Roy Perry was organist-choirmaster for 40 years at First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore, Texas, which, thanks to Mr. Perry and the Lou Della Crim family, houses one of the great organs of America - the 1949 Aeolian-Skinner, Op. 1173 (since revised - information on this great organ, and those at St. Luke's, Kilgore and First Baptist, Longview follow "Poor Bob's Boy"). Not only was Mr. Perry a brilliant organ builder and musician, he was also a great personality, human being and wit, and was widely sought after to present lectures and papers at church conferences and music clubs throughout the country. Thanks to the generosity of the present organist-choirmaster at First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore, Texas, Jimmy Culp, the Vermont Organ Academy Archives will be printing some of Mr. Perry's lectures and papers here for the first time. His short autobiographical sketch, "Poor Bob's Boy" follows:
Poor Bob's Boy
Subject was born on a Southwest Louisiana rice farm to a mother who had been widowed thirty days before his birth. This circumstance caused him to be known as "Poor Bob's Boy" to all the uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandmothers among whom he was passed around, from household to household, during his childhood.
Subject had an early, intense interest in music, but there was no money for music lessons, and no sort of musical instrument at hand. Opportunity came in the unwitting person of a Mrs. Ora M. Reams, who came to the public schools once a week to teach sight singing. Mrs. Reams would fish a pitch-pipe out of her bag, blow a note on it, and say "All right, children, this is Doh. Sing Doh - Mi - Sol - Mi - Do." Subject didn't know it at the time, but this procedure, which is called solfeggio, is the basis of all real musicianship. Fortunately so, for it was all the early training subject had. He discovered that by wolfing his noonday sandwich, he could have almost an hour at the old piano in the school auditorium. Doh - mi - sol - mi he played at first, and then went on to read whatever printed music he could pick up. It was a strange repertoire.
At the age of thirteen, subject struck out to earn his own living. Money was at last available for piano lessons, and to Mrs. Reams he went. When subject graduated from high school (age 15) his kindly benefactress landed him two jobs playing the organ; one in a Jewish Temple, the other in a movie theater. Subject thought he was about ten feet high.
This prosperity was short-lived. The first chill wind of the great depression knocked Subject out his movie theater job, and he returned to the church, where he belonged. He, as were many other Americans, was facing starvation in the Spring of 1932, when on the insistence of Knox Lamb (who is presently in charge of the Kilgore College Auditorium stage) Subject was brought to Kilgore to be organist of First Presbyterian Church. This move was engineered by Liggett Crim.
Subject hankered to further his musical education, and in the mid-thirties, Liggett and Tincy Crim sent him twice to New York for summer study. On one of these occasions, subject met David McK. Williams, the great organist of St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue. Dr. Williams said to him (subject), "Go back to your own people, and make your place in the sun, and someday I will come to your church to hear you play the organ." (This came true. Thirty years later, David McK. Williams came and spent a week in Kilgore.)
In 1938, Dr. Wilfred C. Bain, who at that time headed the music school at North Texas State College, heard Subject play, and urged him to work toward a degree in music. To school went subject. Subject had learned early to use his time well, so that in nine months at Kilgore College, he was able to rack up 69 semester hours of credit, with 3 B's spoiling a straight-A record; this while putting in a 40 hour week at the Church.
At NTSC subject completed the requirements for a Bachelor's degree in organ in four summer sessions, 67 college hours, with again three B's to spoil his record. (Subject did not get degree until 1945, due to an interruption entailing military service in the 90th Infantry Division).
By 1948, the inflation which began with the Second World War was well on its way. Subject found himself pinched between a low salary and high living costs, and was casting about for some way to make a living outside music. At this time, subject met G. Donald Harrison, the 20th century's greatest organ builder and President of the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Co. of Boston. Mr. Harrison offered subject a job as his Texas Representative, which subject took with the understanding he could keep his church job as well. During 20 years association with the organ company, Subject sold, designed, and tone-finished three million dollars worth of organs for his company. This happy state of affairs established subject as a nationally important figure in the field of organ building, and thus gave him two strings to his bow.
Subject has Taught Church Music at his alma mater, NTSU, and at Church Music Schools sponsored by the Episcopal Church at Evergreen, Colorado, and at Vicksburg, Miss. Fills many speaking engagements with conventions of American Guild of Organists, etc. Is at the moment preparing a Church Music Workshop for the Seminary students at Austin Presbyterian Seminary. (The students will be bussed to Kilgore.)
Of his life and times, Subject has this to say:
At every crisis, every turning point in my life someone has been there to point the way, and to lend a helping hand. I cannot believe this has been accidental. God's greatest musician wrote a song about it:
"The Lord is my shepherd………."