Calvary has been blessed by many faithful leaders, both full-time and volunteer, who have served over very long periods of time. In musical leadership, one name known to an earlier generation of Calvary members was Miss Kate Chittenden, who was organist and choir director for 27 years, from 1879 to 1906.
Kate Chittenden was born in Hamilton, Canada in 1856, but always considered herself a Yankee with deep American family roots. She moved to New York in 1876 and lived there until her death in 1949.
Outside the church, her name was known to many as the head of Vassar College’s piano department for three decades and as dean and head of the piano department of the American Institute of Applied Music. It was said that she was the first woman lecturer for the New York City Board of Education and taught piano to more than 4000 students. She was one of the charter members of the American Guild of Organists.
Chittenden was most closely associated with long-serving Pastor Robert MacArthur. She was the first organist to look after the new J.H. & C.S. Odell pipe organ, one of the largest in the city, when the first building on West 57th Street was constructed in 1883. It was a 3-manual, 40-stop, 45-rank instrument that cost $12,500 (for context, the entire building cost $160,000).
In 1894, she and MacArthur co-edited The Calvary Hymnal. Their working relationship was described in the preface: “It may be permitted to the editors to say that they have labored together, the one as the pastor of Calvary Church, the other as organist and director of music, for the past twelve years. They have shown how it is possible to make the preaching and the singing in a church harmonious parts of Divine worship, and how each may help the other in contributing to the common end – the good of the people and the glory of God. There ought to be, and there will be in every properly conducted church service, the most perfect harmony between the pastor and the choir.” Chittenden wrote several tunes for The Calvary Hymnal. For example, she collaborated with her sister Bessie Chittenden to compose “Hail! Glorious Morn.” One of her most famous pupils, Canadian composer and organist Paul Ambrose, also provided hymns for the collection.
It is interesting to see a sample order of service that Chittenden directed at Christmas in 1897:
One observer described her gifts and personality: “I was attracted by her sincerity, her fearlessness and candor, her wide experience, and the justice of her opinions on most subjects. As I learned to know her better and got beyond a certain quaint, characteristic brusqueness of manner, I realized how sympathetic she was, how tender-hearted, how ready to help struggling talent, or those who were not even talented but who craved an assisting hand.”
Professor Chittenden resigned from Calvary in 1906 and was succeeded by the distinguished E.M. Bowman of Brooklyn’s Baptist Temple, but she continued to teach piano for numerous years. She died in 1949 at the age of 93 in her apartment around the corner from Calvary Baptist, at 55th Street and Seventh Avenue. Her lengthy obituary in The New York Times and in other publications highlight how well-respected she was both in service to the church and in training generations of piano students.
Contributed by Todd A. Williams, August 2020
- Blunsom, Laurie. “Chittenden, Kate Sara.” Grove Music Entry. https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.A2087938.Retrieved 2020-08-06.
- Brower, Harriet (February 1916). “Miss Kate Chittenden, American Pianist and Teacher.” The Musician 21 (2).
- Cooke, James Francis. (June 1947). “Kate Chittenden.” The Etude Magazine 65 (6).
- De Plata, William R. (1997). Tell It From Calvary, 2nd Ed. New York: Calvary Baptist Church.
- “Kate Chittenden, Taught at Vassar – Emeritus Professor of Music, Head of Piano Department for 31 Years, Dies at 93.” The New York Times. 1949-09-17.
- MacArthur, Robert Stuart, and Kate S. Chittenden, ed. (1894). The Calvary Hymnal. New York: Silver, Burdette & Co.
- “Vast Gains in Piano Art Seen by Teacher, 91, as She Reviews 74 Years in Profession.” The New York Times. 1947-04-18.