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For immediate release: June 14, 2004
Media contact: Eric Quiñones, (609) 258-5748, quinones@princeton.edu

Editors: Photos are available at: http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pictures/l-r/messineo/

Gifted musician, University organist dies

PRINCETON, N.J. -- David Messineo, a gifted musician who was principal University organist at Princeton, died Friday, June 11, of an apparent heart attack at his home in Shohola, Pa. He was 45.

Messineo began playing the piano at age 4 and took up the organ at age 11. Only a few months after he began playing, he landed his first job in a Pennsylvania church and began his career as a church organist. He went on to become a classically trained musician, winning the American Guild of Organists' New York City chapter competition three times and twice becoming a finalist in the national competition.

But Messineo also liked to extend beyond the confines of the traditional when it came to his craft. In 1979, he opened the new Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall and continued as organist there for several years, playing with celebrities such as Liberace and Frank Sinatra. In July 1996, he was invited to play a concert at the music hall for the National Centennial Convention of the American Guild of Organists by Peter Schickele of PDQ Bach fame. He studied theater organ with a former silent movie accompanist and was well known at Princeton for his annual performance around Halloween improvising with the 1925 silent movie, "The Phantom of the Opera."

"David's music was ethereal -- through it, he was able to transport us to a place of serenity and peace," said Janet Dickerson, Princeton's vice president for campus life. "His presence as a musician has been such a gift to us; it is hard to imagine the absence of his contributions. We were truly blessed by his presence."

Born on Aug. 14, 1958, in Hackensack, N.J., Messineo served as an organist at Grace Episcopal Church in Port Jervis, N.Y., and Rutherford (N.J.) Congregational Church while still a teenager. He attended the Juilliard School in New York City, where he graduated with a Mus.B., M.M. and doctor of musical arts with honors in organ performance.

During his time at Juilliard, he served at St. Stephen's Roman Catholic Church in Kearny, N.J., and for eight years was associate director of music/organist at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. For 16 years, he was minister of music at the Glen Ridge Congregational Church, where he played the organ and directed seven choirs. He also was a professor of organ at Montclair State University for many years. Known for his expertise in the field of Romantic music and orchestral transcriptions, he gave recitals across the United States and performed in historical venues in Germany, the Czech Republic, France and the Netherlands.

Messineo joined the Princeton staff in 2000, only to find the Mander/Skinner organ sealed to protect it while the University Chapel underwent a two-year restoration. "The organ here is one of the best in this part of the country and the acoustics in the chapel are tremendous," Messineo said at the time. "It will be well worth the wait."

In the meantime, Messineo played concerts on an organ in Procter Hall at the Graduate College and chapel services on an electronic digital organ that was temporarily installed. On Feb. 22, 2002, he performed in a concert to celebrate the re-opening of the organ, and on Nov. 15, 2003, he performed in an event marking the 75th anniversary of the organ.

"David was a colleague in the truest sense of the word," said Penna Rose, director of chapel music. "He cared deeply about the quality of the music that was presented in the chapel, whether he was playing for the Sunday morning service, accompanying the silent movie, 'Phantom of the Opera,' or planning a recital.

"As he was choosing the music for the May 28 Reunions Organ Concert," she continued, "nothing seemed right. Piece after piece was thrown aside. Finally, he played something in C minor and everything fell into place. He came into my office and said that piece must have worked because the cicadas were droning in the key of E flat and any piece that didn't have an E flat couldn't be on the program. Beyond his extraordinary musicianship, there was the sound of his laughter, his unconditional kindness and his generosity of spirit."

Thomas Breidenthal, dean of religious life, said, "David combined great musicianship and a deep knowledge of the repertoire with a theatrical flair. When I think of what he brought to the organ, I think of Easter Sunday, but I also think of his improvising the score of 'The Phantom of the Opera.' He did both so well."

Breidenthal said that Messineo also possessed a talent for picking up themes and messages while the chapel service was in progress and weaving them into his music.

When Messineo got his first church job, he and his father, an engineer, rebuilt the organ that dated from the 1850s. He continued to rebuild organs and earned a reputation for his superb technical skills.

"He was able to improve and maintain our organ and give valuable advice about what it needed," Breidenthal said. Messineo also branched out in his job at Princeton by forming and directing a student handbell choir.

Survivors include his mother, Emilie Shadel, and her husband, Raymond Weeks, of Milford, Pa.; his father, Joseph Messineo, and his wife, Pat, of Shohola, Pa.; a brother and sister-in-law, Steven and Theresa Messineo, and their children, Joseph and Thomas, of Glen Ridge, N.J.; an aunt, Linda Shadel, of Wall, N.J.; an uncle, William Shadel, of West Paterson, N.J.; and his longtime friend, Robert Maidhof, of Shohola, Pa.

Calling hours are 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 15, at the Stroyan Funeral Home, 405 W. Harford St., Milford, Pa. The funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 16, at the Milford United Methodist Church, 206 E. Ann St.

A memorial service on Princeton's campus is being planned for the fall.

Contributions may be designated in Messineo's memory to the American Guild of Organists, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 1260, New York, NY 10115.

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