Rodney K. Hansen, 64, concert organist, church choirmaster

January 24, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Rodney K. Hansen, a nationally known concert organist who was the organist at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Baltimore, died Tuesday of cancer at the Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Bolton Hill resident was 64.

Admired for his graceful style of playing, Mr. Hansen had been organist and choirmaster of Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church for 19 years before he was appointed organist at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in 1991.

"He had a style all his own and a majestic way of playing. He had a touch and an assurance that set him aside from other organists," said the Rev. R. Douglas Pitt, senior minister at Old St. Paul's.

Whether it was with a complicated Bach fugue or a cantata, Mr. Hansen was credited with setting the standard in Baltimore for Anglican Church music.

"He was a tremendously gifted musician whose playing was extremely graceful and elegant," said Tom Hall, music director of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society.

A native of Eureka, Calif., Mr. Hansen began his career as a church organist at age 10 in the Eureka First Presbyterian Church.

He studied at San Jose State College, San Francisco State and the Peabody Conservatory of Music. At the Peabody, he studied with Paul Callaway before he earned a bachelor's degree in music in 1957.

In 1954, he was appointed organist-choirmaster at the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Incarnation and as organist-director of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

A highlight of his years at the Episcopal Cathedral Church was a performance in 1960 of Handel's "Messiah." The performance featured harpsichordist Joseph Stephens and organist Donald King, and the group performed the music the way it would have been played in Handel's day.

From 1962 to 1964, Mr. Hansen was a harpsichordist-organist with the New York Festival Orchestra at Philharmonic Hall in New York. In New York, he also was associate conductor of the Cantata Singers and recorded with the Robert Shaw Chorale on the RCA Victor label.

After serving as organist and choirmaster at churches in Connecticut and New York, Mr. Hansen returned to Baltimore in 1972 when he was named organist and choir director at Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church. He also had been chorus master of the Baltimore Opera Company.

Mr. Hall described Mr. Hansen as "well-mannered, quiet, very respectful and humble."

"He had flash, show and an artifice about him and a wonderful musical imagination," said Mr. Hall.

"This guy week after week delivered the goods at an incredibly high level," he added.

As choirmaster of Old St. Paul's, he was also responsible for music instruction at St. Paul's School and St. Paul's School for Girls.

Friends said he was "devoted" to the St. Paul's Choir of Men and Boys. He took the choir to the White House to perform for President and Mrs. Reagan and toured England and France with the choir in the summer of 1995.

A memorial service for Mr. Hansen will be held at 2 p.m. today at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Cathedral and Read streets in Baltimore.

He is survived by a brother, Sidney Hansen; a nephew; and four nieces.

Pub Date: 1/24/98

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