|Nora Gleason at the time of the dedication of the Cathedral in 1909 || |
In a church that depends on historical continuity, one of the most remarkable continuities is the occupant of the organ bench at the Cathedral. I'll bet you didn't know that from about 1893 to about 1973 there were only two principal organists at the Cathedral!
The first one was the remarkable Nora Gleason, a daughter of Irish immigrants whom Bishop Lawrence Scanlan plucked from the mining towns of southern Utah and saw to her education in Salt Lake City and Chicago. She became organist in the old St. Mary's Cathedral which preceded the Cathedral of the Madeleine, played and directed the choirs at the dedication of the present Cathedral, and continued to occupy the organ bench until Bishop Scanlan died in 1915 and Bishop Glass had been ordained. She died in 1918.
|Ethel Hogan as a young woman || |
When Gleason retired, she was replaced by a young protégé, Ethel Hogan, who continued in the position through the tenure of no fewer than five bishops, almost until her death in 1975. Hogan was born in Aspen, Colorado in 1903, but her family moved to Salt Lake City when she was a young girl. She studied music at St. Mary's Academy and the University of Utah, later doing graduate work at Notre Dame University. She became the Cathedral organist in 1917 at the amazing age of fourteen!
As an adult she was a woman of great physical beauty, which she enhanced by adopting a flambouyant personal style almost like that of a movie star. With red hair and rings on every finger, she cut a striking figure driving about in her Cadillac. Her marital history resembled that of many movie stars as well, for she was married altogether three times, acquiring the unwieldy designation of Ethel Hogan Heinz Hanson Merrill! A dissimilarity with movie stars, though, is that she never divorced; she simply had the misfortune of having two husbands die before her (she was survived by her third husband, whom she married barely a year before her death).
|Ethel Hogan Heinz at the organ in 1966 || |
To have continued that long as Cathedral organist, whe must have been a superb musician. (She was long before my time at the Cathedral, and although she recorded an album of organ music in the 1950s, I have not yet located a copy.) Church organists have to be skilled at improvisation to occupy gaps in the liturgy, but apparently she was capable of improvising some very complex pieces. During the 1960s she published two collections of marches that she had improvised at the organ bench and someone had transcribed into notation. One was the "Monsignor March," composed to celebrate the naming of Fr. William McDougall as Monsignor. Don't expect our current organist, Doug O'Neill, to play it at any Masses soon, but he played it for me recently and I think we were both impressed at its sophistication.
Ethel Hogan Merrill died in California on February 24, 1975 at the age of 71. After a funeral Mass at the Cathedral, she was interred at Mount Calvary Cemetery.