“We’re just doing this to honor Howie.”

“Howie” is Howard Quilling, one of Bakersfield’s most respected musicians, who passed away early last year, and the “we” are members of the Kern County chapter of the American Guild of Organists, of which Quilling was both a member and former president. 

The local chapter is dedicating a concert on Sunday afternoon to Quilling, in a program that includes several of Quilling’s compositions.

AGO spokeswoman Sue Wagner said the concert is a little late in coming because until just recently the chapter wasn’t sure when they could get the venue they wanted, St. John’s Lutheran Church on Buena Vista Road. The chapel, which is home to a rather famous Bosch pipe organ, has been unavailable until recently during an extensive remodeling project. 

The other reason is the suddenness of Quilling’s passing last year.

“Actually, he was at choir rehearsal the night before he died,” Wagner said. “He was his normal self, complaining about the composer who wrote the anthem we were practicing, so we were in shock when we got the news the next day.”

From his college days in the mid-1950s, Quilling composed some 250 works in multiple genres — for orchestra, wind ensemble, chamber groups of all configurations, choral, solo vocal, piano and organ — and earned a significant international reputation for his work. Quilling was also an enthusiastic champion of new composers and new music; his leadership of the New Directions concert series gave many composers a much-needed hearing.

Sunday’s program will feature five of Quilling’s compositions, three of them for organ: a chorale prelude, “St. Clement: The Day Thou Gavest” performed by organist Joseph Simms; and two musical meditations, “O God, Thou Art the Father” performed by Phil Dodson, and “Christ is the World’s Redeemer,” performed by Marcia Krause. 

Selections from one of Quilling’s song cycles, “The Earth Remembers,” will be performed by soprano Leslie Roberts and pianist Meg Wise; and “Spring Morning for Violin and Organ” will be performed by violinist Elizabeth Kinney and organist Sue Wagner.

Quilling wrote the piece for Kinney, a fellow parishioner at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“Every year the church held a ‘feast’ in honor of its patron saint, St. Paul,” Kinney wrote in an email response.

Kinney said the “feast” included a silent auction fundraiser, and Quilling donated his services as a composer to write a piece for the winner of the auction item.

“After I won, Howard asked what kind of piece I’d like,” Kinney wrote. “I told him that I’d like it to be lyrical and essentially tonal, but with some of his signature ‘quirkiness,’ as some musicians called his style.”

Quilling presented the piece to her in April of 2001.

“The piece explores the entire range of the instrument, and I think it is evocative of the welcome milder weather of springtime, but not without the typical sudden change of weather — a cloudburst, perhaps?”

Also performing on Sunday’s program are organists Doug Heinrichs and Karissa Lystrup. 

Joyce Quilling, the composer’s wife of 59 years and a respected organist and pianist, will speak at the concert, offering some anecdotes of their lives together. 

“The last thing that was rummaging through his head was what sort of celebration we were going to have on our 60th (wedding anniversary), which was on Good Friday this year,” Joyce Quilling said.

Quilling said in addition to their lives together as spouses and parents, they often worked together as musicians. Quilling premiered many of her husband’s works for organ and piano, and often helped him as he composed.

“He would work through motifs or other ideas,” Quilling said. “Then he would sit down at the piano and play with it, then write it all out.

“Then he’d have me come and play it and he’d mark things down as he heard it, then make the final score.”

Quilling said one of her challenges was to learn when the composer was actually composing.

“He would sit in his chair, his recliner in the living room, and he was sort of acting as if he were watching TV or sleeping,” Quilling said.

What was the lesson?

“Don’t disturb Dad when he is in his chair for anything except a phone call form one of his publishers, recording companies, a fire, or dinner,” Quilling said.

Wagner noted that Quilling wasn’t just a colleague, he was a dear friend.

“We miss the guy.”

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