Donald Wilkinson King, 67, organist for churches, temples

November 22, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Donald Wilkinson King, a world-class organist, died Sunday of a heart attack at his Roland Park residence. He was 67.

During his 45-year career in Baltimore, he was organist and choir director at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation from 1962 to 1994; Memorial Episcopal Church from 1954 to 1969; the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation from 1970 to 1984; and St. John's Episcopal Church-Huntingdon from 1988 to 1994, when he retired.

He also was an organist with Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church and the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore and, finally, at the First Christian Church in Roland Park for the last two years.

"He was a jack-of-all-trades, ecumenically speaking," said Robert Twynham, organist and music director at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

"He would play for Jews on Park Heights Avenue and then rush across town to play for Catholics and Episcopalians," Mr. Twynham, a friend for 50 years, said with a laugh.

He described Mr. King as "a multitalented person who had extraordinary abilities as a musician."

For many years Mr. King was an accompanist for Baltimore's Handel Choir, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, the Harford Choral Society and the Cathedral Choral Society.

Since 1986, he had been director of Cor Rehoboth, a community choir based in Delta, Pa. that preserves the Welsh heritage and ** music of Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania.

Mr. King was known for his vast musical knowledge and his ability at finding simple spiritual beauty in an American gospel piece or a grand 14th-century liturgical piece.

"He was well-respected in music circles and was known as a delightful, gracious and gentle man," said Tom Hall, director of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society.

"He was an icon of sacred music in Baltimore," said Mark Husey, who followed Mr. King as organist at St. John's.

"He was able to use the baton in one hand to direct the choir and play the console with the other. He'd even arch an eyebrow as a signal to the choir.

"I don't know how he did it. He was suave and subtle and the style of music-making that he employed isn't taught anymore. He was definitely from the old school."

Mr. Husey said Mr. King continued playing the organ despite increasingly poor health.

"He never let his health get in the way of his career, and I suppose that's what made him a very stubborn man at times. He was very, very focused," Mr. Husey said.

Mr. King also was a representative of the Moller Organ Co. and supervised the design and installation of organs at many area churches.

"He had a marvelous sense of sound, line and balance and had the ability to walk into a room and determine what kind of organ was needed," said John Holland, an organist and representative of Wicks Pipe Organs.

An expansive man who enjoyed fine foods and entertaining, Mr. King also was a talented gardener and an imaginative cook.

He and his wife of 40 years, the former Ellen Barlag, a contralto soloist and teacher, lived for 25 years in a Bolton Hill rowhouse, where they gave an annual Christmas Eve party that became a tradition in music circles.

Born in Washington, Mr. King played the marimba -- a percussion instrument that resembles a xylophone -- when he was 5 and sang with the National Cathedral Choir as a schoolboy. At 13, he was organist and choirmaster at a Portsmouth, Va., church and in 1934 appeared on "Major Bowes' Amateur Hour," a national radio show. He studied organ at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1954.

A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. tomorrow at St. John's Huntingdon, 3009 Greenmount Ave.

Other survivors include two sons, David King and Douglas King; and a daughter, Julia King, all of Baltimore; and two stepbrothers, Stanley Reynolds of Washington and John Reynolds of Saskatchewan, Canada.

Pub Date: 11/22/96

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