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August 28, 2014

Obituary: Robert Sutherland Lord

LordA memorial concert and tribute is set for 3 p.m. Oct. 26 in Heinz Chapel for professor emeritus of music Robert Sutherland Lord, who died July 24, 2014. He was 84.

Lord earned his bachelor’s degree in music at Dartmouth and his master’s and PhD in music history at Yale.

Lord began his teaching career in 1959 in Davidson College in North Carolina, where he was college organist.

He came to Pitt in 1962 as an associate professor and University organist. He was granted tenure in 1963, and was promoted to full professor in 1984. That same year, Lord became chair of the music department, initially serving a three-year term.

Lord, who served as University organist at Heinz Chapel for 37 years, performed more than 160 organ concerts and played for more than 4,000 weddings at the chapel.

He also performed at high-profile chapel events, including the chancellor’s holiday concerts and memorials for Vira Heinz and for Sen. H. John Heinz III.

In 2006, Lord was commissioned to “transplant” a theme from Mozart into a piece for organ in honor of noted transplant surgeon Thomas Starzl’s 80th birthday. Lord’s “Mozart Transplantation for Organ” was an improvisation on an aria from the opera “Don Giovanni.”

Lord’s final faculty organ recital at Heinz Chapel, given in March 1999, shortly before his retirement, drew nearly 600 guests.

Professor emeritus Don O. Franklin, former music department chair, said Lord was a teacher, a performer and a researcher.

He played a key role in transforming Pitt’s music department “from a service department to one that offered an undergraduate music major and a doctoral program in musicology,” Franklin said.

“He was a very lively presence, both in interacting with the students and the faculty,” Franklin said. “He was integral to faculty discussions,” Franklin said, adding that Lord could be both colorful and bombastic.

“He was a very active chair,” Franklin said. Lord’s primary focus was on strengthening music performance, particularly for undergraduates.

Franklin said Lord was quite committed to playing at the chapel’s many weddings and accommodating brides’ musical requests. To assist in their selections, he created a listening library of suggested music.

Lord’s academic interests were focused on 19th and 20th century French organ music. He was an authority on the music of French composer and organist Charles Tournemire and he wrote extensively on the “St. Clotilde tradition” of music by organists at Paris’ St. Clotilde basilica: Cesar Franck, Tournemire and Jean Langlais, with whom Lord studied.

Music faculty member Deane Root, director of Pitt’s Center for American Music, said Lord, a fellow musicologist, was among the first people he met when he arrived at Pitt in 1982.

“He was an internationally known scholar for his work on 20th-century French organists, as a performer of that repertoire and a champion of it as well,” Root said.

Root served as Heinz Chapel administrator for more than a decade, learning much about organ repair and construction at Lord’s side in the 1980s as plans to replace the chapel organ materialized.

Lord knew how he wanted the organ to sound, and he wanted it to have the most modern, reliable technology, Root said.

Lord insisted that the new instrument be equipped to record and play back music — technology that would allow tour groups to hear the organ play, even in his absence.

He also had a deep bass stop installed above the transept, “to make the whole building feel as if it’s going to lift off the ground,” Root said.

When the organ installation was complete, “he was delighted with it,” Root said.  Lord played the dedication recital for the 4,272-pipe instrument in 1995.

Often spoken of as “The Lord,” Root said “he did have authority. Many people wanted to have access to the chapel organ. If they wanted it, they had to go through him.”

Still, he was easy to get along with, open to new ideas and fun to be around, Root said. “I rarely heard him even express consternation, except when there were problems with the organ that needed repair.”

Root noted that being University organist “wasn’t just playing at Heinz Chapel. He also played the instruments that were in Carnegie Music Hall and in the Cathedral of Learning Commons Room and the Frick Fine Arts building.”

Lord’s Intro to Western Art Music was among the University’s most popular courses, drawing some 800 students to his classroom each year.

Root said, “He brought students into these pieces using just a vinyl turntable. He got them deeply engaged. That’s why students really remember those classes so fondly. He gave them something really rare: not just intellectual knowledge but knowledge that was felt in their bodies and in their brains.”

Root added, “Most students were not familiar with classical music or music history. Lord knew how to make it dramatic — there and in performance,” Root said. “He knew how to draw you into it, both emotionally and physically.”

In performance, Root said Lord would start with soft intricate fingerwork, then build to generate a frisson — “literally pulling out the stops and adding to the volume until you could feel the whole building playing the piece.”

Root said he remembers watching bits of dust fall from the ceiling,  catching light from the chapel’s stained glass windows, as the whole building resonated with one of Lord’s performances.

“It was just one person, one instrument. And the whole space and everybody in it was riveted.”

Said Jon J. Danzak of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Guild of Organists, “Dr. Lord was an inspiring teacher with a crusty no-nonsense New England attitude to anything that didn’t meet his exacting standards. While some may think that would cause him to be overly harsh, it was only that he demanded the best of what people could give within their abilities. He had the unique ability to communicate his vast knowledge in practical and meaningful ways, which inspired anyone who had even a remote interest in music.”

Danzak, who volunteered at Heinz Chapel, said “It was a constant source of amazement to speak to University alums who returned for a visit and would note that Dr. Lord had both played at their wedding as well as left them with an appreciation for music and the arts that they never had before their educational experience at the University.”

Beyond his work at the University, Lord’s broadcast organ music series “Lord on Bach” and “Lord on Buxtehude” aired in the 1970s on WQED-FM.

He was organist and choirmaster at Christ Episcopal Church in the North Hills for 22 years, and he helped found the Northland Public Library and was its first board chairman.

Lord is survived by his wife Martha W. Lord; four children: Benjamin Webster Lord, Wendy Lord Vlahakis and her husband, John; Beth Lord Esmont and her husband, Jeff, and Holly Sutherland Lord and her husband, Rich; seven grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Memorial donations may be made to the Christ Episcopal Church Endowment, 5910 Babcock Blvd., Pittsburgh 15237; Animal Friends, 562 Camp Horne Road, Pittsburgh 15237; or the Historic Roberts Organ Restoration Fund, P.O. Box 840, Urbana, Ohio, 43078, to restore the first tracker organ donated by Andrew Carnegie.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 1