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Robert Hall Elmore, 1913 - 1985,
Papers, 1904 - 1985

UPT 50 E48

52 Cubic ft.
Prepared by Pauline Fox
November 1993

Access to collections is granted in accordance with the Protocols for the University Archives and Records Center.


The guidance offered by Theresa Snyder, Assistant Director of the Archives, and the musicological expertise generously shared by Professor Stanley Boorman of New York University have been of immeasurable value during the processing of this Collection. Working with them, plus meeting other persons on the Archives staff and talking with friends of the late Dr. Elmore, has made this effort enjoyable and memorable. I wish the same benefits for all who research these materials.



Robert Hall Elmore, virtuoso recitalist, church musician, teacher, and composer, had maintained a studio in the family home at 130 Walnut St. in Wayne since the 1920s. Upon his death in September 1985, the contents passed into the ownership of his sister, Rachel Elmore. In 1991 her beneficiary, the National Christian Conference Center, and Elmore's personal secretary, Thomas E. Halpin, Jr., arranged for his papers to be transferred to the Archives at the University of Pennsylvania. The Conference made a formal gift of the Collection in 1993. Additional items were donated by Mary Canberg, Benjamin Epstein, Richard Grant, Thomas Halpin, Alfred Lunde, Laurel Mackenzie, Robert Plimpton, Beatrice Schlamp, Shawnee Press, Clarence Snyder, Elizabeth Vosberg, and Donald Wetzell.



The Robert Elmore Collection is organized into two series: Music and Biography. The bulk of the music materials is manuscripts and published copies of Elmore's compositions, both vocal and instrumental. Vocal compositions are further divided according to sacred or secular texts, each with choral and solo subseries. Instrumental compositions are divided according to performance medium. Compositions are arranged alphabetically by title within each subseries. A following subseries contains student exercises and unidentified pages. The remainder of the music materials include articles written by Elmore, audio recordings, and music of other composers. These items are generally arranged either chronologically or alphabetically by composer.

The biographical materials are comprised largely of performance data and incoming correspondence. Performance data, including publicity, programs, and reviews, are arranged chronologically in several subseries. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by name of sender. Remaining materials, such as appointment books, photos, and financial documents, also follow a general chronological order. Subsequent subseries are of theatre organ materials and miscellaneous personal and family items.

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Robert Hall Elmore was born on January 2, 1913, in Ramapatnam, India, where his parents, Dr. Wilber Theodore Elmore and Maud Johnson Elmore, served as missionaries with the American Baptist Convention. In 1915 the family, including an older sister, Rachel, returned to the United States. In 1918 they settled in Lincoln, Nebraska, where young Robert began formal music lessons. In 1925 the family moved to Wayne, Pennsylvania, as Dr. Elmore began teaching at Eastern Baptist Seminary. Through the generosity of a Mrs. Truman Newberry, Robert began studies in organ, piano, and theory with the famed Pietro Yon in New York City.

Still in his teens, Robert Elmore was organist at Central Baptist Church, Wayne, (1925-1933) and also played for the Lincoln, Bryn Mawr Seville and Anthony Wayne theaters. His first large organ recital was on August 17, 1929, in the Auditorium at Ocean Grove, New Jersey, under management of the Puccini Grand Opera Company, with 1500 people in attendance.

In the summer of 1933 Elmore earned three licentiates simultaneously from the Royal Academy of Music of London in organ, concert piano, and pianoforte accompaniment, an unprecedented accomplishment, and became an Associate of the Royal College of Organists. In the fall of 1933 he enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania, studying composition with Harl McDonald. During three college years (1934-1936) he received the Nietsche First Prize for contributing to musical activities at the University. In 1936 he was the first awardee of the Thornton Oakley Medal for Achievement in Creative Art. He graduated in 1937 with a Bachelor of Music degree.

During these years he also studied conducting with H. Alexander Matthews and was organist at Arch Street Methodist Church in Philadelphia. As he had continued organ studies with Yon, he gave a New York recital in Carnegie Hall on December 2, 1936. On April 9, 1937, the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski gave the first major performance of an Elmore work, his tone poem "Valley Forge-1777." In 1938 his composition "Three Sonnets" won the Mendelssohn Club national competition, with Eugene Ormandy as one of the judges.

Elmore was on the music faculty of University of Pennsylvania from 1937 to 1950 and became well known as conductor of University choral groups and as organist at Commencements. He also taught at Clarke Conservatory, beginning in 1935, and for many years at what is now Philadelphia College for the Performing Arts. He was the organist-choir director at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on Rittenhouse Square and was official organist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. In the 1940s, often collaborating with Robert B. Reed, who researched texts, he began composing a great variety of pieces. His one-act opera It Began at Breakfast was the first American opera to be televised (February 18, 1941). Under professional management, he appeared in organ recitals throughout the United States.

In 1955 Elmore became organist-choir director at Central Moravian Church, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he often worked Moravian hymntunes into organ preludes, anthems, and cantatas. The dedication of the Miller organ and the establishment of the annual Estelle Borhek Johnston Memorial Music Festival in 1958 provided opportunity to compose large works such as the Psalm of Redemption, Three Psalms, Reconciliation, Doxology, and Psalm of Thanksgiving. For such outstanding contributions to church music, two honorary degrees were bestowed on Elmore in 1958--an L.H.D. from Moravian College in Bethlehem, and an LL.D. from Alderson-Broaddus College in Phillipi, West Virginia.

During these years Elmore turned down invitations for concert tours and appointments to prestigious positions (most notably, at West Point Chapel and at National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.) in favor of teaching, performing, and composing in the Philadelphia area. He was also music director for the radio program "The Bible Study Hour" and served as record reviewer for Eternity magazine (1958-1965). The 1958 Mercury recordings "Boardwalk Pipes" and "Bach on the Biggest" were made in Convention Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The physical strain of travel to Bethlehem caused Elmore to resign his church post there in 1968. Within a year he became organist-choir director at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. There, in the autumn of 1970, he planned a series of dedicatory concerts for what was then the world's largest electronic organ, installed by the Allen Organ Company. He continued teaching privately, giving organ recitals, and composing both for his own church and to fulfil commissions from others. He died suddenly on September 22, 1985.

Throughout his career, Elmore was in demand as a virtuoso recitalist. He was known locally through radio broadcasts and in personal appearances at the Curtis organ in Irvine Auditorium on the University of Pennsylvania campus, at Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge, at the John Wanamaker organ, and at Longwood Gardens, as well as in recitals at many churches. He was an active member of the American Organ Players' Club and the local American Guild of Organists chapter, and was a frequent recitalist for AGO conventions nationwide. Many of his students and assistants, especially Robert Plimpton, Joel Krott, and Norman Mackenzie, are known as outstanding musicians. Voluminous correspondence in this collection attests to the admiration felt by friends and associates.

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The Robert Elmore Collection is an unusual collection of items conscientiously preserved by one family over a span of nearly eighty years. It affords valuable primary evidence for at least three areas of research. First, in the narrowest sense of studying only individual items, church musicians can find practical advice and examples of craftsmanship in composition. Second, on a wider level of investigating a specific geographic or chronological period, historians chronicling musical events in southeastern Pennsylvania can find detailed documentation involving the Philadelphia area and Bethlehem, as well as references to Camden, Wilmington, and New York. Third, over a broad span, one can marvel at the acceptance of Robert Elmore within each of three circles of acquaintances that rarely intersected: an upper-middle-class social circle, a conservative evangelical religious circle, and a professional circle of nationally recognized musicians and virtuosi.

The Collection evidences the amalgamation of diverse early influences into an individualistic style, of a shift in taste (as well as content and manner of presentation) of recital programming, and of a change in means for personal communication, such as letter writing or duplication of documents--all of which are applicable to other trends in twentieth-century American society. Persons who unwittingly contributed and preserved the Elmore items are to be credited with affording us an opportunity to see how the past grew into the present.

The Music Series contains approximately 230 Elmore compositions, representing the vast majority but not quite the total output of his works. Of the vocal works, about 100 are sacred and 25 are secular. Sacred choral works are subdivided into (1) cantata-type extended works, often with substantial accompanimental forces, that are divisible into distinct musico-textual sections (e.g., solo, choral, instrumental, narrative, congregational), and (2) anthem-type works that are unified indivisibly around one musico-textual concept. (It is suggested that the researcher also consult the 1982 dissertation on Elmore's choral works by Alfred Lunde.) Of the instrumental works, 65 are for organ; the remainder are for various ensembles. Over half of the total are published. For titles not represented in the Series, information can be gleaned from programs, correspondence with music publishers, and financial documents, all available within the Collection.

Items may include various stages of the composing process, from drafts to final publications. It was Elmore's practice to give the first or best fair copy to a dedicatee, so some works are represented only in draft form. Nearly all the paper is in good condition, but of course some of the drafts are not easily legible. All manuscripts are holographs (handwritten by Elmore) unless specified as by a copyist. In early years, Musicians Union copyists were Gabriel Braverman, Vito DeCesare, Arthur Pemberton, and Joseph Skolovsky; Elmore later employed his students as copyists.

Works prior to 1937 (Elmore's university graduation) are considered student exercises. A few from before that year are treated as adult works because of either performance circumstances or publication. Several folders contain exercises assigned by Pietro Yon. As Elmore often dated manuscripts but seldom wrote titles or page numbers, identification of loose pages is somewhat tentative.

The Music Series continues with essays and reviews written by Elmore. At the end of this Series are works of other composers, most notably Seth Bingham, Wilbur Chenoweth, Ralph Kinder, Harl McDonald, and Pietro Yon. Materials concerning Thornton Oakley and Frank Oglesby, associates from the University of Pennsylvania, are included.

The Biography Series presents a remarkable picture of all periods of Elmore's lifetime. The great quantity of memorabilia reflects the practice of the Elmore family to save both pertinent information and sentimental items. These items include numerous programs, newspaper articles, letters, and church bulletins from the 1920s to the 1980s, many of which were fastened into annual scrapbooks. In cases where deterioration of adhesives caused papers to become loose, items are organized chronologically into folders. An attempt has been made to preserve the original order and concept.

Naturally, many items focus on the spectacular successes of the young virtuoso, such as the 1933 accreditation in London and the 1936 Carnegie Hall recital. Yet, many programs and newspaper clippings reflect Elmore's strong lifelong interest in theater and opera, preserving evidence of decades of cultural life and organizations in New York and the Philadelphia area. Church bulletins chronicle services and activities at places of Elmore's employment as organist. Other items verify his strong support for charitable organizations.

Among the voluminous incoming personal and business correspondence are well-known names as well as effusive compliments from admirers. Of particular interest is correspondence from Harriet Newberry, Seth Bingham, and Pietro Yon. Mrs. Newberry frequently sent congratulatory telegrams and letters to her protg. Seth Bingham, renowned organist and composer of the generation preceding Elmore, grew to be a very close friend. Also significant are the business letters written by Thomas Halpin as Elmore's secretary from 1978 to 1985. (Friends closest to the family in the 1920s and 1930s were nicknamed as characters in Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Elmore himself was "Pooh Bear.")

The remaining biographical materials include appointment books, financial documents, and photos. It seems that at the beginning of every year Elmore listed for each day the anniversaries of birthdays, weddings, and funerals of his many friends, often giving their ages. These books list times and places of lessons ("HT PH" meant Holy Trinity Church Parish House) and social engagements, as well as progress on compositions, repertoire scheduled for church services, novels or plays being read by Elmore, and radio broadcasts he planned to hear. Often a list of income and expenses is written on the back pages; also on back pages are poems Elmore composed.

A unique subseries contains materials on theatre organ performance. The 1922 Mills book Organist's Photo-Play Instruction was a gift from Robert's parents on his thirteenth birthday. The six cue sheets may be the ones he actually used while working as theatre organist. Concluding portions of the Series contain personal sentimental items, publications containing articles of interest to Elmore, and materials pertaining primarily to other members of the family.

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