Contrappunto in A minor
in memory of Frank K. Owen, organist and choirmaster of St. Paul's
Cathedral, Los Angeles
Frank Owen was organist and choirmaster of St. Paul's Cathedral in downtown
Los Angeles, a magnificent building long since demolished by the Episcopal
diocese under the short-sighted leadership of Bishop Robert Rusack to make
way for a high-rise bank building of far lesser significance to the cultural
heritage of the City of Los Angeles. The three sons in our family were
placed under Frank Owen's musical stewardship, and we all sung together in
his well-reputed men's and boys' choir for many years, Greg and I beginning
as trebles, then moving on to countertenor and then to our roles as adult
singers; our elder brother Gordon, served in the men's choir through the
summer months as well, while the boys were given their school vacation.
This period was the beginning of an informal training in music, which I
later pursued in a more structured manner, with both private lessons and
university work at Los Angeles City College, Immaculate Heart College and
the University of California at Los Angeles. This piece of strict
counterpoint was composed to honor his memory.
The following short biography is written by his premiere organ student, Dr.
William P. Crosbie, who served for many years as the organist and
choirmaster for St. James Cathedral in Chicago:
Frank K. Owen was born June 6, 1902, in Manchester, England, and died
December 20, 1979, in Palm Desert, California. He began his musical
education at the age of four under the tutelage of his father who was
Principal of the Longsight Academy of Music. At the age of eight, he
became a chorister and later served as organist to churches of various
denominations in England. In 1924 he came to the United States in to
work as a theater organist for silent films, after the model of his
teacher, Norman Cocker, Organist-Choirmaster of Manchester Cathedral.
Owen was appointed Organist-Choirmaster of Christ Church, St. Paul, in
1927, and accepted the position of Organist-Choirmaster of St. Paul’s
Church, Minneapolis in 1936. In 1939, he assumed supervision of music at
the Breck School for Boys in addition to his work at St. Paul’s. From
1944 to 1953, Owen was Organist-Choirmaster of St. Luke’s Church,
Kalamazoo, Michigan, and became Organist-Choirmaster of St. Paul’s
Cathedral, Los Angeles in 1953, a position he held until his retirement
in 1974. He founded and served as Headmaster to the Cathedral Choir
School of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1955. In 1977, after retiring from St.
Paul’s, he was appointed Organist-Choirmaster of St. Margaret’s Church,
in Palm Desert, a position he held until his death. He received the
degree Bachelor of Music From MacPhail College of Music and was a Fellow
of the Incorporated Guild of Church Musicians. In addition to his
composition, he authored “A Choirboy’s Handbook.” Frank Owen was a
skilled carpenter and built six harpsichords in various styles and sizes
– two of which are still in use.
The theme for this work is reminiscent of the themes of the Baroque era, for
we performed much Baroque music in the vast repertoire of choral music that
Frank Owen planned for us. In addition to the normal dominant relationship,
there is within the theme itself the melodic minor's sub-mediant which
features in the coda to the work as a cadential passage.
The opening gesture introduces the theme, already embedded into a
After a series of tonal domain visits and returns of the theme of this
"contrappunctus," the coda lingers on the sub-mediant prior to cadencing the
the predictable dominant and ending gesture.
This then is dedicated to the memory of Frank Owen, organist and "our"
choirmaster, with the grateful thanks for many years of music making, for
his fine example, diligent and faithful work and his exquisite taste.
[ Total duration 4'46" - MP3 file size -
The score is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial
performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement
with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this organ score.
Contrappunto in A minor
addition to this organ work in his memory, those of us who knew him also
retained copies of his works, many of which were never published except by
mimeographed copy for use with Owen's choirs. His best student, William
Crosbie, and my brother, Gordon Bachlund, preserved copies of his work and these
are available as new engravings for download and use by choirs.
Please click here for Frank Owen's collected choral works.