Marking the Anniversary: The family, friends and musical colleagues reflect on the life and artistic excellence of Maestro J. Reilly Lewis, who passed unexpectedly on June 9, 2016.
by Patrick D. McCoy
The week of June 9 of last year was one that left many in the DC arts scene stunned and filled with such shock and grief. It was just a few days prior that I witnessed him accompany the Mozart Requiem at Clarendon United Methodist Church as a part of the “Washington Sings.” Like many, the news came across my smartphone as I sat at my desk. It had been a long time that such news made tears drop from my eyes uncontrollably, with the exception of my mother, who passed in January of 2017. And still we all remember with great love and appreciation the artistry and selflessness of Maestro J. Reilly Lewis. For many, he was the founder of the Washington Bach Consort and others he was their fearless leader of the Cathedral Choral Society. But above all, he was just ‘Reilly.’ Affectionately called so, it was like a subliminal clue that he was giving. Beyond all of these titles, he was one that shared his art and lavished praise and support on so many.
My association with the work of J. Reilly Lewis began in 2010. I had the opportunity to meet him personally at a special reception hosted by The Washington Chorus at the French Embassy at which I was a guest. The event honored the “12 Great Choral Founders of Washington.” Reilly was in is superb company that night. The others honored were Tom Beveridge, Paul Calloway, Joan Gregoryk, Joyce Garrett, Bernice Reagon, Hugh Hayward, Paul Hill, Jack Langstaff, Norman Scribner, Robert Shafer and Paul Traver. After the event, I introduced myself to him, sharing with him how I was so honored to meet him. We then posed for a picture with Diana Saez, formerly the director on Coral Cantigas.
What is your story? I know that so many people have great stories about how they came to be in association with such a great musician and human being. I think about so many of the musicians that I have witnessed Reilly nurture over the years. The list could go on forever, but as one who has attended and reviewed many of the concerts of the Washington Bach Consort and the Cathedral Choral Society-many standout to me. The duet concert that featured Reilly with organist Scott Dettra, the introduction of young brilliant new concert master Andrew Fouts, his numerous collaborations with mentee and friend Todd Fickley, Haydn’s Creation with the Cathedral Choral Society, stunning Bach cantatas for solo soprano sung by Elizabeth Futral. The list goes on and on!
We continue to keep Beth Lewis and family in our thoughts and prayers. We continue to honor your life Maestro! Well done, thy good and faithful servant-J Reilly Lewis (1944-2016)
—The combined voices of the The Washington Bach Consort and Cathedral Choral Society sing the “Dona Nobis Pacem” from the Bach Mass in B Minor at the funeral of J. Reilly Lewis held at Washington National Cathedral.
–A native of Petersburg, Virginia, Patrick D. McCoy is a graduate of Virginia State University and Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia. He has been an arts contributor for Examiner.com, CBS Washington, The Afro American Newspaper and most recently was the Performing Arts Columnist at Washington Life Magazine for four years. As a church musician, he currently serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church (Zion Parish) in Beltsville, Maryland. Visit www.patrickdmccoy.com for all of your arts news and send press releases and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. He dedicates his musical pursuits to the Glory of God, in loving memory of his mother Velma Ann McCoy-Pulley (1956-2017).