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Hearing the call: Bruce Neswick retires from Trinity Music

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland will celebrate organist and Canon for Cathedral Music Neswick with a Retirement Evensong service this weekend.

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Bruce Neswick doesn’t want to talk about himself. He prefers to talk about the wonderful Trinity Episcopal Cathedral singers and the Trinity Choir School. He speaks of the supportive clergy, staff and generous parishioners who have supported music at the Cathedral where he’s served for the past seven years as Canon for Cathedral Music (a title comparable to Ministry Director).

Neswick enjoys recalling his friends, mentors and colleagues around the world. But there are plenty of other people who will tell you about him. Singers, Trinity staff, new and old friends–they all speak of his generosity and warmth, and how much he will be missed after his official Retirement Evensong celebration on September 18th (live at Trinity Cathedral in Northwest Portland, livestreamed on YouTube and Facebook).

If you build it

Organist and Lewis and Clark College Emeritus Professor Lee Garrett tells of being asked to recruit his friend and internationally-known organist to replace outgoing Canon of Music Michael Kleinschmidt. In 2010, Kleinschmidt began his tenure at Trinity and kept the mature and healthy Trinity Music moving forward. But in 2015 he was called to a position as canon musician at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, where he still serves.

When Neswick received Garrett’s call he was Associate Professor of Music in Organ and Sacred Music at the Jacobs School of Music in Indianapolis, Indiana. He accepted the interim position and arrived in Portland only hours before his first downbeat, with the Cathedral Choirs already in preparation for an Easter-season performance of Bach’s St. John Passion with Portland Baroque Orchestra. 

The move to Portland felt much like a return home for Neswick–he was raised in the Tri-Cities area of Washington and graduated from Pacific Lutheran University near Tacoma before continuing his studies at Yale. In a February 2016 interview with the Episcopal News Service, Neswick expressed his joy upon his official appointment as Canon for Cathedral Music: “I love Trinity and Portland and look forward to entering even more fully into the life of this beautiful community.”

Indeed, Trinity Cathedral was already a thriving music center in Portland. Former Trinity Canon John Strege came to Portland in 1973. In his first year as organist and choir director he went for a modest beginning. Not!

Strege immediately launched a 4-concert music series of major works by Vaughan-Williams, Poulenc, Mozart and a little Bach Cantata. More concert series followed, and Strege himself became a frequent participant in Portland’s music scene. A few years later the word “endowment” began to appear on the concert announcements. Click. All legs of the vision were in balance: musical excellence, planning and logistics, community presence, funding. And Strege built upon that foundation. 

The next phase toward Trinity Music’s success calls to mind the W. P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe. To quote a line you might recall from the film adaptation, Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” Whether or not Strege heard such a voice, he had a similar idea about the value a world-class organ would add to the Trinity program.

Have you ever been on a choir tour with organists? The tour bus pulls into town, choir members pour out in search of their hotel rooms, a bit of lubrication for vocal chords and local cuisine. Not the organists; they head for the Basilica or the Cathedral in search of the Tamburini, the Skinner or the Steinmeyer. The coffee and gin come later. In Portland, visiting organists head for the Manuel Rosales Opus 11, 54-stop, 85-rank tracker organ, Trinity’s landmark pipe organ and truly one of the finest organs in the country. Have you heard – scratch that – have you physically experienced the Rosales? Oh, do so. Perhaps on Sept. 18th

In recent conversation Strege became animated as he recounted how the generosity of one parishioner, Bea Gerlinger, made the installation of the Rosales organ a reality. “Rector Bill Wagner and I were on our way to visit with Bea Gerlinger who had mentioned her desire to make a donation of significance to Trinity,” said Strege–and he was unsure about a dollar amount to present. Wagner’s advice was simple: “dream big.” Strege gave Gerlinger a big number and the dream became a reality (read full story in the Jan. 29, 1982 Oregonian). The actual costs ended up running–uh, let’s just say over–and the timeline to install ran longer, but the Rosales was consecrated in 1987. And did “they” come? Ha! Nonstop. 

One organ recital on each Music Series– there are three this season – is the memorial legacy recital of Dr. Catharine Crozier, renowned organ recitalist and past Trinity Artist-in-Residence. The generosity of Trinity parishioners – in time and money across all aspects of their church mission – is profound.

Organ recitals on the landmark instrument have been constant. But Trinity has been a fertile space for numerous music initiatives. Harpsichordist and retired Reed College faculty member Bonnie Garrett participated in many Trinity Chamber Music concerts. The acoustic of the Cathedral has been a favorite of many choirs. Trinity Cathedral’s choirs have enriched services and the music community with classic and contemporary works. They partner with Portland Baroque Orchestra for major works, this year performing the Bach Christmas Oratorio (in two parts) on Dec. 16 and 17th. Neswick and the choir recently went on a concert tour to England.

Ministry is primary

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“Bruce Neswick is a superstar in our profession,” said Strege. “A superb musician and first-rate organist; caring, generous and takes his ministry as primary.” Indeed, a search of major newspapers or accounts of recital appearances by Neswick in the past three decades yields hundreds of stories. But one tiny piece in the Washington Post, Dec. 25, 1997, tells of another contribution Neswick has made to the choral world.

In October of 1997 Neswick founded the Washington National Cathedral Girls Choir, the first Episcopal girls choir associated with a cathedral school in the United States. Neswick returned to the National Cathedral this past May to celebrate the choir’s 25thAnniversary and lead the current choir and alumni at Evensong. And did you know that there’s a Royal School of Church Music program here in Portland? Can you guess where it is, and who launched it to enrich the musical lives of children in our community?

Yup. The where is Trinity Choir School and the who is Neswick. How fitting that Trinity recently announced that they will honor Neswick’s retirement by establishing the Neswick Choir School Fund to serve even more children in the future.

Also in honor of Neswick’s retirement, Lee and Bonnie Garrett (each mentioned earlier in this piece) have commissioned a choral work by distinguished composer, organist and educator David Hurd, who appeared on the Trinity Music Series in 2016. The text is based on “Church-Musick,“ a poem by Welshman George Herbert. The Cathedral Choirs will premiere the work at the September 18th Retirement Evensong. Listen to another of Hurd’s choral works here:

Retiring? Hmmm. Hard to know what that word means for Neswick. Next month he will appear in recital and present a master class at the Twin Cities AGO Chapter in Minneapolis. But he will be making his home in San Diego with his husband Texu Kim. Perhaps Kim, busy composer and Assistant Professor of Music at San Diego State, has another organ composition in the works – Neswick premiered Kim’s Ma$HeD in 2016. But Neswick does plan to continue in church music ministry in San Diego. And then, there’s always the call of the Rosales.

Oh, psssst; here’s a little insider tip from the Garretts about Bruce Neswick’s September 18th Evenson Celebration recital. He’s going to improvise one work (hear one of his improvisations here). Organists out there know that organ improvisation is blow-your-mind cool. Don’t…miss…this! Neswick is a three-time winner in competitive organ improvisation.

Of course, just talking to Neswick in person you’d never know it. On a warm July afternoon in the lovely Trinity Cathedral courtyard, he just wanted to talk about the dedication of Trinity singers. He smiled at the thought of the children returning to the RSCM program; he mentioned with awe the generosity of the Trinity congregation which allows music to thrive at the Cathedral. It was as if at any moment a large red door would swing open and he would turn, eager to introduce the person responsible for coordinating and nurturing it all for the past 7 years – and be humbled to realize that person was himself. 

A thriving culture of music

Trinity Episcopal Church opened its doors in the Oregon Territory in 1854 and moved to their current site in 1906. Since the early 1970s music has been a positive musical force in Portland, embracing music as a way to reach out and give back to the community. A thriving culture of music in any city exists where there is music in all levels of education; where there is music in, by and about the community; and where there is music in worship. Trinity Episcopal Cathedral offers all three. And they plan to keep that going.

Assuming the Canon of Cathedral Music appointment is Katherine (Burk) Webb, who has known Neswick since she was quite young (listen to their 2020 Halloween concert here). But don’t be thinking Webb has big shoes to fill. Everything Bruce Neswick leaves behind will be filled or overflowing. Besides, the Trinity parishioners, staff and musicians already know her and, obviously, support her: she’s been Trinity Oregon Scholar since 2020 and has her own good set of footwear ready for any Portland season. Webb will be installed in October and will present a Music Series organ recital on February 25, 2023. An interview with Webb from 2020 can be viewed here.

Do take a look online at the Trinity Music Series 2022-23; click on Season Brochure to see all offerings at once. You will notice that in addition to the series there are five pre-evensong organ recitals by organists from around the world, and that Pacific Youth Choir concerts and Portland Symphonic Girlchoir concerts are at Trinity. Evensong 5 pm services are free and all are welcome.

Connections

The story of how the Rosales, Opus 11 organ, a 54-stop, 85 rank tracker came to reside in Trinity Cathedral is fully chronicled in a lovely 25th Anniversary 2011 Booklet published by Rosales Company (read the online booklet here). You can even learn what “54-stop and 85 rank tracker” means.

St. Olaf brings music to Portland

On Monday, Oct. 17 the St. Olaf Orchestra, conducted by their new director Chung Park, opens the Trinity Music Series. St. Olaf box office tickets here. Then, on February 9, 2020 Canon Webb welcomes to Trinity her alma mater choir, St. Olaf, conducted by her choral mentor Anton Armstrong. Tickets.

Willamette Valley

In Salem, the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Music Guild has a concert series that enriches the middle Willamette Valley community. And Portland First Presbyterian Church’s concert series can be seen here. Both have special choral concerts coming up this year. 

And let us appreciate the multiple places of worship in so many communities that open their doors and hearts to live performance. Often this is to support their community outreach mission, using the ticket revenue or donations to support their other outreach programs such as shelter and community pantries–for which we thank them.

Daryl Browne is a music educator, alto, flutist and writer who lives in Beaverton, Oregon.

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One Response

  1. Dear Daryl,
    Thank you for capturing Bruce so beautifully! Having worked closely with John Strege and Bruce….I was deeply touched by how perfectly you captured both of them, and the amazing building of the Rosales. Today, being at Bruce’s final Trinity Evensong was a very moving experience for all of us! (other than when the fire alarm went off during Bruce’s final piece, which was an improvisation:( ) What a gift to know this amazingly talented, dedicated, and self effacing man.
    Thank you for your talent in sharing the beauty of these talented musicians and wonderful humans with your readership!! PS: sharing your article with others.
    Bravo and thanks!

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