“In fifty-six, we decided to celebrate the installation of a new console for the Casavant organ at Redlands by hosting a student recital series featuring American works. What resulted was a program of seven recitals, the premiere of an opera by a member of the Redlands faculty and a symposium on new orchestral music. One of the programs consisted entirely of premieres performed from manuscript.”
The series drew national attention to American composers, to Redlands University and to Spelman. As a result, Summy-Birchard published his two-volume Organ Teaching: Methods and Materials.
“In a real sense, it was bread cast upon the waters to return tenfold.”
During the years at Redlands, Spelman became widely known for his ideas about and methods of teaching organ, resulting in a presentation before the First International Congress of Organists in London in 1957. As Spelman’s reputation spread, he concretized throughout the United States and Amsterdam, Haarlem, London, Paris and Zurich. TWO DOTS One reviewer in the Netherlands remarked that Spelman was “the very antithesis of the show and glamour which covers so much of the hollow stuff that comes to us from the States…He is a North American to his very fingertips.”
Spelman began collecting musical scores in 1930, leading to a library of music for organ and other instruments that is probably the best in the U.S. outside the Library of Congress. It is now housed at the Lincoln Center in New York.
Organ Plus, A Catalogue of Ensemble Music for Organ and Instrument (1975) was the product of forty-five years collecting and researching ensemble music. The book, now in a fourth edition, has become a classic work. It also resulted in Spelman’s hitting the lecture/concern [sic] circuit, conducting and giving lectures/recitals in cities throughout the U.S.
After one such event at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco (1977), a reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: “If and when anyone ever compiles a list of great American organists—people who made a difference, not just as virtuosos—Leslie Spelman’s name will surely be high in the ratings.”
In the mid-sixties, the Chouinard Art Institute and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music merged to become the California Institute for the Arts on a bright, new campus north of Los Angeles. Spelman served as a consultant, helping them through the process of accreditation, and in 1967-68 served as Dean of the music program two days a week while still retaining his position at Redlands.
“It’s the only time I was ever paid what I was worth.”
Although music has always been central to Spelman’s life, there are more facets to the man than those revealed in his playing, composing and teaching.
As mentioned earlier, from school days on, there has always been one “special” friend in his life, and there is today.
His “great love” came late in Spelman’s life, on an occasion as serendipitous as the earlier change of classes at Michigan. He wrote to Leonard Raver, organist for the New York Philharmonic and a teacher at Julliard, to ask for the score of an unpublished work Raver was to play in Philadelphia. He asked also if he might attend both Raver’s rehearsals and his public performance.
“Leonard send the score and said he would be happy to have me listed to both his private and public playing. I went o Philadelphia and fell in love with Leonard, without his knowing of course.
“On returning to San Diego, I wrote to him and he replied, beginning a weekly exchange of letters and cards that lasted for twelve years until Leonard’s death of AIDS complications in 1993. On several occasions, we visited one another—wonderful times when we shared our thoughts and feelings.
“When Leonard died, the person collecting his correspondence for thee inclusion in the Leonard Raver Archives at the Julliard School considered these letters to be too private and personal for public inspection, and so send them on to me. Arranged by years, Leonard had kept every card or letter I had written to him. Now they are my prized possessions and when at last I do get old, I may re-read them.
“He loved me as I loved him, although we never had sex nor did I ever see Leonard nude. It was a unique kind of devotion—spiritual rather than physical, but no less complete and fulfilling. I’ll treasure the memories of what we shared so long as I am alive.”
Spelman’s first marriage ended in the 1950s and in 1961,k he married a fellow Quaker, Alma Brown. She suffered a stroke in 1986 and died a few months later. He now shares his beautiful home with its view of the Pacific and bay with Jamie, his 22-year-old college student grandson. Each day brings its own joys as he leads what he terms “a happy life of non-monogamy.”
At the conclusion of the interview, Spelman summed up his life so far: “I’ve had two wives, two dogs, five children, fourteen grandchildren, eight great-grand children…and five lovers. Of course, some of these figures change every year.”
Jim Kitchen, 73, holds a Ph.D. in political science and was a professor of public administration and urban studies. He was also a Fulbright lecturer and taught in Pakistan. He is currently copublisher and editor in chief of Crazyquilt, a mainstream literary quarterly.