Warren Dwight Allen at organ

Graced by Polyhymnia, W.D. Allen raises the standards of sacred song

Warren Dwight Allen becomes the first long-standing University Organist at Memorial Church and changes the face of the Music Department. Allen followed a lengthy list of guest and shorter-term organists C.L. Magee, Alice Walker, Arthur Scott Brook, Louis H. Eaton, Benjamin C. Blodgett, G. C. Buehrer, and Clarence Eddy, and was occasionally assisted by organists Raymond Kendall, Herbert Nanney, Joseph M. Running, and D. Sterling Wheelright.

Members of University Choir (now the Memorial Church Choir), 1922 Quad


Allen raised the standards of musical programming at Memorial Church. In a 1921 pamphlet on the church, Allen wrote that “music of the musical life of Stanford centers in the Memorial Church and the influence of the church upon the university community is to a large extent dependent upon the music heard in the great edifice…The university choir, with earnest study and serious purpose, presents the best in anthems and choral music at the regular Sunday services and at the special concert performances at the end of each term. During the last few years many great works have been presented with augmented choir, orchestra and soloists, including Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah and St. Paul, Haydn’s Creation, Saint-Saëns’ Christmas Oratorio and Verdi’s Requiem. The university orchestra very often assists the choir and for the most important affairs a large number of men are engaged from the San Francisco symphony orchestra.”

Allen’s unique musical background and administrative efficacy made an impression on the Stanford Music Department. After studying piano at UC Berkeley, Allen relocated to Paris where he worked with St. Sulpice organist Charles Marie Widor. While at Stanford, Allen became the Chairman of the Music Department, and greatly expanded and refashioned the department’s curriculum. He supervised the renovations and rebuilding of the Murray-Harris organ, taught courses through the School of Education, and collaborated with the Drama Department in various operatic productions. In conjunction with his professional career, Allen continued to further his academic education, obtaining degrees from Stanford (B.A. 1934), USC (M.A. 1935), and Columbia (Ph.D. 1939) in addition to an honorary doctorate in Music from the College of the Pacific (1941). Allen’s dissertation, Philosophies of Music History, was promptly published upon completion and made available as a paperback in 1963. Allen made his last appearance at Stanford for the fiftieth anniversary service, where he was featured as a guest organist. On October 18, 1964, the Memorial Church hosted an organ and choral concert in his memory. Former colleagues of Allen recall his presence at Stanford with admiration: “The musical life of Stanford Memorial Church centered around him as organist and choirmaster. Frequent recitals and choral performances enriched the student and community life. The best of choral and organ literature was presented in church services, on Founders’ Day, and on other university occasions.”

Students likewise recognized Allen’s talents and contributions. A musical review from the 1923 Quad fondly recounts concerts made possible by Allen’s leadership: “A number of events this year have not only shown such university activity alive, but have also added to Stanford’s prestige outside the university. Such achievements have been the Dream of Mary, a picturesque cantata given before Christmas in the Memorial Church…Gounod’s Dream of Mary, as produced under the direction of Warren Dwight Allen, was something new in oratorios. The cantata introduced the new feature of a series of tableaux, representing biblical scenes of the life of Christ suggested in the music…This was the first performance of the cantata in the West. Apart from the dramatic quality, the music itself was of great beauty…If the responsibility for the carrying on of musical activity in the University were to be traced to one particular person, it would be discovered that Warren D. Allen has labored most untiringly to build up interest in all forms of musical undertaking at Stanford, which his leadership has shown can be a vigorous part of university life.”

Bio: Warren Dwight Allen – University organist, Choirmaster, and Professor of Music at Stanford from 1918-1947.