Fourth Organist and Choirmaster
Richard Wayne Dirksen
Richard Wayne Dirksen
Born into a musical home in Freeport, Illinois, where his mother was a singer and pianist and his father an organ builder., Richard Wayne Dirksen (February 8, 1921–July 26, 2003) first learned to play on the instruments in the barn behind our house. After two years at The American Conservatory in Chicago, he won a scholarship in September 1940 to study at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore with organist Virgil Fox, who at 27, had already become world-famous as a concert artist.
Dirksens association with Washington National Cathedral began in February 1942, when he was hired as a part-time assistant to Paul Callaway, commuting to Baltimore for his last semester at Peabody. Both men were soon in military uniform in the service of their country for the duration. After World War II, they began a collaboration that lasted for the next thirty-one years, which culminated in the great festival services celebrating the completion of the nave during the American Revolution Bicentennial year of 1976 in the presence of the President of the United States and the Queen of England.
Dirksen succeeded Callaway as fourth organist and choirmaster in 1977. For the next fourteen years, this master musician and liturgical impresario oversaw the Cathedrals music and program, becoming the first layman to be named precentor of a cathedral in the 400-year history of the Anglican Church. For eighteen years, he also directed the Glee Clubs of the Cathedral schools. He also was assistant music director, accompanist, general manager, and interim music director of the Cathedral Choral Society. Indisputably, the ceremonial events surrounding the consecration of the completed Cathedral in September 1990 stand as enduring testimony to the multifaceted talents of Canon Dirksen.
Much of his music composed over forty-five years was written for special occasions at the Cathedral. Its magnitude and beauty offers endless inspiration to the artist and ennobles the richness of its worship and culture, Canon Dirksen wrote in his Annotated Catalog. An incomparable esthetic paragon, it is unlimited in challenge for special gifts and service, ever inviting discerning attention and attracting excellence. Nevertheless, its essence is that of the Eternal and Mysterious Holy One, accessible to human aspiration. Therein lies its greatest power.