Richard Dirksen

DIRKSEN, Richard Wayne. b. Freeport, Illinois, 8 February 1921; d. Washington, DC, 26 July 2003. Dirksen was on the staff of Washington National Cathedral for 48 years, as composer, organist, choirmaster and Precentor. He composed nearly 300 musical works for choir, instruments, and theater, including several hymn tunes.

Dirksen grew up in a musical home. His mother, Maude Esther (née Logemann) (1902-1990) was a singer and pianist, and his father Richard Watson Dirksen (1897-1976) was the founder of the Freeport Organ Company. In Freeport High School, Dirksen, who played bassoon, came under the influence of the director of instrumental music, Karl Henry Kubitz (1902-1991), who was also a flute player and conductor of the Freeport Concert Band. In September 1940, Dirksen began organ study with Virgil Fox (1912-1980) at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland, and was a part-time assistant to Paul Callaway (1909-1995), the organist and choirmaster at Washington National Cathedral. In June 1942, he graduated magna cum laude with a Church Organist Certificate. ‘The next morning’, he wrote, ‘I enlisted, and the United States Army claimed my full attention until October of 1945.’ Dirksen and Callaway served in the army for four years and upon discharge rejoined the music department at the cathedral and worked together for 31 years. Dirksen wrote, ‘For his unstinting support I am immeasurably thankful and indebted.’

In 1964, Dirksen became the cathedral’s first director of programs, and in 1968, he was appointed Precentor, with responsibility for the planning and supervision of all Cathedral worship services. While continuing as Precentor, he was appointed Organist and Choirmaster in 1977 and continued in this position until 1988. He retired in 1991.

The Washington DC Area Television Academy presented an Emmy Award to Dirksen for his ‘Six Carols and Lessons’, televised on 24-25 December 1965 on WTTG-TV. He received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from George Washington University, a Doctor of Music from Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, and a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

Among Dirksen’s hymn tunes are BARLEY, CHEVY CHASE, CONSECRATION, CREIGHTON, DECATUR PLACE, HILARITER, INNISFREE FARM, MT. ST. ALBAN, WYNGATE CANON, and VINEYARD HAVEN. Within a year after its first use in worship, VINEYARD HAVEN was widely hailed as ‘the hymn tune of the decade’, and during the next decade, it was hailed as ‘one of the finest hymn tunes of our day’ in The Hymns of the United Methodist Church, ed. Diana Sanchez (Nashville, Tennessee, 1989, p.69). VINEYARD HAVEN was composed for the installation of John Maury Allin (1921-1998) as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, held in Washington National Cathedral on 11 June 1974. The arrangement of the tune for that occasion is published as an anthem, ‘Rejoice Ye Pure in Heart’. The key word, Rejoice, is reflected in the music ‘most exactly at the two interpolated “Hosannas” . . . which rise like daily orisons, pointing the way and presaging the reward at the end . . . to raise such ‘‘Hosannas’’ forever in his presence and with the company of heaven in the life eternal’ (letter from Dirksen to Raymond F. Glover, 5 January 1981, quoted in The Hymnal 1982 Companion).

CLARK KIMBERLING

Further Reading

  1. Raymond F. Glover, general editor, The Hymnal 1982 Companion (New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1994) vol. 3B, pp. 1031-32.
  2. Clark Kimberling, ‘The Hymn Tunes of Richard Wayne Dirksen’, The Hymn 53/4 (October 2002), pp. 19-28.
Cite this article