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In Memoriam

Stephen Black
(8/30/1967 - 6/25/2023)

Choral Director CCC 2005-2010

“I have had singing”

An Encomium for Stephen M. Black

I had the privilege of serving as assistant conductor under Stephen during his entire tenure for Central City Chorus, 2005 -2010. We kept in touch across the years and across the miles until his unexpected death last year. It is a solemn privilege to share three texts from three different phases of his career, all of which encapsulate the man and the music we remember this evening.

Stephen’s first concert with Central City Chorus took place on a chilly winter evening in December 2005 in Midtown Manhattan. After a challenging 2004-2005 concert season, the ensemble was blessed with a re-set under his unique skill set of outstanding technique, impeccable musicianship, and approachable persona. “A Feast for Christmas” was a challenging program, stretching across the years from early Baroque music to more recent fare, with a unique blend of voices and instruments. Stephen had a busy Saturday and was late to the warm-up, which I started for him. My wife, Jennifer, was present, in spite of being nine months pregnant with our first daughter, Kaitlyn. Our prayers were answered when Stephen arrived and our first daughter did not! (She was born one week later.) Stephen later gave the downbeat for Jubilate Deo (Psalm 100) by Giovanni Gabrieli. The opening soprano line ascends upward, indicative of the musical trajectory that began that evening, along with a text that was indicative of his tenure:

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands

Serve the Lord with gladness;

Come before his presence with singing.

Stephen was also working on his doctorate at Yale University during his early years with Central City Chorus. One of his requirements was to plan and lead a doctoral recital in choral music, which is no small task considering the musical standards at Yale and the challenges of funding such a recital. Stephen started St. Joseph’s Singers a year or two before he took the helm at Central City Chorus. He combined capable singers from both ensembles, added some capable singers from the area and produced a magnificent recital under the theme “Sequestered places.” He opened the 2006 recital with “Sing me to Heaven” by Daniel Gawthrop (words by Jane Griner). The following excerpt from the text reminds all who knew him of what it means to sing, from life’s greatest joys to its deepest sorrows. And now it is fitting to focus on the words “sing me a requiem” as we remember Stephen:


Words alone are vain and vacant, and my heart is mute.

In response to aching silence, memory summons half-heard voices, and my soul finds primal eloquence and wraps me in song…

If you would comfort me, sing me a lullaby.

If you would win my heart, sing me a love song.

If you would mourn me and bring me to God, sing me a requiem

Sing me to heaven.

After rehearsal one evening in the spring of 2010 Stephen made the solemn announcement that he would be leaving New York City the coming summer and pursuing doctoral work at one of three schools. He eventually chose the Thornton School of Music at USC, where he studied with the likes of conductor Jo-Michael Scheibe and composer Morten Lauridsen. When Stephen was singing in USC Chamber Singers, he was part of a video recording (available on You Tube) of Ronald Blythe’s poem, “I have had singing,” set to music by Dale Warland under the title, “Always Singing.” The text describes an old man’s joy as he reminisces about singing in an English village. In this video, (filmed in a church) Stephen is standing directly beneath the large cross, as befits the centrality of the crucifix in his Roman Catholic faith. As we remember our friend, conductor and colleague this evening, it seems fitting to picture Stephen singing this text from the new Jerusalem (“Here I lie [in the grave]”), deeply rejoicing that the lux aeterna now shines on him:

The singing.

There was so much singing then,

And this was my pleasure too.

We all sang,

The boys in the fields,

The chapels were full of singing, always singing.

Here I lie.

I have had pleasure enough.

I have had singing.

So, thank you, Stephen, for leading a joyful shout to the Lord in just about every corner of our land; for leading us in lullabies, love songs, and the occasional requiem; and for equipping us to say, “We have had singing.”

And the song goes on and on…

Brian Hamer, School of Infantry West, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, CA

“I am deeply saddened by Stephen’s passing. He was the consummate professional: always prepared, organized, and communicative. To this day, he remains one of the best musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Unusual for someone with his level of intellect and ability, he treated everyone with the utmost respect and empathy. I have always had the highest regard- which has only grown over the years- for his musical insight, conducting technique, and inspiring leadership. I wish our paths would have crossed again after we both left New York City, but I only spoke briefly with him on the phone sometime around 2019 about things that are no longer important. But I remember the immediate warmth that gushed through his voice as if no time had passed between us. Wherever he is now, I’m sure he is making a positive impact and contribution, just as he did in the too brief a time in this world of ours.”

Hsiang (John) Tu, Assistant Professor of Piano, University of Florida, Gainesville CCC accompanist, 2007-2010.


“Stephen was a valued friend. We’d try to get together when he was in New York City and shared information at other times. We also had dinner with him in Louisville shortly after he moved back. (We were in Southern Indiana and it was too close to pass up the opportunity to see Stephen.) Our last correspondence was11 days before he passed away. He was looking forward to making it to New York City last August and to expanding his musical activities for 2023-24 after the pandemic. As so many of you said, Stephen was not only a wonderful musician but the most thoughtful and caring human being.

But this is also about memories associated with Central City Chorus. I joined Central City Chorus in the spring of 2006 to sing the Brahms Requiem. I was singing with the Brearley Singers, which Stphen also conducted, and when I found out the Central City Chorus, which I knew very little about, was singing the Brahms, I asked if I could sing with them. I sang that concert and never left. It was one of the best decisions of my life.

Stephen’s rehearsals were a perfect combination of singing and humour. He knew instinctively when to push us and when we were getting stressed, at which point humour was his go to technique. He would tell a funny story, and we would laugh until the tears rolled down our faces. Then he would go back to the music with everyone much more relaxed and eager to please him. There were many stories, but a couple that stick in my memory was the one about leaving his backpack on the train and someone threw it out the train window onto the platform as the train was pulling out of the station, only to discover it wasn’t his. Another, was his description of wrecking some of the organ pipes when he was a student at Louisville.


There is much more I could say, but since so many of you wrote such beautiful and heartfelt tributes, I’ll leave it here. The world is a much sadder place without Stephen Black.”

Caryn Doktor


“Stephen was one of the most unusual people I’ve ever worked with. On top of his phenomenal music talent, he had a self-deprecating sense of humour that made his leadership of the chorus especially enjoyable. Even his critiques during rehearsal were leavened with a sly remark (Altos, you WILL find your way to that f sharp, won’t you…), stories of playing the organ as a teenager in a southern church had me in stiches, discreetly making notes of the tale and putting them in letters to my father and mother, two church musicians spending their retired years in Hawaii.

What a fellow singer, Lance, called his “full body conducting style” was also an especial delight…we could see how the music impacted him, and you couldn’t miss those down beats coming your way, no matter how buried in your music you got.

Stephen once raffled himself off in a chorus silent auction for a Derby Day Brunch at his Spanish Harlem apartment, where he rolled out powerful juleps and delicious specialties. I was lucky enough to win a place at that table with a handful of others. His shy pleasure at creating all that food was even better.

A truly bright star in our orbit and very much missed.”

Nancy Nichols



“I’ll never forget Stephen taking a chance on me…While searching for an outlet to sing, I stumbled upon Stephen’s work as conductor with the much larger and amateur Brearly choir. Seeing me young and shy among a flock of septuagenarians, Stephen invited me to come try out for his other gig at Central City Chorus.

A week after, nervous and out of my depths, I arrived early before a CCC rehearsal, and stumbled through a sample musical note reading as Stephen accompanied me on the piano. Buoyed by his invitation last week to show what I could do, I sang a scale into the tenor range despite my natural baritone, and Stephen contemplated. He admitted that the chorus needed tenors, and that “You don’t seem like a stupid guy…I think you’ll learn.”

I will always be grateful to Stephen for pushing me in rehearsal, for his sensitivity and proficiency as a conductor, and for our friendship and conversations outside of practice. The music and song carried me through a very tough part of my life, and belting it out with Stephn and Central City Chorus really helped transmute some of that angst into real beauty and wonder.

Stephen granted me entry into a weekly exorcism under his tutelage and into a coterie of wonderful and friendly folk to wile my woes away with the immediacy and joy of song sung in harmony.

Stephen was special. He touched many lives with his direction and delicate ear and manner.

Thank you so much, Stephen! I will always cherish your presence and intervention in my life.”

Nick Copeli


“I have often wondered how Central City Chorus manages to find such talented musicians to conduct and accompany a choir of amateur singers for a very part-time gig that comes with modest compensation. Stephen Black was among the most talented. One year, we performed not only our three concerts and a cabaret, but an extra performance of William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. We pulled it off due to Stephen’s consummate planning, preparation, and coaching. In addition to his musical duties, he was also dedicated to our fundraising efforts. The annual cabaret was his idea and is now in its 14th iteration. One year, he had the membership compete to sell the most tickets to one of our concerts, and the prize was a Kentucky brunch cooked by him personally, complete with mint juleps. I do believe we sold quite a few tickets for that concert. We remember Stephen Black for so many things, perhaps most for his tireless devotion to excellence.”

Mary Kalinosky



“I did not know of Stephen’s passing, and I am shocked and saddened at this news. His whole spirit was kind and giving. Stephen was prodigious in his musical gifts. I always felt that he was channelling music and not just performing and conducting. It was a pleasure to work with Stephen and learn from him and of course to be lucky enough to be with him for the 5 years he spent with us.”

Karen Gorney



“I joined the Central City Chorus towards the end of Stephen’s tenure. Although my time with him was brief, he left a very positive and lasting impression on my life. I was extremely nervous for my CCC audition, as I had not done any choral singing for over a decade at that point. I think Stephen could sense my “nerves” and immediately made me feel at home with his kindness. He had such a talent for pushing one’s musical in a humorous yet gentle way. I am so proud that I was able to sing pieces like the Ballad of Barnaby” under Stephen’s direction. I am so grateful that he gave me the opportunity to sing with CCC and helped me to rekindle my love of music. Even after Stephen left Central City Chorus, it was always a pleasure to see a post from him in my social media feed. I remember when he posted about finally being able to roll his “R’s”. Not only did it make me happy, but it also gave me hope that I might be able to do the same someday. While the world seems just a little bit dimmer now that he is gone, I take comfort in knowing that my story is just one out of many beautiful stories of the lives touched by Maestro Black. He truly left this world a more beautiful and musical place than he found it.”

Gilberto Gil

“I loved Stephen’s gentle humour. He had the gift to make each chorus member feel needed whether they were the best of singers or not.

I had the privilege of attending one of Stephen’s famous brunches for those who sold the most concert tickets. His mint juleps were superb.

I miss Stephen’s presence in this world.”

Sharon Proctor



“Stephen was the director of Central City Chorus who accepted me into the chorus in January of 2006. For that, alone, I will be forever indebted to him for giving me the chance to participate in this incredible group. But of all the incredible opportunities and musical experiences he gave to me as person and as a musician, what stands out to me are the moments I shared with him as a friend.

We both lived in East Harlem, and I had the privilege of spending a few lovely afternoons and evenings with him in the neighborhood. On one occasion, I recall him asking Amy and me to come over for some of his homemade blackberry rhubarb crisp. It was such a delightful time…totally out of the blue and totally serene. I remember the conversation and the feeling of gentleness about him which washed over us. It’s hard to explain, but it was one of the most lovely of days. That was Stephen.

I remember driving back from the Midwest to New York City with Lance in 2020, eight weeks after the pandemic started, ready to resume our lives in the big city. But we needed to make a pit stop first. We needed to see our friend from Louisville, Kentucky. When we met him out on the steps of the church where he was the Director of Music, he made a picnic basket for us, replete with Derby Pies and a bottle of whiskey for us to share. That was Stephen.

So thoughtful, so sweet, so gentle, so caring. So funny! No one could read a room better. No one could be so quiet and unsuspecting, but yet so completely engaged, connected and tethered to the people around him.

Yes, he was the most incredible music director, conductor and organist I had ever known, but he was an even better person. And for that I am so grateful for the time I had with him.

RIP, dear friend.”  

Chris Hughlett


“By far, the most moving experience of my years in choruses was singing, “When David Heard” by Eric Whitacre, under Stephen’s direction. Thanks largely to Stephen, in performance we achieved such synthesis that the Chorus truly became a single instrument. As I remember it, there weren’t many dry eyes, in either the Chorus or the audience.”

Jane Davis


“One Sunday, I decided to stop by St Joseph’s church, instead of my own parish on the West Side. The sounds that came from the organ was pure heaven. I knew instantly that this was no ordinary organist. This person had exquisite talent and feeling for music. Little did I know that this musician, Stephen Black, in one year, would become a beloved director of my chorus!”

Marjorie Ramirez Polydorou

Stephen Black

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