John A. "Jack" Davis, Jr.
July 21, 1923 - March 18, 2010
John A. Davis, Jr. was organist and choirmaster of The Reformed Church of Poughkeepsie from January 1986 until his retirement in October 2009. In 2010, the Reformed Church's Schantz pipe organ was named the John A. Davis, Jr. Organ to honor his service to the church.
"Jack" was a native of Pulaski, New York, in the Lake Ontario "snowbelt" midway between Syracuse and Watertown. Having studied piano and organ in his hometown, he attended Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. Leaving college in the middle of his junior year, he trained and served as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, flying missions from bases in France.
Following military service, "Jack" returned to college, having married a young woman he had met when she was a freshman, and he was a junior. Because of his service in the Air Corps, she was now a senior and would graduate one year ahead of him! Dr. Davis and his late wife DorothyAnn were married for 57½ years, and she was active in the Reformed Church's congregation and choir after retiring as head of the music department at Marist College. But we're getting ahead of the story...
While a student, Jack served as director of music at the New Utrecht Reformed Church in Brooklyn, returning from the Air Corps to college, and a position as organist and director at St. Peter's Lutheran Church of Manhattan. He has a Bachelor of Music degree from Westminster, a Master of Arts from Boston University and an honorary Doctor of Music degree from his alma mater. He taught for twenty-four years as an adjunct professor of music and humanities at Ladycliff College, during his years at West Point.
The Davises worked as a team at the First Presbyterian Church in Passaic, New Jersey for 2½ years, while DorothyAnn was completing graduate work and Jack was teaching organ at Westminster. They then went to the 3000 member First (Park) Congregational Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan for more than five years. They moved to West Point when Jack was selected as the 2nd ever organist and choirmaster of the Cadet Chapel at the United States Military Academy, a position which he held for 30 years.
Jack concertized in many parts of the United States, as well as in Germany, including 7 or 8 recitals in Berlin, and he directed the Cadet Choir in many appearances in the Washington Cathedral, St. Thomas Church of New York City, the Crystal Cathedral in California, and on television. For 9 years he directed an annual workshop for Chapel musicians of the Armed Forces, held in Berchtesgaden, Germany, and he has often served as an oratorio accompanist.
In 1992, Jack took a six month leave of absence from The Reformed Church to act as interim senior organist and assistant director of music of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and returned on a number of occasions to "fill in" on the staff there.
When the original "Baird" organ installed in the Reformed Church's sanctuary was deemed too expensive to maintain and repair, Dr. Davis consulted with architects from the Schantz Organ Company to design a replacement instrument. The result was the magnificent instrument that was installed in the sanctuary in 2003. In recognition of his many years of inspirational and dedicated leadership in our congregation, the instrument was named The Davis Organ by our congregation in December 2009. A plaque that commemorates Jack's service was installed above the bench to the organ console in February 2010.
In October 2009, Jack decided to retire from his position as organist and choirmaster at the Reformed Church. He was succeeded by his friend and one-time student, George Tilley, who two years later passed the baton to Janice Grace.
Music is the tonal expression of feeling and related thought. Church music is the expression of devotional feeling and thought - of the mind and spirit of worship. The Church Musician's purpose, therefore, is not just to make music in church, but to make music which in its thought and beauty and emotional force is of the church.
...unless he is unreservedly prepared to use his powers and his musical medium to beautify and intensify the expression of devotional feeling, his cleverness simply becomes the measure of the mischief he can work...
A musician may have the best imagination in the world, but in the end that which he truly expresses will be what he has first impressed on his own mind and character. The organist cannot put on artistry with his gown on Sunday morning and throw it off at night. His kingdom of music is within him. His expression is the reflection first of which he is, and next of what he would be.
- William Swainson, discovered in the personal effects of Dr. Davis.