Dr. Roy Guenther, RELC Organist and Choirmaster

He escaped an F-5 tornado by a distance of 12 miles. A fifth grade boy’s knock on the door helped set the course of his career. He was known as Methuselah. He is fluent in Russian and an aficionado of spy novels. There’s a lot to know about our beloved organist and choirmaster, Roy Guenther.

First, the tornado. Roy grew up on the plains, the child of a Lutheran pastor who encouraged him to always achieve one more thing, and a mother who encouraged him, period. The family moved often, and while living near Blackwell, OK, an F-5 tornado obliterated the town. That’s a memory Roy will never forget.

Second, the neighbor boy. Not long after that, the family moved again, and eager for a new friend, a boy named Richard knocked on the door and asked Roy to go to summer band with him. Roy wanted to play the trumpet but the director urged him to play the trombone instead, gave him free lessons, and set him on his course as a trombonist. Years later, facing the draft, Roy secured a spot as a trombonist in the U.S. Marine Band, where he played for four years. He continued playing trombone all around the Washington area after leaving the band.

Next, Methuselah. Roy had always been around pianos and organs and was a church organist in Newkirk, OK at age 12. While doing graduate work in music theory at the University of Kansas, he wrote variations on a hymn for organ. A year later, he heard about an American Guild of Organists competition run by Nancy Reed, who was then the organist at RELC. A fake name was required to enter his hymn variations in the competition, and Roy chose Methuselah. He won second place. In 1968 Nancy noticed that Roy was a new member of the AGO and asked him to substitute for her at Resurrection, and when she left the position in August, 1969, Pastor Mel Lange asked Roy to come on permanently. On September 20, 1969, he played his first service at RELC.

And the fluent Russian--Roy learned it so that he could translate treatises on the composers Skryabin and Mussorgsky for his graduate degrees. And his interest in spy novels was a logical byproduct of his study of Russian.

One of Roy’s best memories is of a bridal shower thrown for him, the groom, by the choir in 1970, the year he married Eileen. Daughter Christina joined them in 1991 to complete their remarkably talented family. Roy’s plans for retirement are writing more music for publication, cooking (he still has his mom’s recipes), reading and traveling. Retirement sounds more like “full steam ahead.”

We have a lot to thank Roy for, and one is something he names as a great satisfaction for him: that he landed in a place where he could take an approach that was liturgical and traditional and yet open to inventive interpretation while remaining true to the core of Lutheran worship.

Incidentally, the prizewinning arrangements Methuselah wrote in 1966 were on the hymn, “What God Ordains is Always Good.” Amen. Thank you, Lord, for sending us Roy Guenther.