David Craighead, a legendary Eastman School faculty organist who balanced a career in teaching and performing, died Monday, March 26, in Rochester. He was 88.
Craighead joined the Eastman faculty in 1955 and served as professor of organ and chair of the organ division of the keyboard department until his retirement in 1992. Many of his students went on to hold positions in colleges and churches across the country. Craighead was also organist of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Rochester from 1955 to 2003. He was named professor emeritus at Eastman and organist emeritus at St. Paul’s when he stepped down.
A renowned recitalist, Craighead performed throughout the United States and Europe. He played in seven national conventions of the American Guild of Organists as well as at International Congresses held in London, Philadelphia, and Cambridge, England.
Craighead made several recordings, including one with his wife, Marian Reiff Craighead, to whom he was married for 47 years. Until her death in May 1996, they presented concerts for organ duet across the United States.
“David Craighead’s contribution to the music world is incalculable,” says David Higgs, professor and chair of organ and historical keyboards. “He was a virtuoso performer, able to make the most difficult technical passages seem easy; he was a tireless champion of new music for our instrument, having played the first performances of many of the pieces that are now in our standard repertoire; and a beloved teacher, mentor, and friend to the legions of students he taught in his 37 years as professor of organ and chair of the organ department here. He was a gentle and kind man, and his legacy is to be found at every turn in the organ world.”
Craighead received both teaching and performance honors. In 2008, the new organ in Rochester’s Christ Church was inaugurated the Craighead-Saunders organ, named in honor Craighead and Russell Saunders, who was professor of organ at Eastman from 1967 until 1992.
One of his former students, Tandy Reussner ’91E (MM), wrote a biography, David Craighead: Portrait of an American Organist, that was published in 2009 and included quotes, anecdotes, listings of his recitals from 1942 to 1998, his repertoire and discography, and photographs.
Craighead was awarded his bachelor of music degree in 1946 from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He was appointed organist at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church, where he helped design the church’s organ and did biweekly organ recital broadcasts. He also taught in the music department of Occidental College from 1948 through 1955 before his appointment at the Eastman School.
“Aside from all of the superlatives about David Craighead’s unparalleled stature as a performer and teacher, one of the things that will linger with me forever—and with many of his students and friends–was his great humanity, and his great humility,” says Peter DuBois, director of Eastman’s Sacred Music program and host of With Heart and Voice, a nationally syndicated radio series of sacred music. “He really was a model for all of us in that regard, both in his professional life and his personal life. And it was one of his greatest gifts.”
Craighead is survived by his children, James Craighead and Elizabeth Eagan; grandsons Christopher and Jeffrey Eagan; his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Marino; and three great-granddaughters. The University flag was lowered April 5 in Craighead’s honor.
Donations can be made to the Fay Stinson Craighead Memorial Scholarship, Office of Gift and Donor Services, University of Rochester, P.O. Box 270032, Rochester, N.Y. 14627.