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HARRY ROWE SHELLEY, CONNECTICUT COMPOSER AND ORGANIST

    by Anya Laurence

 H.R. Shelley
Harry Rowe Shelley

Anyone who attended church in the first half of the 20st century will be well acquainted with the choral works of Harry Rowe Shelley, who was born in New Haven  on June 8, 1858. He showed musical talent at an early age and studied at Yale with Gustav Stoeckel, and with another Connecticut composer Dudley Buck, finally becoming a student of the great Antonin Dvorak in New York City.

When he was a boy, Harry attended Hopkins Grammar School in New Haven, and while still in his early teens became organist at Center Church in the Green. Although he did enroll at Yale, for some reason he did not complete his first year there.

   While in New York, he became acquainted with the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, pastor of the popular Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn. Beecher asked him to become the musical director of that church which he served from 1878 to 1899, and was organist at Beecher's funeral in 1887. From this church he went to Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, NYC, and finally finished his illustrious church career in 1936 at the Central Congregational Church in Brooklyn.

Church on the Green
Center Church on the Green
Shelley's Autograph
Autograph of Harry Rowe Shelley

   The two sacred choral anthems he was famous for are “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” and “Hark, Hark, My Soul.” However he was active in secular music and composed a symphonic poem, two symphonies, a violin concerto and an opera, as well as a number of other shorter pieces.

   Shelly died in Short Beach, Connecticut, at the ripe old age of 89, after a career as an organist and composer encompassing seventy years.  His New York Times obituary said that Shelley “penned church music that won him wide popularity. For sixty years a host of English-speaking peoples throughout the world sang his hymns.”

   Connecticut can say with pride that Harry Rowe Shelley, New Haven native, was one of the most performed composers in the world for the best part of a century.

 

 

 

 

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