Almost every Sunday for the past five decades, Roy Guenther has played the pipe organ for the glory of God. On Sunday, it was time to celebrate the glory of Roy.

It was Roy’s 50th anniversary as the organist and director of music at Arlington’s Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church, a job he took when he was 25.

“I look back and I say, ‘I was kind of green, wasn’t I?’ ” said Roy, 75. “I guess I was ripe enough.”

Roy grew up in Kansas and Oklahoma, the son of a Lutheran pastor. In 1968, Roy came to Washington to serve as a trombonist in the U.S. Marine Band, “The President’s Own.” He’d entered an organ music contest and though his composition didn’t win, it caught the ear of Resurrection’s then-organist, who was going on maternity leave. Roy filled in and then was offered the job after she decided to step down.


The church, on Washington Boulevard, had something going for it: a Reuter pipe organ, barely a year old.

“It was one of the things that drew me to the job,” Roy said. Up in the loft — flanked by the choir, his hands on the keys, his feet on the pedals — Roy could make a big sound.

The church has been celebrating Roy’s golden anniversary all month, but Sunday was the main attraction, with much of the music in the service drawn from a book of Roy’s that was just published: “10 Hymn Accompaniments for Trumpet and Organ.”

On the trumpet was Chuck Seipp, formerly of the U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own.” The chest-tickling rumble of Roy’s pipe organ filled the sanctuary, followed by the bright, clear tone of Chuck’s trumpet piercing the air in counterpoint.


What makes Roy a good church music director?


“He understands the liturgy,” said Resurrection’s interim minister, the Rev. Michael Guy. “He understands the theology. Everything has a universal flow. . . . Music is part of the worship experience. You may not completely understand the sermon, but you understand the hymns.”

Later, Roy tells me: “This goes clear back to Martin Luther himself and Johann Sebastian Bach. They made a big deal out of music. With Bach it was cantatas. With Luther it was hymns.”

Roy is steeped in music. He chaired the music department at George Washington University for 20 years and was an associate dean there before retiring in 2013. He met his wife, Eileen, over an organ keyboard. She’s a musician, too, professor of church music at Wesley Theological Seminary in the District. For 31 years, she was the music minister at Foundry United Methodist on 16th Street NW. Roy and Eileen used to perform together: she on organ, he on trombone. The couple live in Vienna, Va.


It should come as no surprise that their daughter, Christina, 28, is in the family business. She teaches music at a middle school in Wilmington, N.C., where she directs six choirs.

Resurrection congregant John Handley is on the church’s call committee, charged with finding a new pastor. “We’ve been interviewing applicants,” he said. “We tell them that Roy has been the music director for 50 years — but that that’s a good thing.”

Roy has kept it fresh, working with the choir, picking the hymns, creating his own arrangements, matching the music with the message. Roy knows the instrument, and he knows the space his music must fill.

About 20 years ago the congregation decided it was time to get cushions for the wooden pews. Roy wondered how that would affect the sanctuary’s acoustics, which weren’t so great to begin with: dry and dead.


Roy worked with an acoustical engineer to determine how to alter the space so the sound would be better. Panels were installed on the ceiling — and the pew cushions were approved.

“Now instead of having about two-tenths of a second of reverberation time, we have 1.4 seconds of reverberation time,” Roy said. “That seems to be ideal.”

On Sunday after the service — and after the coffee-and-danish crowd had thinned in the church basement — Roy took me up to the choir loft.

A stuffed Kansas Jayhawk mascot sat atop the organ console. (He and his wife both went to the University of Kansas.) Affixed on a panel next to the organ’s drawknobs were colorful Post-it notes left by his daughter: “Love you, Daddy!” and “Have fun. Love you!!”

“Christina put those there years ago,” Roy said. “She probably doesn’t know they’re still there. It’s kind of fun to look down and see her presence.”

For a moment, I imagined someone high above looking down at Roy.

Twitter: @johnkelly

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