With a Singing Heart: The Community Comes Together With Voices Uplifted to Honor the Musical Legacy of J. Reilly Lewis

Balm in Gilead:  The unexpected death of Washington musical icon J. Reilly Lewis-Founder of the Washington Bach Consort, Conductor-Cathedral Choral Society and Organist/Choirmaster at Clarendon United Methodist Church brought over 600 voices to the nave of Washington National Cathedral for an evening of hymns, anthems and solo works for voice and organ.


by Patrick D. McCoy



A beautiful aggregation of voices singing to the Glory of God in honor of the life of J. Reilly Lewis.  His funeral is slated for Thursday, June 16, 10:30 a.m. at Washington National Cathedral. (Photo:  Cathedral Choral Society)

During some of the most difficult times in our lives, the power of music seems to lift us out of our sorrow to a place of assurance and comfort.  Last Tuesday at Clarendon United Methodist Church during his remarks at the Washington Summer Sings, Reilly encouraged everyone to come to the Cathedral Sings (at Washington National Cathedral) as he was slated to conduct an all Schubert sing of the composer’s “Mass in G” and “Great is Jehovah the Lord.”  His unexpected death just days later rocked the Washington musical community.  Yet, all those who knew him pushed through their grief and honored perhaps one of his last musical requests.

This went beyond just being a concert or a program.  As you entered the nave of the cathedral, there were scores of people sharing embraces and tears.  There was a long line of admirers waiting to sign a beautiful remembrance book honoring Reilly’s life.  Familiar faces from the Cathedral Choral Society, Washington Bach Consort and the musical community were all tear stained, yet blessed by the life of J. Reilly Lewis. His wife Beth Lewis was there, being greeted by an outpouring of love and support.  The opening hymn “When is Our Music God is Glorified” was the perfect picture of Lewis’ calling on this earth.  The voices lifted towards heaven as his dear friend and colleague Todd Fickley accompanied at the organ as Gisele Becker conducted and provided gentle narration and cues throughout.

There were many touching moments, too numerous to mention-but all perhaps will agree that the most moving moment was when the cathedral rose to sing the “Dona Nobis Pacem” from the Bach “Mass in B Minor.”  At the very end,  the entire aggregation of voices raised their scores heavenward, just as Reilly would do at the end of every concert.  There was a moment of silence that motioned to all there that a great musical lamp had been extinguished from our midst.

The funeral of John Reilly Lewis (1944-2016) will take place at Washington National Cathedral on Thursday, June 16, 2016 at 10:30 a.m., preceded by an organ prelude at 9:45 a.m.  The Washington Bach Consort and The Cathedral Choral Society will both be participating in the service.

For those who are unable to attend the service will be live streamed.   You may watch the prelude and service here.

There will be a reception immediately following the service until 2:30 p.m. at the Chevy Chase Country Club – 6100 Connecticut Ave, Chevy Chase, MD 20815 and all are welcome.




2 Responses to “With a Singing Heart: The Community Comes Together With Voices Uplifted to Honor the Musical Legacy of J. Reilly Lewis”

  1. Laurene Church Says:

    Thank you, Patrick, for this beautiful tribute and for your video of the closing piece “Dona Nobis Pacem” at the Sunday hymn sing. I have sung with Reilly in CCS for 32 years, and he was THE REASON I chose that group. He was such a cheerful presence (how rare for a brilliant Maestro, no?)


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