Director's Blog

Remembering Bill Scheide '36

I first met William H. Scheide ‘36 after my first Nollner Memorial concert at Princeton. We had just finished a memorable Good Friday performance of Bach’s Johannes Passion, and Bill, then a sprightly 97-year-old, sat alert and attentive through the whole performance, ‘following the score in his mind’ as his wife Judy explained. I had heard that Bill can be an honest critic at times (how the musical world needs more of those now) so I was a little nervous to greet him, but the warmth of his handshake dispelled all concerns. An invitation to visit the Scheide Collection followed, and for three precious years we in the Glee Club grew used to seeing Bill’s face at our performances: taking his accustomed spot in the center of our annual Spem in Alium performance (he never missed one!); attending dress rehearsals and performances of our annual Nollner Concerts; and in the year 13-14 which we devoted almost entirely to the music of Bach, helping us to realize the dream of presenting a concert of Bach’s music in his own church – the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.

It is impossible to imagine a musical life without Bach. But for a singer at least, there would be far fewer performable works of Bach’s choral music available to us were it not for Bill’s scholarship in the unpublished Cantata repertory in the 1940s and onwards, his careful and generous stewardship of the manuscript sources he was lucky enough to own, and his extraordinary support of musical life and resources at Princeton, in Leipzig and elsewhere. How meaningful for us that we were blessed, in January of this year, with the chance to sing one of Bill’s most precious Bach manuscripts – the original ‘outdoor’ version of the exquisite little motet O Jesu Christ mein’s lebens licht – at Bill’s 100th birthday lunch at Princeton. May this peerless music continue to flourish as Bill would wish it to.

Thousands of words will be written in the next few days, and not just by those who love music, or who love Princeton. For though Bill most certainly cherished this town, his horizons were extraordinarily broad throughout his career; and his zeal for scholarship and dissemination of the music of Bach was matched by a 60-year history of quiet but constant support for the American Civil Rights movement. Like all true philanthropists, Bill was not interested in seeing his name in lights – he wished only to make a difference, and as many buildings and institutions as there are in Princeton which bear his name, there are countless more, all around the world, where his discreet generosity has, at his request, remained unrecognized. As our friend Teri Towe ’70 recently said:

“His greatest achievement… is the millions upon millions of lives that have benefited from his compassion, his scholarship, his knowledge, his love of fellow man, and he does not care that hardly any of these people will ever read or hear the name William H. Scheide.”

Thank you, Bill, for your life of service to Princeton, to music, and to humanity.