Revisiting St. Stephen’s beloved organist, choirmaster, and composer, Dr. David D. Wood

On this date in 1910 died perhaps St. Stephen’s most beloved and famous musician, David D. Wood (there are many versions of his middle name, including on family legal documents). He was the church’s organist from 1864 to his death and its choirmaster from 1870 on. He held those appointments among others while also composing, performing nationwide, and teaching at various institutions until he died. Blinded in childhood, Dr. Wood (an honorary title) was recognized for his musicianship and inspiring and warm personality even as a student at Philadelphia’s innovative school for the blind, where he then began his musical career. Organist, choirmaster, composer, teacher, and mentor, Dr. Wood was deeply mourned at his death and appreciated as a composer even more afterwards. Scholars are now looking more closely at all aspects of his life and career. And we have helped.

Dr. Wood’s repeated appearance here and on the Facebook page over the last year has opened discussion and information-sharing among musicians and descendants—you know who you are, Our hope is to together build a greater body of knowledge and study to make him known and to further discussion beyond.

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 As an art historian, here I draw attention to Charles Grafly’s memorial relief commissioned by admirers for inclusion at the church; it was inaugurated in 1914. Grafly was, like Wood, a prominent American in his field, both as a monument maker and portraitist. He was, also likewise, a beloved and influential teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, among others. This life-size portrait, carved after Dr. Wood’s death from a photograph, conveys the sophistication of Grafly's concept and handling. The choice of portrait (I’d love to know by whom) is not of the musician. Rather, it presents his interior or intellectual richness through the pensive pose. Transformed into a marble relief, this contemporary meditative image updates an ancient form of Roman funerary portraiture in relief like the one shown here: a half-length with arms in a niche to suggest leaning on a wall, a threshold between us and somewhere beyond. Features, clothing, and gesture identify Dr. Wood's special qualities. Adding a funerary layer, the gesture of the “melancholic” thinker appears frequently in Greco-Roman funerary sculpture to suggest consciousness of death. Many would have understood the art-historical reference.The deep-set closed eyes both suggest his blindness and interiority. Grafly’s modeling in high relief is crisp yet subtle, its lines and volumes seamlessly catching light to create a range of shadows. I’d love to know who carved the marble itself—he or she was discriminating and adept, a credit to the sculptor and subject.

—Suzanne Glover Lindsay, St. Stephen’s historian and curator