Music 02

David Drinkwater

December 16, 1928 ~ October 14, 2021 (age 92)


David A. Drinkwater - organist, educator, choral conductor and editor - died on October 14, 2021, at his home in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  The cause was heart failure.  He was 92.

As a professor, conductor and mentor Professor Drinkwater taught and inspired generations of students many of whom credit him as having been one of the most important influences in their lives by instilling enthusiasm for music, art, antiques, cooking, gardening, collecting, and entertaining; by his validation and enthusiastic embrace of each person’s individuality; and by his example of generosity and friendship as the essential ingredients in a rich and meaningful life.

His professional accomplishments were many but he may have been best known in the region as the organist for more than 5,000 weddings over the course of forty years, most of them at the Kirkpatrick Chapel of Rutgers University, and for providing theater organ style accompaniment to annual viewings of the silent film, The Phantom of the Opera.

David Allan Drinkwater was born on December 16, 1928, in Kokomo, Indiana.  After beginning piano study at age five he started playing the organ when he could barely touch the pedals.  As a teenager he studied locally with Arian Tudor and traveled to Indianapolis for lessons with Mallory Bransford.  He earned the Bachelor of Music degree in 1952 from Indiana University where his organ teacher was Oswald Ragatz.  That same year he was a Finalist in the American Guild of Organists National Convention Young Artists Competition, taking Second Prize while his friend Dorothy Young Riess was awarded the top honor.

After service as a radar intelligence officer in the United States Air Force he began studies at  the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary in New York City where he studied organ with Robert Baker, the school’s director, and church music with Ifor Jones and Margaret Hillis.  He received the M.S.M. degree in 1957.  While at Union he was Assistant Organist/Choirmaster to Searle Wright at St. Paul’s Chapel, Columbia University, and Assistant Organist/Choirmaster at Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue, holding the latter position until 1977.  

In 1955 a 43-year association with Rutgers University began as he was hired to be the organist at Kirkpatrick Chapel.  In 1957, he took over the direction of the Kirkpatrick Chapel Choir, succeeding F. Austin Walter.  He initiated annual “Christmas in Carol and Song” services in 1958 that continue to this day and led the choir on ten performance tours abroad including several behind the “Iron Curtain” before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. In 1969 he conducted the Chapel Choir in the premiere performance of Robert Moevs’ “A Brief Mass,” a recording of which was released on the CRI label.  He conducted the Chapel Choir until 1998.

In addition to his classroom and instrumental teaching duties at Rutgers he was appointed University Organist by President Mason W. Gross and launched a Noon-day Recital series at Kirkpatrick Chapel, performing over 250 recitals over several decades in addition to those he gave in New York City and elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad.  In his early years he served as accompanist for the Rutgers University Glee Club.  In 1974 he became the first Director of the newly-created Rutgers Queens Chorale.  

For 29 years he was Assistant Conductor of the Rutgers University Choir and was organist in performances of the choir with the Philadelphia Orchestra (conducted by Eugene Ormandy), the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Erich Leinsdorf), and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Orchestra (Bernard Haitink).  

In addition to colleagues and students, he hosted in his home a vast range and number of artists, writers, and musicians including the composer, Maurice Duruflé, and his wife, Marie-Madeleine; the artist, Lucas Samaras; the organist, Jean Langlais, and his wife, Marie-Louise Jaquet-Langlais; the poet, Miguel Algarín; the conductor, Erich Leinsdorf; the soprano, Martina Arroyo, and her mother; the writer, Edmund White; and the children's musical artist, Laurie Berkner, among many others. 

He retired from teaching in 1994 and was appointed Professor Emeritus of Rutgers.  He later served as Interim Organist/Choirmaster at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, The Episcopal Church of St. John on the Mountain in Bernardsville and The Presbyterian Church in Westfield, all in New Jersey.

From 1965 until 1984 Professor Drinkwater was associated with Belwin-Mills, Inc., as Chief Editor of Choral & Organ Music for J. Fischer & Co. and, starting in 1970, carrying the same title simultaneously for H.W. Gray Music.  His own “Wedding Service Music” was first published by J. Fischer & Co. in 1968 and remains a valuable resource to church musicians nationwide to this day.  Other published works include an Anthology of Nineteenth Century Organ Music and a Christmas carol, “Still Was the Night When Christ Was Born.”  He and William Strickland were general editors of H.W. Gray’s “Contemporary Organ Series” for which he designed the award-winning cover.

He was a member of the American Guild of Organists, Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and, for many decades, the St. Wilfrid Club in New York City.  From 1980 to 1984 he served on the Selection Committee for Fulbright Grants in Music.  In the early 1970s he was one of the founding members of the Board of the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation.  

He was predeceased by his parents Lelah Maude Curlee and John Oscar Drinkwater; by his brother, John Curlee Drinkwater; by his niece, Nancy Jeffery; and by his cousin, Elizabeth Alden “Daisy" Shelley.  He is survived by his husband, Jonathan Clarke Mills; his niece, Deborah Salatin, of Brighton, Michigan, his nephew, John B. Drinkwater, of Northville, Michigan, and their spouses; his grand-niece, Marisa Drinkwater; his grand-nephews, John Drinkwater and Jason Duke; his cousins Francis Willoughby “Mac” Frost, Jennet F. Shelley, Sarah Frost, and Jennifer Gill; his husband’s brother and sisters and their spouses, children, grandchildren, and cousins; and a legion of devoted friends.

A celebration of his life will be held on Saturday, March 26th, 2022, at 2:00 P.M. in Kirkpatrick Chapel, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

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