For more than four decades, Robert Town’s name was associated with exceptional organ music in Wichita.
Mr. Town taught organ at Wichita State University, oversaw the Rie Bloomfield organ series and was instrumental in helping obtain the organ in WSU’s Wiedemann Hall. Mr. Town died Tuesday at age 76.
No formal funeral service is planned. However, a memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Jan. 11 at Wiedemann Hall.
Mr. Town was born Oct. 31, 1937, in Waterman, Wis. At the age of 3, he fell in love with the sound of an organ.
"I was adopted by the Towns when I was short of 3 years old," Mr. Town told The Eagle in 2006. "And in the fall of 1940, when they took me to our little local Presbyterian church (in Meridian, N.Y.) for the first time and I heard the small but wonderful 1876 pipe organ in that church. That was the day I became an organist."
He soon was a student and, in time, played on some of the world’s most famous organs: Notre Dame Cathedral and La Madeleine church in Paris; Boston Symphony Hall; the Kennedy Center, and St. Thomas Church in New York City.
Mr. Town received his bachelor’s degree in music at Eastman School of Music; his master’s from Syracuse University, and his doctorate from the University of Michigan.
Mr. Town began teaching organ at WSU in 1965.
“Mr. Town was a master teacher,” James Rhatigan, consultant for the WSU Foundation, wrote of Mr. Town. “His students were successful in competition across the United States and internationally. Two of his students received the Fulbright Award, the only students to do so in the history of the College of Fine Arts.
“He was a demanding but dearly loved teacher.”
Tate Addis’ voice broke as he described his teacher. Addis was a former student of Mr. Town from 1999 to 2004 and now is doing graduate work in organ at Yale University.
“He was the model of a teacher, the way he cared about music, the organ and his students,” Addis said. “He wanted the best for WSU and Wichita.
“He did not demand your best but commanded it. He brought the best out of you.”
With a change in church services and society, organ music no longer enjoys the popularity it once did, Addis said. But Mr. Town defied the trend.
“He presided over the rise of the organ department at WSU and ultimately watched as the national trend turned,” Addis said. “He was always extraordinarily aware of the possibilities of the instrument both liturgically and within the context of an academic setting.”
Mr. Town has no immediate survivors.
According to Rhatigan, memorials may be sent to Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice or the Marcussen Organ Maintenance Fund at the Wichita State University Foundation.