Yale University’s Director of Chapel Music Nathaniel Gumbs is slated to present a varied program of organ music at the prestigious music festival.

by Patrick D. McCoy

The Gateways Music Festival is well underway in Rochester, NY.  A collaboration with the Eastman School of Music, the festival brings over 125 black classical musicians to the city for a variety of performances, including orchestral, solo and chamber music performances.  Lee Koonce has been at the helm as president and artistic director of the festival since 2016.

A highlight this year of note is the début of organist Nathaniel Gumbs in recital. Gumbs has had many years of diverse experience in church music. He grew up at Trinity Baptist Church in the Bronx, and by the time he was in high school had already developed a love of leading congregational singing. As an undergraduate music major at the Shenandoah Conservatory in Virginia, he held part-time positions in Lutheran, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches. In 2011, he received the Master of Music degree from Yale University.  We caught up with him briefly about his important recital appearance.

“I am playing a diverse program of pieces from the Western European canon comprised of the works of Felix Mendelssohn and Charles-Marie Widor.  I am also playing pieces by a phenomenal underrated Nigerian composer, Fela Sowande, on whom I did a lecture recital on his works.  The concert will also feature a character piece and the “First Sonata for Organ” by African-American composer Florence Price” he explained.  Price is noted as the first African-American woman composer to be regarded as a symphonic composer.

Gumbs took a moment to open up about his early exposure to music in the church and his desire to further his curiosity with the organ.  “I grew up in a Black Baptist Church in the Bronx where we had a pipe organ, piano and Hammond organ.  I wanted to be efficient  at all three and eventually, taught myself to play the organ” he said.

Though our chat with the star organist was marked by his modesty, Gumbs has been presented in several major organ recitals.  He began the 2019 season with a recital at Trinity Church Wall Street on the highly acclaimed Pipes at One organ recital series and most recently as a competitor in the 2019 Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition.

Nathaniel Gumbs will present his début organ recital with the festival on Thursday, August 8, Noon at Third Presbyterian Church, located at 4 Meigs St., Rochester, NY 14607.

For more information about the Gateways Music Festival and complete schedule of events, CLICK HERE



A native of Petersburg, VA, Patrick holds a BM in Vocal Performance from Virginia State University and a MM in Church Music from Shenandoah Conservatory.  Formerly the Performing Arts Columnist for Washington Life Magazine, he currently is a freelance writer, publishing articles for several noted publications, including The Washington Post, Early Music America Classical Music Voice North America, The Afro-American Newspaper, CBS Washington and  He is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America, National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc., The American Choral Directors’ Association, a member of the Shenandoah University Alumni Board of Directors and a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.  He serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Zion Parish in Beltsville, MD. Visit








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