominent authority on 19th- and 20th-century French organ music. He has focused his research on the composer-organists who worked at the Basilica of Sainte Clotilde, beginning with César Franck in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and continuing with Franck’s student Charles Tournemire in the first half of the twentieth century, and with Tournemire’s student Jean Langlais in the second half of the century. Through his own studies with Langlais over many years, Lord has continued this impressive line.

Thousands of students at Pitt, however will remember Dr. Lord primarily as an outstanding teacher. He joined the faculty soon after the establishment of the Department’s graduate programs in music and played a decisive role in those early years, offering a range of seminars, supervising a number of master’s theses, and serving as Doktorvater for five dissertations. But with his erudition, irrepressible wit, and dazzling manner at the keyboard, he has always been a mainstay in the undergraduate classroom. It is no wonder he is known by many students simply as “The Lord.” He has been especially noted on campus for his popular “Introduction to Western Art Music” which enrolled nearly 400 hundred students every term. In spite of the challenging numbers, Lord succeeded not only in teaching his students to think critically about a fundamental mode of human expression, but also in cultivating future supporters of the arts.”

James “Buster” Alston passed away on March 24. Dr. Alston earned his PhD in Music from the Department of Music in 1996. He taught saxophone in the department for many years, energetically sharing his deep knowledge of performance and improvisation with his students. Dr. Alston could frequently be heard in the private lesson room helping his students develop their technical facility by having them play familiar melodies then transpose them from one key to another, then another, faster and faster until the process became automatic. We will miss Dr. Alston and his passion for educating young musicians.

Finally, we would acknowledge the loss of Janet Vogt, who served as our receptionist form the fall of 2012 until health issues forced her to stop working in December of 2013. Though Janet was only with us for a short time, she quickly became part of the music department family with her wry sense of humor and calm demeanor, even during the busiest times. An avid baseball fan whose son is a minor league umpire, Janet was always ready to dissect the previous night’s game during the Pirates’ exhilarating 2013 season.

An academic community like the Department of Music is made up of many moving parts. Some are highly visible such as lectures, performances, and publications. Others take place out of sight — a teacher helping a student learn to master his or her instrument, or a calm presence in a busy office that can bring order and laughter to the workday. In their time with the Department of Music, Robert Sutherland Lord, James Alston, and Janet Vogt contributed to the totality of the ongoing fugue that is the University of Pittsburgh Department of Music. They are all sorely missed and we hope only to honor their legacy as we continue this work.

 

David Brodbeck’s Tribute to Dr. Robert Sutherland Lord on the
Occasion of His Retirement

Dr. Robert Sutherland Lord was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, in 1930. His great-grandfather had been a church organist in England before immigrating to the United States and opening a piano factory, and Lord showed and early talent for music. He began piano lessons at age 4, and by age 12 had his first playing job at the Clifton Lutheran Church in Marblehead.

Lord spent his undergraduate years at Dartmouth College, where he was the first music major at that institution to be named a Senior Fellow. He graduated with honors in 1952 and began graduate studies in musicology at Yale University. In 1953, he married Martha Webster.

At Yale Lord worked principally with Leo Schrade, and in 1960 completed his PhD degree with a dissertation on “The Buxheim Organ Book.” Despite the demands of school and family, Lord continued his performance study during his years at Yale, commuting to Hartford to work with Clarence Watters at Trinity College and, in d1958, making his first of many visits to Paris to study with the great organist-composer Jean Langlais.

Lord began his teaching career in 1959, at Davidson College in North Carolina, where he also held the position of college organist. In 1962 he joined the Pitt faculty as Associate Professor and University Organist. He received tenure in the following year and in 1994 was appointed full Professor. Lord’s career has been marked by distinction in teaching, research, performance, and service. As University Organist, he has presented more than 160 organ recitals on campus. More mind-boggling is the number of Heinz Chapel weddings for which he has played—more than 3500 at last count! For 22 years he served as organist and choirmaster at his own parish, Christ Episcopal Church and has played an active role in the American Guild of Organists. In the 1970s he hosted “Lord on Bach,” a weekly program of organ music for WQED-FM that was rebroadcast over other PDS stations. Throughout, he has maintained a busy concert schedule with performances not only at important venues her in Pittsburgh but throughout the United States, England, and France, including King’s College Chapel at Cambridge and the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Basilica of Sainte Clotilde in Paris. He frequently plays his own compositions on his programs and is also a master improviser.

Lord is an internationally prominent authority on nineteenth- and twentieth-century French organ music. He has focused his research on the composer-organists who worked at the Basilica of Sainte Clotilde, beginning with César Franck in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and continuing with Franck’s student Charles Tournemire in the first half of the twentieth century, and with Tournemire’s student Jean Langlais in the second half of the century. Through his own studies with Langlais over many years, Lord has continued this impressive line.

Thousands of students at Pitt, however will remember Dr. Lord primarily as an outstanding teacher. He joined the faculty soon after the establishment of the Department’s graduate programs in music and played a decisive role in those early years, offering a range of seminars, supervising a number of master’s theses, and serving as Doktorvater for five dissertations. But with his erudition, irrepressible with, and dazzling manner at the keyboard, he has always been a mainstay in the undergraduate classroom. It is no wonder he is known by many students simply as “The Lord.” He has been especially noted on campus for his popular “Introduction to Western Art Music” which enrolled nearly 400 hundred students every term. In spite of the challenging numbers, Lord succeeded not only in teaching his students to think critically about a fundamental mode of human expression, but also in cultivating future supporters of the arts. Dr. Lord and his wife Martha plan an active retirement, which began last spring with a trip to England where Lord was invited to play a concert at the Cathedral of Blackburn, in Lancashire. Lord will continue his organ work at Heinz Chapel, where he will give an occasional recital.

The Department of Music and the entire University community thank “The Lord” for his remarkable career and wish him a long and prosperous retirement.

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