GUILFORD, Vt., Sept. 6, 2014 – Friends of Music at Guilford founder A. Graham Down died August 30, 2014 at his home in Washington, D.C. He had just celebrated his 85th birthday.
Down was a transplanted Englishman—Kings College, Cambridge, class of 1952. He installed a baroque-style tracker organ in a Guilford barn to use as a practice instrument while he vacationed here, and gave its inaugural recital on Labor Day Weekend in 1966.
He was then teaching at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, and visits from his students and colleagues inspired a number of them to move to Packer Corners Road in Guilford, along with their friends and families. As Friends of Music’s Zeke Hecker has said, “He founded more than a concert series; he founded a community.”
Graham Down sold his summer place in Guilford in the early 1970s. A group of friends formed a nonprofit corporation to purchase the organ and keep it here, which is how Friends of Music officially began. Down considered the instrument his legacy to the town of Guilford.
His subsequent career in academia included positions as Acting Director of the College Board's Advanced Placement Program, Executive Director and President of the Council for Basic Education, and Director of the Davies-Jackson Scholarship Program of The Council of Independent Colleges, among many others. He continued to perform regularly as organist and pianist in church and at musicales in his home.
For decades, Graham Down followed the progress of Friends of Music from afar, having relocated to Washington, D.C. Finally, in 2001, he returned to perform on the organ for the first time in 32 years. He journeyed north to perform on this occasion a number of times after, with his last appearance on the Memorial Day Weekend program in 2013.
During these years, he worked on several occasions with organ technician Lawrence Nevin on re-voicing several of the stops, resulting in an overall tonal coherence which finally realized the quality he had envisioned for the instrument when he brought the organ to Guilford.
Graham Down phoned Zeke Hecker just days before this year’s festival, giving his usual encouragement for a good weekend. He noted that 2015 would mark the 50th anniversary of that first recital, and offered to return for the occasion to perform on the organ.
On the night Down died, a capacity audience was listening to William McKim play the Guilford Tracker Organ in a program including preludes and fugues of Bach and Buxtehude, composers Graham Down often favored on his organ concert programs.