David F. Hewlett, Church Organist, Set High Standard for Island Choral Music
David F. Hewlett, a distinguished organist and choral conductor who created the Island's Abendmusik Choir and served as minister of music at the Federated Church in Edgartown for 14 years, died on Dec. 22 after a long illness. He was for many years a resident of Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, and most recently lived in a nursing home on Cape Cod.
The son of the late Rev. George and Catherine Warren Hewlett, Mr. Hewlett was born in Skaneateles, N.Y., and attended school in New Jersey. He served in the Army during World War II and, after being discharged, became the organist at the American Cathedral in Paris. Returning to New York, he attended the Westminster Choir School and was graduated from the Juilliard School of Music. He also studied at the Ecoles d'Art Americaines, Fontainebleau.
During his 19 years in New York city, Mr. Hewlett served in three churches and taught at the Browning School. He was also the summer organist at Trinity Episcopal Church in Oak Bluffs. During this period, he brought his choir from New York to sing a concert every summer. He then became organist and choirmaster at St. Stephen's Church on the campus of Brown University in Providence, R.I.
Over the years, teaching was always an important part of Mr. Hewlett's work. He was a teacher of organ performance and theory at the Conservatory of Music and Art in Winchester, N.H., from 1969 to 1979, and also taught at the New England Conservatory of Music from 1968 to 1973. He was a member of the American Guild of Organists, serving on its national council.
Returning to the Vineyard, he became organist and choirmaster at the Federated Church in Edgartown in 1983, serving until his retirement in 1996. During this chapter of his career, Mr. Hewlett oversaw the restoration of the church's historic 1895 Hook and Hastings organ, an instrument with 804 pipes arranged in 15 ranks and 11 registers. It is a modest instrument as church organs go, beautifully fitted to its space and to its appointed work - playing music alone, leading the congregation in hymns and accompanying a choir. It was Mr. Hewlett's pride and joy, and over the years, he gave more than 400 free recitals on the organ.
Mr. Hewlett also organized the Abendmusik Choir, which comprised the finest singers from church choirs across the Island, and made it into the community's premier musical organization. With his friend Marshall Bush at the organ, Mr. Hewlett led the choir in a series of concerts that nourished Vineyard music lovers for years, set a new standard for choral music on the Vineyard and ultimately formed the nucleus of the Island Community Chorus.
For his leadership and musicianship at the Federated Church, a special concert was presented this March with a guest performance by Brian Jones, music director at Trinity Church on Copley Square in Boston. That concert celebrated Mr. Hewlett's love of the compositions of Bach, and concluded with the dedication of a plaque in the stairway to the choir loft.
Jim Norton of Vineyard Haven, a member of the Abendmusik Choir, sang at that concert honoring Mr. Hewlett. He told the Gazette, "David really had a vision of music. The things we did in Abendmusik were incredible, when you think back on it - we did the Mozart Requiem, the Brahms Requiem, the Rutter. He raised us to a level of music that was just a treasure when he was here."
The Rev. John D. Schule said of Mr. Hewlett's work at the Federated Church: "He brought to the church and community beauty, creative thinking, individuality and imagination. He was able to uplift the heart and stimulate the mind. He selected church music literature with a view to its harmony with the liturgy of a particular service, the teaching of the church and the spiritual profit of those who sought to worship. He was able to express authentic religious feelings in a truly responsive mood. A gifted artist was David Hewlett."
In a 1991 interview with Martha's Vineyard Magazine, Mr. Hewlett said, "The church service is either made or broken by the organist." Over his long musical career, he dedicated his considerable skills to making sure that his work led to the former outcome.
A requiem mass will be said at the Church of the Resurrection in New York city, which he served as organist and choirmaster for many years.