Doris H. Eicher, longtime organist at Towson Presbyterian Church, dies

Ms. Eicher was music director at Towson church for 40 years and performed with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestr

Doris H. Eicher, an organist and director of music at Towson Presbyterian Church for four decades, died Aug. 6 at the Glen Meadows Retirement Community in Glen Arm from complications of vascular disease.

She was 80.

"Doris was incredibly brilliant as a musician. She was a bravura type of organist, and it showed in her music," said Michael Britt, organist and music director at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill. "In a male-dominated profession, she really stood out. Her death is a tremendous loss, and it really is the end of an era."

"She was obviously a phenomenal organist. When she sat down and put her hands on the keys, magic happened," said Lenore Chapman, who was 12 years old when she joined Ms. Eicher's choir at Towson Presbyterian Church in 1964.

"She was a superb musician," said Ellen Adajian, a longtime Baltimore organist.

The daughter of Harold Hamel, a hardware store owner, and Hettie Hamel, shoe saleswoman, Doris Myrtle Hamel was born and raised in Philadelphia, and graduated in 1953 from the Philadelphia School for Girls.

She began playing the piano when she was 5, and at age 18 placed second in the national competition of the American Guild of Organists.

She received a bachelor's degree in music in 1957 from Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music, where she had studied with noted organist Dr. Alexander McCurdy Jr., head of the organ department at Curtis and the organist and choirmaster at the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

Ms. Eicher worked at several churches in Philadelphia and was associate musical director for two seasons for "Unto These Hills," an outdoor historical drama that chronicled the fate of the Cherokee Indians.

She moved to Baltimore in 1958, and from 1959 to 1963 served as organist and choir director at Govans-Boundary United Methodist Church.

In 1963, she began her 40-year tenure as organist and director of music at Towson Presbyterian Church.

"As a choir director, she had high expectations and exposed us to a variety of music and the classics," Ms. Chapman said. "And because of her reputation in Baltimore musical circles, we did a lot of joint concerts with other choirs."

She added that Ms. Eicher was "feisty as a choir director, but even though she had high expectations, there was always room for fun. She had a great sense of humor and there was a nice balance between hard work and fun. It was just fun being there."

"She was very gregarious and funny and always spoke her mind," said Mr. Britt, a Baltimore native. "She was quite the personality."

Mr. Britt said he and other musicians were influenced by Ms. Eicher and her former husband, Bruce R. Eicher, who was organist and music director at Grace United Methodist Church for 55 years. Mr. Eicher also founded the annual French Organ Marathon held at Grace.

"They were both legendary and role models for us. They were the standards that we tried to work up to," Mr. Britt said.

In addition to her work at the church, Ms. Eicher was also organist and choir director at Pikesville's Temple Oheb Shalom for 22 years, and for a decade served as organist at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y., during summers.

"Doris was outstanding. When she played, you could cry at how magnificent it was," said Melvin Luterman, who retired in 2005 from Temple Oheb Shalom, where he had been cantor for years. "She was incredible. She was the most outstanding musician I ever have known."

"As a choir director, she only wanted the best, and she got the best," he said. "The choir loved her and listened to her. And to be in that choir, you had to be good."

Ms. Eicher displayed plenty of dexterity when playing, Mr. Luterman said.

"You know, as a cantor, you sometime do a little ad-libbing and if I changed key, Doris was right there with me. That's how good she was," Mr. Luterman said with a laugh.

In a biographical profile of Ms. Eicher, Juliana Eicher Cook of Mount Airy noted that her mother had a national reputation and performed with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra "under the baton" of Romanian-born conductor Sergiu Comissiona.

She was also a featured recitalist at the Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. There, she performed Samuel Barber's "Toccata Festiva" with the Curtis Institute Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Varujan Kojian.

Ms. Eicher retired from Towson Presbyterian Church in 2003.

"One of the last things she did was preside over the installation of a new pipe organ at the church and she was most proud of that," Ms. Britt said.

A longtime resident of Overbrook Road in Rodgers Forge, Ms. Eicher had been a member of the national board of directors of the Curtis Institute of Music Alumni Association and the executive board of the Baltimore Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

A resident of Glen Meadows since 2004, Ms. Eicher was also an avid fan of the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles. She enjoyed reading, watching classic Hollywood movies and spending time with her family and grandchildren, her daughter said.

A memorial service will be held at her church, 400 W. Chesapeake Ave., Towson, at 2 p.m. Monday.

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Eicher is survived by a son, David Bruce Eicher of Phoenix, Ariz.; and three grandchildren. Another son, Stephen Mark Eicher, died in 1991.

frasmussen@baltsun.com

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