|Birth: ||May 24, 1939|
|Death: ||Jan. 6, 1986|
Father: Justin Pierson Colyar Sr.
Mother: Delphia Wright Colyar
Spouse: Monique Callewaert Colyar
AN ORGANIST WITH EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY
Dr. Justin Pierson Colyar served 22 years as an Orange Coast College music professor until his untimely death in 1986. He was just 46.
Born in Ogden, Utah, in May of 1939, Jay – as he was known to his many friends – was the son of Justin P. Colyar and Delphia [Wright] Dennis. A talented young musician, he particularly enjoyed organ performance. Colyar began piano and organ studies at an early age.
Jay graduated from Orem High School in 1957, and served a two-year LDS mission to France and Belgium. It was there that he met his wife to be, Monique Callewaert, of Brussels. Jay and Monique later married and had four children.
Colyar received his B.A. degree in music performance at Brigham Young University in Provo in 1963. During his senior year, he studied at the Royal Flemish Conservatory in Antwerp, working under Flor Peeters, a brilliant Flemish organist, composer and teacher. Peeters was 60 years of age at the time, and at the height of his artistic and creative powers.
In 1964, Jay picked up a master of music degree in music performance from the University of Utah, where he studied under Alexander Schreiner. A native of Nuremberg, Germany, Schreiner served as organist for the Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle for more than 50 years.
"Jay studied with some very good – remarkable, in fact – people," says Phil Riddick, a veteran church organist himself who joined OCC's staff in 1975. Riddick works in the college's Tech Support Services Department. He was a friend and colleague of Colyar's for many years, and studied under him.
"Jay had a number of favorite composers that he enjoyed playing over the years," Riddick recalls. "He particularly loved his old master, Flor Peeters. Ironically, Peeters died the same year that Jay did, and virtually no one plays his music anymore. That's a shame! Had Jay not died so young, and were he alive today, I think he would have kept Peeters' work relevant for a new generation."
Dr. Colyar enjoyed playing the works of J.S. Bach, the composer who, for the last three centuries, has served as the keystone for organ music. He also liked Felix Mendelssohn and French composer Cesar Auguste Franck. Jay savored music by 20th century French composers, Charles Tournemire and Maurice Durufle, and also delighted in the work of German composer, Paul Hindemith.
Jay joined OCC's faculty in 1964 following his University of Utah graduation. It was his first real job, though he'd worked for a short time as a clerk for the Union Pacific Railroad. He was hired at Orange Coast College to teach organ, piano, music theory, music appreciation, and choir.
In 1972, he picked up his doctor of musical arts degree at the University of Southern California. His doctorate was in organ performance, with minor study in music history, church music and higher education. He performed four graduate recitals under Dr. Irene Robertson and Ladd Thomas of the USC organ faculty.
"Robertson and Thomas were remarkable teachers," Riddick says.
Jay became the second organ instructor to be hired at Orange Coast College. He replaced Lloyd Holzgraf, who'd joined OCC's faculty in the mid-1950s. Holzgraf left the college in 1964 to serve as head organist for the Los Angeles Congregational Church, where he remained for 37 years.
"Lloyd was on campus when the college opened Robert B. Moore Theatre in 1955," Riddick says. "He installed an old Baldwin Organ in the theatre. The organ was used for recitals and concerts."
Colyar was hired by Dr. Jim Fitzgerald, OCC's vice president of instruction. Coincidentally, Fitzgerald had earlier served as dean of the Fine and Applied Arts Division at Orange Coast College. A pianist, organist and choir director himself, Fitzgerald, like Colyar, was a USC music alumnus. Fitzgerald was highly impressed with the 25-year-old Utah musician. At the time, Jay was employed as organist for the Laguna Beach Congregational Church. He'd been there for a very brief time.
After joining OCC's faculty in 1964, Colyar served as organist and choir director for the Costa Mesa Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He was also organist for the Costa Mesa First Methodist Church for three years. Later, he served as organist and choirmaster for the First Presbyterian Church in Garden Grove. He was also director of music at St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, the Huntington Beach Ward of the LDS, and at Grace Methodist Church in Long Beach.
Jay belonged to the Orange County Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and served as dean (president) of the organization from 1967-70.
In addition to his organ-teaching duties, Justin directed OCC's Coast Master Chorus, and conducted many concerts in the Robert B. Moore Theatre.
"Jay was a prim and proper guy, and a wonderful organist and harpsichordist," says Alan Remington, an OCC associate professor of music from 1977 through 2003, and director of Orange Coast College's Symphony for 18 seasons.
"I was on the Coast faculty for only nine years before he died, so I didn't get to know him well. I remember that we'd share an occasional laugh, however. I once introduced him at a social function, and said that he'd been ‘a marvelous organist until his monkey died.' He got a huge kick out of that joke. He later confessed to me that he borrowed it and used it when introducing himself to others."
Jay's facility for expressing humor was muted by a native shyness. He needed all the assistance he could muster in order to be funny…and the affable Remington was more than willing to assist.
"I first met Jay in 1966, through the American Guild of Organists," Riddick says. "He was extremely friendly, and an enthusiastic musician. We hit it off as friends from the start. I helped him to install a couple of pipe organs early on. We ended up being close friends for 20 years. He was a wonderful musician and an excellent teacher. He derived tremendous satisfaction from his students."
Colyar's students loved him, and he developed a loyal following.
"Jay thoroughly enjoyed being on Orange Coast College's campus," Riddick says. "Some professors do better at the four-year level, but Jay didn't feel that way. He enjoyed working with freshman and sophomore music students. And they were extremely responsive to his sincere efforts. He thrived in the Coast environment. He was strongly supported by the college's administration, and had lots of friends here."
Colyar inaugurated a student club on campus, called The Organizers. It consisted of 20 to 30 current and past OCC organ students.
"They were mostly ladies," Riddick recalls. "I was one of a very small number of males in the group. The majority of the ladies were working as organists at churches throughout the area. Jay scheduled several campus recitals each year, and members of The Organizers would always be featured. We also had several annual social events, and we awarded student scholarships.
"Jay had a loyal following. The older ‘Organ Ladies,' as we called them, absolutely loved him."
Riddick says Colyar seemed frustrated over the fact that he was unable to devote the requisite time for forging a successful career as a nationally recognized recitalist.
"He definitely had the talent to become nationally renowned," Riddick says. "He could have traveled the circuit. But, if you want to become successful in this field, you can't allow yourself to be distracted by anyone or anything. You must practice, practice, practice. Jay was unable to put in the amount of practice time necessary for national or international prominence. He had a growing young family and all the attendant responsibilities. He couldn't channel the energy necessary to build a national profile. I think, to a certain extent, he regretted that very much."
In the spring of 1973, Jay went with his family on a sabbatical leave to Europe. The Colyars established their headquarters in Brussels. Jay was in his element. He visited music conservatories throughout Europe to observe teaching techniques, to look at facilities and to study curricula. He attended the Benjamin Britten Festival in England and the Wagner Opera Festival in Bayreuth, Germany. He also presented recitals during his European adventure.
While on the Continent, he pursued a long-held passion. He visited organ academies and studied historical and modern European pipe organs.
During the summer of 1980, Jay and his youngest son, Bruce, who was nine at the time, accompanied Phil Riddick, his wife and their 12-year-old son, Don, on a motor-home excursion to New York and Washington, D.C. They camped in RV parks along the route.
"I got to know Jay well during that trip," Riddick said. "We attended a national organists' convention in D.C. It was a wonderful experience."
During his years at Coast, Jay performed dozens and dozens of recitals – as an organist, pianist and harpsichordist – on campus and throughout the community. He also carried out organ installations all over the Southland.
"During a summer in the late 1970s or early ‘80s, I remember Jay playing several recitals at the Arboretum at Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove," Phil says. "I attended those recitals, and never heard Jay play better in all the years that I knew him. He was magnificent. Looking back on it now, he was – at that moment – at the pinnacle of his performing career."
OCC's longtime president, Dr. Robert B. Moore, greatly admired and respected Colyar. Moore had earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Redlands, was a music lover, and, while a student, was exposed to the majestic sounds of the beautiful pipe organ on the Redlands campus.
"It's the best symphonic organ in the nation, and was installed on the Redlands campus in 1928," Riddick says. "It's also located in one of the best sounding buildings in the country. As a result of that exposure, Dr. Bob fell in love with organ music. He was always supportive of Jay's program at Coast.
"For many years, Jay would take his OCC students to First Methodist Church on 19th St. in Costa Mesa, and there they'd play the pipe organ. Dr. Bob frequently accompanied them to listen to their performances. He was proud of Jay and his program."
Less than four months before his death, in 1986, Justin offered an afternoon faculty recital in Music 101. He performed a short program of piano favorites by Chopin, Beethoven, Debussy and Dohnanyi. He also offered a jazz improvisation on "September Song," the 1938 composition by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weil.
Jay died quite unexpectedly of a heart attack on Jan. 6. It came as a shock to the college's faculty and staff. He passed away in his sleep…just 46 years of age.
"We were stunned," Riddick says. "As I think about it, I believe that Jay had a premonition that his life would not be a long one. He once told me that his father and grandfather had both died at a young age. They suffered from inherited heart defects, and that's what took Jay. I think, deep down, he felt he would die young."
A huge service was held in Jay's honor a week following his death at Garden Grove Methodist Church. By that time, Colyar had converted to Protestantism, having become a Presbyterian. OCC president, Dr. Robert B. Moore, was in attendance at the memorial.
"The church seated 1,100, and was completely packed for Jay's service," Riddick says. "Garden Grove Methodist was selected because, in 1986, it had the best-sounding organ in Orange County. Jay's service featured special music, singing and testimonies. It was a wonderful celebration of his life."
Jay's aspiration had long been to install a pipe organ on OCC's campus, in Robert B. Moore Theatre.
"That dream went unrealized," Riddick says. "Frankly, it was an unrealistic one. In the 1980s, from an acoustics standpoint, the Moore Theatre was not a good facility for a pipe organ. The sound was muffled…extremely flat. Today, however – since the building was remodeled in 1993 – it's a completely different situation. A pipe organ would probably sound very good in there today.
"Another problem is that the theater is a multipurpose facility that's in use much of the time…with classes, concerts and rehearsals. The pipe organ wouldn't be available for practice enough hours during the day to make it worthwhile."
Though he never acquired a large pipe organ for Coast, Colyar did purchase an Allen Organ for the college in 1976.
"He would roll that organ into the theater for concerts," Riddick says. "He played many performances in the facility."
Three years after Jay's death, the college stopped offering organ classes.
"We closed down our classes and auctioned off OCC's two organs – a small pipe organ in a practice room and the Allen Organ," Riddick says, sadly.
What would have happened had Colyar lived an additional 20 years?
"It's pure speculation, of course, but I'm certain we would never have closed down our organ program, and Jay, no doubt, would have continued to offer his valuable contributions to the world of organ music," Riddick says. "Many of his students went on to achieve considerable success in the profession, and are influential today in the music industry. His own personal and professional stature would have certainly grown over the years, and he would have moved into the most productive and influential years of his life."
The loss of Jay Colyar was a significant one for Orange Coast College, its Music Department and its students. We've probably never fully recovered. But, instead of cursing the fates for "what might have been" on campus for the past two decades, we should be grateful for the 22 wonderfully productive years that he spent with us.
A uniquely talented artist, Dr. Justin P. Colyar was a great teacher. And, Orange Coast College is all the better today for the fact that he was here – from 1964-86 – even though we no longer teach his academic specialty.
He was a true gentleman and a Coast Classic!
- Source: Jim Carnett | An Organist With Extraordinary Ability | Orange Slices | Orange Coast College | 27 Oct 2005.
East Lawn Memorial Hills Cemetery
Created by: AnnieDuckettHundley
Record added: Aug 27, 2013
Find A Grave Memorial# 116117385