Melvin Dickinson, who founded the Louisville Bach Society with his wife Margaret, died of a heart attack Friday morning in his Louisville home.
He was 77.
Founded in 1964, the Louisville Bach Society performed choral masterpieces from all musical periods, but specialized in a repertoire of J.S. Bach’s masses, passions, oratorios and cantatas. The organization closed in 2011, following the Dickinsons‘ retirements.
Melvin Dickinson studied the works of Bach on a Fulbright scholarship to Germany, where he met Margaret, herself on a similar program of study. They returned to Kentucky and founded a Bach cantata society at a Frankfort church in 1960.
In Louisville, Dickinson led the organ department at the University of Louisville and, with the Bach Society, conducted more than 500 artists over hundreds of concerts for the community choral and orchestral ensemble. He received the 2001 Kentucky Governor’s Award in the Arts individual artist award for lifetime achievement.
“Melvin was an educator at heart who laid considerable groundwork for Louisville and its cultural tapestry,” says John Austin Clark, co-artistic director of Louisville’s Bourbon Baroque ensemble. “He was a true mentor who supported my growth as a young professional musician and accepted me from student to colleague. I will miss his character, thoughtfulness and candor. May he rest in peace.”
Kent Hatteberg, director of Choral Activities at the University of Louisville, says Dickinsons’ passing will leave a major void in the Louisville arts scene.
“His vision in founding the Bach Society and those 47 years of performances were a wonderful gift to the community,” says Hatteberg. “I knew him first as a faculty colleague at the University of Louisville School of Music, where he taught organ, and I had the pleasure of knowing some of his fine organ students. I remember how excitedly he spoke when talking about past or upcoming trips to Germany, where he had studied as a Fulbright Scholar.”
“But what I remember most is thinking of Melvin as a walking encyclopedia when it came to the music of Bach,” adds Hatteberg. “His knowledge of Bach’s works was always at his fingertips – he never needed to look up anything.”
A memorial service is planned for noon on Feb. 8 at Calvary Episcopal Church, where Dickinson served as musician emeritus along with his wife.