Remembrances & Anecdotes
McNeil Robinson will be remembered for his larger than life personality, his broad sense of humor, and his flair for the dramatic. Highly opinionated often to the delight of his devoted students, his speech was colorful and sometimes caustic. Neil smoked like a chimney and could both charm people or offend them with equal ease. He greatly enjoyed holding court and could do so in the back of a recital hall or in the front of a restaurant. He had a very generous spirit and supported the art of improvisation by underwriting the first place prize of the AGO’s National Competition in Organ Improvisation for many years. In addition to being a masterful musician, skilled improvisateur, teacher, and composer, he was a man who lived his life with gusto and didn’t suffer fools or incompetence lightly. Invariably there were some people who preferred to steer clear of him, but there were always countless others who were drawn inexorably into his circle. Although he was physically slight in stature, there was a grandiosity about his approach to the world. He said and did outrageous things and got away with them because of his charismatic personality and the twinkle in his blue eyes.
James Thomashower, Executive Director, American Guild of Organists
Neil Robinson was the most talented and inventive improviser on the organ I have ever heard. I first sang his gorgeous compositions for solo voice, choir, and organ at Park Avenue Synagogue, and fell in love with his beautiful melodies & lush harmonies. I brought Neil's music with me to New York's Temple Emanuel, where his works were also highly admired and loved. Neil was a major talent and will be sorely missed.
Lori Corrsin, Cantor Emerita of Temple Emanu-El, NYC
It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of McNeil Robinson. I first met him when we were playing for the AGO regional in Honolulu. In addition to the program, he also played Bach's LIttle Fugue in G minor on a 4' flute, with perfection at a tempo that was almost impudent. I loved it!
I was privileged to play the premiere of his organ concerto with the San Francisco Symphony at the convention in 1984, and repeated it twice at Baylor University several years later.
I can say with all certainty that after my husband, Carl Crosier, McNeil Robinson was the second most influential person on my life and my playing. I met him for the first time in 1975 when he came to Hawaii to play the inaugural concerts on the Rudolf von Beckerath organ at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, and I attended all three of his concerts there. I was fortunate enough to spend about 20 hours in lessons with him at that time — my Bach playing on a tracker organ, phrasing and articulation, was shaped by him and I in turn have taught it to countless number of students. Two years after he played the inaugural concerts, he came back to Hawaii to play an all-Bach concert at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, and an all-Franck concert at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. The next weekend he stayed to play our wedding, and I will never forget the recessional he improvised on “Hyfrydol.”
Throughout the years, our meetings with Neil were few and far between, but each time, he greeted us like old friends. After we had not corresponded in years, we had a chance encounter with Neil on the streets of New York (http://insanity.blogs.lchwelcome.org/2010/07/21/its-a-small-world-after-all/) — and he obviously remembered us.
Dear, dear Neil, the world will miss you.
Uncanny brilliance. Unimaginable naughtiness.
McNeil was a complicated but brilliant personality, who taught and performed magnificently. We all will miss him and carry with us his devotion to music and to the organ.
My favorite memories of McNeil are the many pre and post lesson meals we shared. His lessons could be marathons and off we’d go to Jimmie’s diner to gather enough energy to make it through. Everyone at Jimmie’s knew McNeil’s students and probably most of the organ community he brought there. McNeil was a passionate teacher and musician. His brilliance and kindness were boundless. His students were very lucky people. May he rest in peace.
Thursday the 12th
McNeil Robinson does not believe in the jinx of the Friday the 13th, so when scheduled for a performance at Trinity College in Hartford on that date, he solved the problem by letting Thursday the 12th absorb all the wrinkles. After arriving by train from New York he discovered the briefcase containing all his music was missing, but he went on to practice after alerting Amtrak to try to locate the briefcase at stops on down the line. It was found, but a strong ticking noise coming from inside prompted Amtrak officials to call the local bomb squad. X-rays revealed the source of the noise as a small radio-like box which the Springfield, Mass., police finally identified as an electronic metronome. This left Robinson’s agent, Phillip Truckenbrod, with the assignment of spending the balance of the day convincing the Springfield police that the whole affair was not an intentional hoax, but an honest mistake by a responsible citizen. The briefcase was shipped back to Hartford, met by a contingent from the local police force, and finally released to Robinson. John Rose, Trinity College organist and Robinson’s host, decided a good meal would help settle the recitalist’s nerves and took the newly reunited Robinson and briefcase to one of the city’s finer restaurants. Robinson decided to return the favor by offering Rose a dose of his special megavitamin compound which he was sure would cure the head cold Rose had been complaining of. Rose had an allergic reaction, went into shock, and was soon on the floor of the restaurant with fellow diners trying to restore his breathing and the owners calling an ambulance. With his host now in the emergency room of Hartford Hospital, Robinson decided he might as well go back to the college and practice for the first time that day from the manuscripts in the briefcase. Upon returning to the college chapel and unpacking the bag containing his performance clothing, Robinson discovered he had brought along two left organ shoes. But the clock soon struck midnight and Robinson was saved from any further difficulties − it was now Friday the 13th and Thursday the 12th was safely behind him.
Source: The American Organist magazine, March issue, 1982, page 46.
Copyright © 1982, by the American Guild of Organists.
Reproduced by permission of The American Organist Magazine.