Archive for the ‘William Cowper Dickinson’ Tag

Feast of Clarence Dickinson (May 6)   Leave a comment


Above:  Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York, Circa 1910

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-74646



U.S. Presbyterian Organist and Composer

Clarence Dickinson (1873-1969), church organist, choirmaster, and (with his wife, Adell) composer was born into a New School Presbyterian family.  Grandfather Baxter Dickinson, a professor at Auburn Seminary then Lane Theological Seminary, wrote the Auburn Declaration in 1837.  That document, in Clarence’s words,

separated the church into the old school and the new school, the conservative and the advanced.

Father William Cowper Dickinson, a Presbyterian minister, played with Harriet Beecher Stowe when he was young.  William, pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, Lafayette, Indiana, in 1873, welcomed his son, Clarence, into the world.  Clarence, impressed with church organs since very young age, had only one destiny, for which he was well-suited.  He studied piano and organ as a youth and had become sufficiently advanced by age fifteen to assume the post of university organist at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.  Later he attended Northwestern University, where he chose organ over classical languages.

Clarence’s life from 1892 to 1909 was eventful.  For five years he played the organ at the Church of the Messiah, Chicago, Illinois.  Then, in 1897-1898, he did the same at St. James Episcopal Church in the city.  From 1898 to 1901 our saint studied organ in Berlin (1898-1899) then in Paris (1899-1901).  In Europe he met his future wife, Adell, who earned her doctorate in philosophy from Heidelberg.  They married in 1904 and she collaborated with him creatively, including on his nearly 500 choir anthems.  Clarence led the Aurora Musical Club, Aurora, Illinois, from 1901 to 1906, then organized the fifty-member Musical Arts Society, devoted to performing classic works of church music, in Chicago.

In 1909, after three years with the Musical Arts Society, our saint became the organist and choirmaster at Brick Presbyterian Church, New York, New York, a post he held for more than fifty years.  The Reverend Henry Van Dyke, pastor, once told Clarence,

It hardly seems necessary to preach; the music has said it all.

Our saint also contributed to the larger church.  He founded the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary in 1928.  And he served as the Music Editor for The Hymnal (1933), which the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. used for over twenty years.  Dickinson as served as the Music Editor of The Hymnal (1941) for the Evangelical and Reformed Church, a forerunner of the United Church of Christ.

Clarence Dickinson devoted his life to glorifying God via music.  His was a noble legacy.





Amended on December 9, 2013 Common Era


Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:

We bless your name for inspiring Clarence Dickinson and all those who

with music have filled us with desire and love for you;

through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:14b-19

Psalm 90:14-17

2 Corinthians 3:1-3

John 21:15-17, 24-25

–After Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 728