Organist returns to Washington to fulfill a concert promise

Published 12:27 pm Friday, May 3, 2019


David Michael Kenney Sr. was instrumental in the creation of the Goulding and Wood Opus 42. As organist and choir director of First Presbyterian Church from 1995 to 2003, he had both hands in for the fundraising and the design, working with architects and engineers to build a balanced and sophisticated pipe organ to accompany the congregation’s singing.

He never got a chance to play it — until now.

Kenney returns to Washington this Sunday to perform “How Sweet It Is,” a solo concert scheduled for 2:30 p.m. at the church on the corner of West Second and Gladden streets. Anchored by two arrangements of “Amazing Grace,” the recital features traditional hymns arrangements, old spirituals, classical and baroque music, with some ragtime and a contemporary piece thrown in for good measure. The latter is a pieced Kenney composed, inspired by watching dolphins’ antics alongside a whale-watching tour boat.

“It’s a little bit of everything. There’s 15 pieces, about one and a half hours of music,” Kenney said. “I think I’ve covered the gamut, or I’ve tried to.”

Kenney, who now lives in Hampton, New Hampshire, moved on from First Presbyterian before the organ was completed in 2004.

“I started the process of the new organ, but never played it,” Kenney said. “Now I’m finally seeing it.”

His return is a promise elicited by friend and choir member Dhu Johnston before she died.

“She called and said she wanted me to come back and do a recital,” Kenney said. “She knew she wouldn’t be here to see it, but Dhu asked me to play, and I promised I would do it.”

A speech pathologist by trade, it was a job at East Carolina University that originally brought him to eastern North Carolina. Organ playing was, and remains, a passion and when First Presbyterian needed a stand-in organist, Kenney stepped in, and stayed.

“I started with the piano when I was 10, and I was attending the local Methodist church is Strasburg, Virginia, where I grew up, and I remember seeing the pipes on the wall and said, ‘Oh, don’t those look interesting.’ … I heard the first sound and I was hooked,” Kenney laughed. “I still play avocationally. It’s never been full time for me, but I really enjoy it, and I have fun doing it.”

The public is invited to attend “How Sweet It Is.” Donations will be donated to Ruth’s House, Washington domestic violence shelter.