Farewell to Retiring Organist David Raymond and Welcome to His Successor, Mark A. Babcock

09.02.16 | News, Recent Events | by Elvin McDonald

Farewell to Retiring Organist David Raymond and Welcome to His Successor, Mark A. Babcock

    St. Paul’s organist, Canon David Raymond, has retired following 28 years at the 68-rank Casavant organ that was designed and installed under his guidance. Before that he played nearly every Sunday at some church beginning in September 1961.

    While David’s parents may not have done it consciously, they followed the parenting wisdom of the ages: Watch children: Passions are revealed early. So it came to be that Master David began piano lessons at age five and graduated to the organ eight years later at 13, studying under Edna Scotten Billings, organist-choirmaster at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City. 

    While we associate the saying with those who deliver our mail, it applies to David: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night has stayed him from the swift completion of his appointed rounds. Multiply 28 years times 52 weeks times the approximate 120 miles commuting from his home near Earlham and he has traveled 174,720 miles, not counting staff meetings, funerals, weddings and practice sessions. Blizzards and sub-zero temperatures have not kept him from arriving early at the Cathedral to turn up the heat—essential for the organ as well as the parishioners. 

    We have neither seen nor heard the last of David. He will substitute as needed and do an occasional Evensong. He tends a 35-acre property with his partner Brent Prunty, is fascinated with farming and belongs to the antique tractor club. Ham radio is another interest. Early this year he felt it was time to retire, in his words “to quit while ahead.” In conversation with Father Troy, David suggested his successor could be Mark Babcock, an Episcopalian then organist at Westminster Presbyterian, and a musician already loved and respected by our choirmaster, Dr. Rebecca Gruber. Moreover, he is already familiar to us for his direction of the Central College A Cappella Choir at its yearly Choral Evensong at St. Paul’s.

    Mark, like David, was fascinated with music from a young age. His great grandmother played the organ and his mother, a soprano, sang. At around age eight his parents bought a used electronic organ and he played by ear with abandon. By now Mark has been playing the organ for services—often two or three--nearly every Sunday since age 16.

    Mark is in his 18th year of teaching at Central College where he is the M. Joan Farver Endowed Professor of Music. He is an avid runner, six days a week, and a participant in the annual Dam to Dam half marathon. Mark lives in midtown Des Moines with his husband Anthony Braida in a house of distinctive international style architecture, sited on about an acre.

    We at St. Paul’s are twice blessed with two organists who have impeccable credentials and one of the finest pipe organs in the Midwest. David and Mark have studied under the world’s renowned organists and concertized at the mightiest of pipe organs. They are believers and worshipers. Playing the organ for church is not a gig for pay but rather a way of life. Thanks be to God.