Bruce Prince-Joseph Dead at Age 89

Bruce Prince-Joseph Dead at Age 89

Dr. Bruce Prince-Joseph, 89, Kansas City, Missouri, passed away peacefully on Saturday, April 25, 2015, in the comfort of his home in the embrace of close friends. Bruce was born in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, son of Lebanese immigrants Adele Prince Joseph and Hanna (John) Joseph. He moved to the Valentine area of Kansas City as a child. He became interested in music while attending St Paul’s Episcopal Church and the pipe organ quickly became his life’s passion.

By his earBruce Prince-Josephly teens, he gave his first organ recital at St Mary’s Episcopal Church. He attended the Norman School and Westport High School, graduating in 1942. After a year of working and saving money, he followed his dream to New York where he began studying with Pietro Yon at St Patrick’s Cathedral. Within the first year of his studies, Bruce was hired as Chancel Organist there. He then began work in the undergraduate organ program at Yale, studying organ with Frank Bozyan and composition with Paul Hindemith.
Read the entire obituary at legacy.com.

Speaking to a Catholic priest, Bruce remarked: “I thought it was a big joke,” Prince-Joseph said. “I kept telling him, ‘No, you don’t want to mess around with an old guy like me.’ Then one day, I woke up and said, ‘Do you want to sit around feeling sorry for yourself?’ That’s why I am here. Because I am crazy.”

And when, not if, he pulls it off? “What a way to die,” he said. “When I die, I want to know that it worked.”

Read this article on his desire to promote good music in World-renowned organist seeks to preserve classic Gregorian chant in Catholic liturgy.

John Apple and I only spoke by telephone with him two or three times, but he was always interesting and supportive of anything related to good music. Many of us will remember his fascination with the pedal harpsichord and these albums.

Pedal Harpsichord 7 Centuries

Read Bruce Prince-Joseph: Toccata Giovane, a paper by Lucas W Fletcher for Illinois Wesleyan University in 2014.

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9 Responses to Bruce Prince-Joseph Dead at Age 89

  1. Tom Nichol says:

    I met and talked with Dr. Prince-Joseph several times when he was living in Nashville. I also owned both of the albums he recorded at Saint Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University (both of which, he told me had been pirated by “Everest Records,” although I can’t remember the exact circumstances). Anyhow, he was always extremely nice and courteous, and I always got the impression that he enjoyed our conversations as much as I did. Sadly, we lost touch when he moved back to Kansas City, and I was deeply saddened to learn of his recent passing.

  2. I have a soft spot in my heart for Bruce Prince-Joseph! I met him in the summer of 1985 when we both lived in Nashville. I was moving to Fort Lauderdale to work at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and I knew I would have to play the harpsichord, but had no experience with it. Bruce helped me immensely as we studied recitatives, choruses, the big arias, etc., and when I moved, I was very confident that I could do what was needed at the harpsichord because of my work with him. I can’t remember how much he charged, but I do know he made no money, since our lessons would last all afternoon. In his condo/townhouse, he had two harpsichords side-by-side: the pedal harpsichord (did it have seven stops?) and a smaller two manual which he could tune quickly and from which he we had our lessons. I loved being with him; oh, the stories he could tell, and the experiences he could recall!

    My first time to hear him was as the piano-forte accompanist for the wonderful soprano, Mary Bates (she now uses her married name, George, with her maiden name, in a concert of period music performed in the mansion of the Belle Meade plantation. Wow! Not only was he a fabulous accompanist, he literally had to de-range the music on the page to put in acceptable form. He was brilliant at all the stuff that goes with being brilliant. The next time I heard him was as at the harpsichord at Belle Meade UMC doing the St. Matthew Passion, a good performance, but certainly not equal to his skill.

    We corresponded a bit after he moved to KC, but with a big job in Florida and a family, we lost touch. Our profession just has lost a great musician!

    Darryl Miller
    Nashville, Tennessee

  3. I knew him only from his recordings; they very much inspired me when I began studying organ seriously.
    Merrill N. Davis III

  4. In my early student days of reading countless issues of TAO and The Diapason I noted the full page ads for Bruce Prince Joseph. I always wondered “who is this guy” and then he dropped off the radar screen in terms of publicity. Later I was pleased to learn of people who knew him and that he was still around and had enjoyed a good career.

    I know that the same was true of the late Bill Watkins who advertised and pursued a national performing career at a young age. I was fortunate to know him in DC and of course he was a consummate musician and outstanding teacher, settled in as he was at Georgetown Presbyterian Church: a legend in his own right.

    It’s one of the positive aspects of social media and lists such as this that we are more aware of colleagues near and far.

    It’s difficult, even if you want to, to fade into the forest in retirement. Friends and fans were able to keep track of Wilbur Held and Robert Noehren until they ascended to a higher place.

    Cheers,
    Carl Schwartz

  5. Ken Sybesma says:

    Dr Prince-Joseph’s name is one that I’d seen a number of times in the past but, now much to my chagrin, I did not know he was until only recently still among us.

    I’m enjoying his performance of the BWV 565
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jL_3w3Am450 which is very much his own. Some may find comparisons to a certain organist or two of the era, and there are ‘elements’ in this performance but it remains singular and refreshing. There are some unexpected registration changes — the third opening figuration is startling — but not quite as extravagant (no tremulant, no fading out to near inaudibility) as some performers in that certain era when playing on a rarely-altered registration would have been anathema. There is a very refreshingly musical technique neither overly rubato’d to death nor rigidly and non-humanly inexpressive but a balance
    that comes off quite well.

    Heaven has added another master to its roster of fine musicians.

    Ken Sybesma

  6. Thanks to the present director of music at the church, I was able to get in touch with the organ tech that worked with Bruce.

    It seems that small organ in the top photo is a four rank Kilgen, of which two ranks are playable by the (presumably) larger organ in the balcony. I haven’t bothered to ask why only two ranks are playable. I was happy to learn that the small organ is a Kilgen. I sort of suspected it might be one of the smaller Kilgens.

    Best wishes,
    Morton Belcher

  7. Bob Hansmann says:

    I first met Bruce in the 1970s, when he studied guitar under me. Due to his warm heart and sense of grace, our friendship blossomed into what became one of the most enduring and endearing of my whole life.

    I will miss him always, and forever remember the great gift it was to receive his hand of friendship over these many years.

    Rest in Peace, Dearest Friend.

  8. Therese Park says:

    “Counting his blessings” by Therese Park (The Kansas City Star, December 9th, 2014)

    Bruce Prince-Joseph, 89, bought his midtown home in 1986 not because it’s an all concrete structure with 18 rooms designed by a prodigy of Frank Lloyd Wright, but because it had a niche to display his most precious treasure — a Nymphenburg porcelain statue of the Blessed Mary holding Child Jesus — given by Crown Princess Pilar of Bavaria. The two met during one of the keyboardist’s concert tours in Europe in 1953 and he cherished his memory of the princess of the old kingdom that shrunk to a mere state after unification of Germany in 1871.

    If you get a sense that this highly acclaimed musician isn’t an ordinary man, you’re not alone. All signs of his extraordinary character were there even when he was only 5 years old. It was in 1929, the year the nation saw the worst stock market crash that forced countless factories and businesses to close and made millions of workers homeless. His father, a successful real estate investor in Pittsburgh, Pa., lost everything he owned and had no choice but send his young son to live with his maternal grandparents, Kansas City residents.

    Prince-Joseph said he wasn’t really afraid during the two-and-half-day train ride because the Pullman porter to whom his father entrusted him looked after the boy the whole time, making sure he ate and did not wander about the moving train. The family was reunited shortly.

    It turned out that Kansas City was a best place to be for young Prince-Joseph at the time because he soon was introduced to music at St. Paul Episcopal Church at 40th and Main streets, where he began to sing in the boys choir. Later, he began playing the piano and organ, and by the time he graduated West Port High School at 17, he was passionate about studying the keyboard in New York. And his wishes were granted months later: as a newcomer to New York, he was appointed as the chancel organist at St. Patrick Cathedral.

    “I was very fortunate,” he said in a recent conversation. He studied at Yale with pianist-composer Paul Hindemith and later at the University of Southern California with Alice Ehlers. In 1952, he auditioned for Bruno Walter, then-conductor of the New York Philharmonic whose name was heard across the world. Prince-Joseph was hired and became the keyboardist of the most prestigious orchestra of all orchestras in the world. He kept that position for 20 years until 1974, before he began teaching at Hunter College. A decade later he retired as the department chairman and professor emeritus and returned to Kansas City to live.

    Kansas City residents might remember Prince-Joseph for the rescue and restoration of the Bells of Peace, a vintage carillon (a keyboard instrument with tuned bells).

    I met Prince-Joseph in early 2012, while he served St. Therese Little Flower Catholic as the music director and organist for the 11:15 a.m. Anglican Use Mass on Sundays. The restoration of the carillon had already begun and he and a group of volunteers, including his longtime organist friend, the Rev. Harry Firth, who had served as the pastor of All Souls Episcopal Church in Kansas City, were elbow-deep, working every day to restore life back into the vintage carillon that had fallen silent twice since 1961.

    The carillon was completely restored a few months later, installed at its new home, and was dedicated on Sept. 30, 2012, by Bishop Robert Finn. But after 18 months, the carillon made the news again: It only rings inside the church, not outside. It was a blow for all who worked hard to bring life to the vintage instrument, but it was short-lived.

    It was harder for Prince-Joseph and Rev. Harry Firth because they had founded a carillon school shortly after the dedication of the Bells of Peace and had been teaching several adult students — mostly teachers with some keyboard training before. But the carillon not having its full voice certainly is a handicap for the school.

    But once again, fortune knocked Prince-Joseph’s door just in time: an electronic engineer in Minnesota has agreed to visit Kansas City within weeks and give the carillon a complete checkup!

    Year 2014 is marching away without a promise to return. The old master counts his blessings, because he knows the New Year will bring him new challenges as it always had.

    (Bells of Peace is ringing again!)

    Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.

  9. ben kelley says:

    I was a child of seven or eight when Bruce, still a teenager, came to live with us in suburban Connecticut while he commuted to and from NYC (St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he as asst. organist) and Yale, where he was studying. His mother, in Kansas City, had asked my mother to look after him when he came east, and it did not take long for my mother and my siblings and me to make him a family member. When his mother, Adele, moved east, she and my mother became fast, life-long friends.

    Bruce was, to me, a brother. Although I never mastered the keyboard, I still think of him when I’m struggling with Scarlatti, listening to harpsichord or organ recordings, or just thinking back to the more felicitous days of my childhood. The interest in fine music that Bruce stirred in me has lasted a lifetime, starting with my choirboy days at St. Thomas in NYC, through my years of singing in oratorio choruses in Washington, DC, and right up to today as mostly a listener. I was able to keep in touch with Bruce over our lifetimes, visiting him in KC a few years ago (with my sister, at whose wedding he played!), and hosting him on his last cross-country trip when he stayed for a few days at my home in Pacific Grove, Ca.

    He was a dear, charming man, full of diverting anecdotes about his life and musical experiences and the renowned people he had worked with, from Yon to Hindemith to Walter to Bernstein (not his favorite memory). In 1968, I made a documentary film about highway planning and its perils, and Bruce composed and performed a delightful score for it. Alas, the film seems to have disappeared, but I can still hear the sound track in memory.

    He will be sorely, tearfully missed!

    Ben Kelley
    http://www.producthazardconsulting.com

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