Whar­ton cel­e­brates 50 years of bring­ing mu­sic to the Mid-Shore

Sunday Star - - LIFE - By AMELIA B. STEW­ARD

EAS­TON — Dr. Wil­liam Whar­ton of Eas­ton, af­fec­tion­ately known as “Dr. Bill,” has been play­ing mu­sic al­most as long as he can remember. As an or­gan­ist, choir di­rec­tor, col­lege pro­fes­sor and com­mu­nity choral leader, he has en­riched the lives of stu­dents, adults and com­mu­nity mem­bers on the Mid-Shore and beyond, in­spir­ing oth­ers to make mu­sic an in­te­gral part of their lives. Eas­ton’s Mayor Bob Wil­ley has pro­claimed Sun­day, Sept. 17, Dr. Wil­liam Whar­ton Day, cel­e­brat­ing Whar­ton’s 50 years as or­gan­ist of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Eas­ton. The church also is plan­ning a large cel­e­bra­tion that day to honor Whar­ton for his many con­tri­bu­tions to his church and his com­mu­nity.

The Rev. Missy Rek­itzke of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church said, “It has been a priv­i­lege and joy to work along­side Dr. Bill Whar­ton at St. Mark’s church. I’ve only been there for four years of these in­cred­i­ble 50 years, but I’ve seen the com­mit­ment and pas­sion for mu­sic ex­ude from Dr. Bill ev­ery time he sits down at the or­gan or pi­ano. He leads us into the pres­ence of God with his mu­sic ev­ery Sun­day.”

Whar­ton, who was born in 1944 in Cen­tre­ville, knew at a young age that he loved the mu­sic and hymns of his lo­cal church. Mary Bell Cal­la­han, who is the friend who has prob­a­bly known Whar­ton the long­est, taught him mu­sic at Cen­tre­ville Ele­men­tary School. She said he helped her teach mu­sic to the sixth-graders in the school. “Bill was teach­ing mu­sic be­fore he ever learned how to teach mu­sic,” she said.

Whar­ton’s par­ents rec­og­nized his abil­i­ties and al­lowed him to take pi­ano lessons from Mar­garet Wol­cott, the church or­gan­ist at St. Paul’s Epis­co­pal Church in Cen­tre­ville. Be­cause the or­gan was a log­i­cal pro­gres­sion from the pi­ano, and be­cause he loved hymns and church mu­sic, Wol­cott en­cour­aged him to take or­gan lessons at Pe­abody Con­ser­va­tory in Bal­ti­more beginning in his 10th-grade year of high school. Some­thing clicked. Soon, Whar­ton be­gan play­ing the or­gan part-time for churches around the Cen­tre­ville area. He went to Trin­ity Col­lege in Hart­ford, Conn., where even­tu­ally he ma­jored in mu­sic.

It was dur­ing his col­lege years at Trin­ity that his love for the or­gan grew un­der the tute­lage of renowned or­gan­ist Clarence Waters. Waters had stud­ied un­der the fa­mous French or­gan­ist, com­poser and teacher Mar­cel Dupré, who Whar­ton later met in 1970 while in Paris, France. Af­ter fin­ish­ing col­lege, he de­cided to at­tend the School of Mu­sic of North­west­ern Univer­sity in Evanston, Ill., to get his grad­u­ate de­gree in church mu­sic, which in­cluded or­gan, choral work, voice, harp­si­chord and con­duct­ing. It was there, while work­ing as an or­gan­ist at the An­glo-Catholic St. An­drew’s Church in Chicago, that he became ac­quainted with litur­gi­cal con­gre­ga­tional singing, some­thing he still en­joys to­day.

When Whar­ton re­turned home in 1967, he worked for his fa­ther’s vet­eri­nary prac­tice.

He had heard about a new Tell­ers or­gan be­ing in­stalled at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Eas­ton while he was away at school. He called the Rev. Harold Davis, the pas­tor of St. Mark’s at the time, and asked if he could see the or­gan. Davis said the or­gan usu­ally re­mained locked, but he al­lowed Whar­ton to play it be­cause of his ex­pe­ri­ence. Within 30 min­utes of hearing his tal­ent, Davis of­fered him the part-time job of church or­gan­ist.

Be­cause the pay was low, in ad­di­tion to his church or­gan­ist job, Whar­ton found a full-time job teach­ing mu­sic to sev­enth- and eighth-graders at Eas­ton Mid­dle School. Af­ter one year, he moved to teach­ing choral mu­sic to stu­dents in grades nine through 12 at Eas­ton High School.

By 1975, Whar­ton de­cided to take a sab­bat­i­cal from teach­ing to go full-time and get his doc­tor­ate de­gree from Catholic Univer­sity in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. This would be the first of two life-chang­ing sab­bat­i­cals in his ca­reer.

Whar­ton’s col­lege pro­fes­sor and men­tor, Waters, had played a recital at the Na­tional Shrine at Catholic Univer­sity and in­tro­duced him to Con­rad Bernier, the head of the Or­gan Mu­sic De­part­ment at Catholic Univer­sity.

In 1977, Whar­ton re­turned to work as an ele­men­tary school mu­sic teacher at Cor­dova and Til­gh­man ele­men­tary schools, while con­tin­u­ing to work on his doc­tor­ate part-time and serv­ing as St. Mark’s or­gan­ist.

Af­ter Whar­ton fin­ished his doc­tor­ate at Catholic Univer­sity in 1979, he got the full-time job in 1980 of over­see­ing the Mu­sic De­part­ment at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege in Wye Mills. He stayed at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege until re­tir­ing in 2003.

Through­out this time at the col­lege, he con­tin­ued his part­time job as the or­gan­ist at St. Mark’s and stayed ac­tive in the com­mu­nity mu­sic scene.

Whar­ton formed and sup­ported a musical group of singers and in­stru­men­tal­ists called Abend­musiken, which means “evening mu­sic” in Ger­man. The group per­formed more than 100 con­certs from 1968 to 1995, in­cor­po­rat­ing many singers and in­stru­men­tal­ists from the com­mu­nity, such as church and Eas­ton High School choir mem­bers, and a num­ber of lo­cal soloists.

Whar­ton said, “Abend­musiken pro­vided me the op­por­tu­nity to per­form and ex­pand upon what I did on Sun­day morn­ings, and en­cour­age church mu­sic par­tic­i­pa­tion in the events.”

Lo­cal vo­cal­ist and voice teacher Gail Ave­son of Eas­ton, who met Whar­ton in 1971 be­tween her years in col­lege, took voice and pi­ano lessons from him dur­ing the 1980s. She be­gan per­form­ing with him in his com­mu­nity con­certs and cred­its him with giv­ing her the con­fi­dence to be­come a voice in­struc­tor.

She said, “I credit Bill with giv­ing ev­ery­one a chance to sing in the com­mu­nity, not just those who had the best voices.”

Be­tween 1991 and 1994, Whar­ton was the ac­com­pa­nist for the lo­cal mu­sic group, the Miles River Mu­si­cales, which pre­sented Broad­way mu­sic around the re­gion. Ave­son sang with this group and even­tu­ally Whar­ton ac­com­pa­nied her as a soloist in many lo­cal con­certs.

She said, “We have been joined at the hip mak­ing mu­sic for many years. He is like family to me.”

In 1996, Whar­ton took his sec­ond sab­bat­i­cal while teach­ing at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege and trav­elled around the world, vis­it­ing Thai­land, In­done­sia, Burma, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, In­dia, Egypt, Italy and Hol­land.

“I had as many musical ex­pe­ri­ences in each of these coun­tries as I could over my three-month jour­ney. It was a pro­found ex­pe­ri­ence wit­ness­ing mu­sic, dance, drama, art and cul­tures of these di­verse coun­tries,” he said.

When he re­turned from his trav­els, Whar­ton played ed­u­ca­tional or­gan con­certs in all five coun­ties served by Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege, shar­ing his cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences with his au­di­ences. In ad­di­tion, he added a world element to all his cour­ses at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege. His sab­bat­i­cal opened doors for him to ex­pand his musical of­fer­ings in the com­mu­nity even more, in­clud­ing St. Mark’s mu­sic con­certs, which con­tinue to­day with the sup­port of the Tal­bot County Arts Council and other groups.

But what Whar­ton loves most is play­ing the or­gan — its sounds and lit­er­a­ture.

“I iden­ti­fied very early on, af­ter sit­ting through Even­song with King’s Col­lege Chapel Choir, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the play­ing of great or­gan­ists like Wat­ters and Dupré, and hearing the in­spir­ing in­stru­ments in monumental churches and cathe­drals, that I was a church mu­si­cian. In this role, I seek to of­fer a vis­i­tor com­ing into a wor­ship ser­vice an op­por­tu­nity to be­come in­spired through sound, moods and the thrill of par­tic­i­pa­tion. This may im­pact their ul­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence in church,” he said.

The church’s memo­rial pipe or­gan is what ini­tially at­tracted Whar­ton to St. Mark’s. The or­gan was built by the Tell­ers Com­pany in Erie, Pa., specif­i­cally for the chan­cel at St. Mark’s, and con­tains nearly 2,400 pipes of nu­mer­ous lengths con­trolled by a con­sole of man­u­als and ped­als.

Ac­cord­ing to Whar­ton, the church has strug­gled with acous­tic prob­lems in the church since the or­gan’s in­stal­la­tion in 1962. By 2008, fol­low­ing Whar­ton’s 40th an­niver­sary as or­gan­ist at St. Mark’s, the church had raised enough money to revoice or re­place the reed pipes in the an­tiphonal and chan­cel parts of the or­gan, and dig­i­tize and up­grade the main or­gan con­sole.

“While the chan­cel or­gan from Tell­ers was all new work, the an­tiphonal or­gan in the bal­cony was from the first Methodist Church in Ch­ester­town. Acous­ti­cally, the an­tiphonal or­gan is what makes St. Mark’s or­gan so unique. The new and re­built reeds help to give the over­all or­gan an amaz­ing sound,” he said.

By dig­i­tiz­ing the main or­gan con­sole in 2008, the or­gan­ist can trans­pose the musical key to meet the needs of the con­gre­ga­tion, the choir and the soloists. It also has made it easier for guest or­gan­ists to use their own in­di­vid­ual set­ups in play­ing the in­stru­ment more eas­ily.

As Whar­ton re­flects on his 50 years at St. Mark’s, he said, “I was given a very hum­ble place to serve where many good things have hap­pened. I am just a key­boardist im­pact­ing the com­mon man and woman’s musical ex­pe­ri­ence in life.”

Rek­itzke, of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, said, “Our church has been blessed beyond mea­sure by the many gifts that he has so gra­ciously shared with us over the years. To put it sim­ply: ‘We love Dr. Bill.’”

Dur­ing the 11 a.m. ser­vice Sun­day, Sept. 17, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church will honor Whar­ton with a musical cel­e­bra­tion.

The ser­vice is open to the pub­lic and all are en­cour­aged to at­tend. A re­cep­tion will be held af­ter­ward in the church’s gath­er­ing area.

Bill Whar­ton is pic­tured to­day with the Tell­ers or­gan con­sole, which has been dig­i­tized for more flex­i­ble play­ing, such as trans­pos­ing the musical key to meet the needs of the con­gre­ga­tion, the choir and the soloist, and mak­ing it easier for guest or­gan­ists to save their or­gan set­tings for their per­for­mances, as well as the abil­ity to record and play­back.

Bill Whar­ton con­duct­ing the Eas­ton High School Choral Group in the 1970s.

Dr. Bill Whar­ton and a musical group of singers and in­stru­men­tal­ists called Abend­musiken per­formed more than 100 con­certs from 1968 to 1995 through­out the com­mu­nity.


Bill Whar­to­nis pic­tured in 1973 with the Tell­ers or­gan at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Eas­ton.

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