Jean Stanbridge White: Clocking 65 Years of Service
Sometimes I feel as if I have been playing the piano or organ for church all my life.
I began playing the piano "by ear" at a very early age and soon became the pianist for the Sunday school at Epworth Methodist Episcopal Church, now the Bethany United Methodist Church, long before I learned to read music or had lessons. (My dad was the Sunday School superintendent and led the worship services for which I played.) I began taking piano lessons at the Community Music School when I was 8, took theory and harmony and studied accompanying with the head of the school, Gertrude Field.
When I was little, our church did not have a pipe organ, only a reed pump organ. Amazingly, though it was the Depression, the church people were able to raise funds to purchase a pipe organ and my sister, Edna, became the first organist. When she married in 1932 and moved to Sacramento, she was followed by several organists, some not very good.
Finally, when I was in high school and was a fairly decent pianist, the church asked me to play. Of course, I had never had organ lessons but my fingers knew what to do on the keyboards. Unfortunately, my feet didn't know what to do on the foot pedals so I became a one-footed organist and picked up a disdain for the organ.
In August, 1941, I enrolled at San Francisco State College with music and education majors and finally began taking organ lessons. I was now directing the choir at Epworth, not very well, but it was good experience. At the college, I sang in the acappela choir and did most of the accompanying.
After graduation, I moved to Carmel, where I taught elementary school music and played in their brand new symphony orchestra. Most important, I became engaged to my future husband, Walter White.
We married Aug. 1, 1947, after which I became a teacher at Friek Junior High School in Oakland until just before the birth of our first child, Linda. This meant we needed a larger home, so in May, 1950 we moved from Noe Valley to the Sunset District, where we became members of St. Francis Methodist Church and I became the piano player.
Thanks to the efforts of the pastor, Rev. J. Orville Evans, the church purchased a Baldwin electronic organ, which I played for the first time on Christmas Sunday, 1950, and continued to play until about 1971, when we began worshipping at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church.
St. Paul's had just installed a pipe organ, built by Ron Downer, a member of the congregation. I became organist and choir director and have continued to play at St. Paul's until recently.
It has been a great joy and honor to have been St. Paul's organist all these years.
St. Paul's is fortunate to have a pipe organ and has been wise in providing funds for its regular maintenance. I thank all of you for your love and support and look forward to continuing in worship with you - this time sitting in the pews instead of on the organ bench.
Jean White officially retired on July 30 after 35 years as organist at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church and more than 65 years of professional organ playing. She was one of the musical participants at the church's centennial celebration, which was held Sept. 10.