Deceased January 20, 2017
View alumni profile (log in required)
Gomer Spiecker Rees Jr. was born in Allentown, Pa., on Jan. 15, 1929. He was the first born of his father, The Rev. Gomer Spiecker Rees, a Lutheran pastor and his mother, Charlotte Schumaker Rees. A second child, Gomer’s sister, Charlotte Rees Miura was born in 1933. Gomer attended school in Allentown, earned outstanding grades and also studied music, specifically piano and organ. In fact when he was 16 years old, he became the youngest organist ever to be admitted to the American Guild of Organists. In fall of 1946, he began his first year of college at St. John’s in Annapolis studying the classics. After completing his freshman year, he joined the army and for nearly two years served on an army hospital ship in the Pacific (1947-49). Back in the States after spending several months with his parents in Japan (his father, now an army chaplin, was stationed in Okinawa), Gomer was accepted at Amherst College as a history major in fall of 1950. He graduated from Amherst in the class of 1953.
Gomer worked for a short time for the Washington Post, as a copyboy, and in 1955 (?) he moved to New York City where he lived the rest of his life. He worked in off-Broadway theater for a while, backstage jobs, and finally took a full time job in the Battery Park section of Manhattan for United Baltic, a Danish rubber importing company. All during this time he was also writing—poetry and essays. In the fall of 1959 his first cousin, once removed, Rosalind Rees moved to New York to pursue a singing career. Gomer’s grandfather, also a Lutheran pastor, Gomer Christmas Rees, and Rosalind’s father, James Dwight Rees, a musician, were brothers. Gomer was very supportive in helping Roz get to know the city and they became close friends. A musical collaboration began as they worked in several churches together—Gomer as organist, Roz as soloist—in Ridgefield, N.J., and later at Grace and Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church on West 71st Street, NYC. In the early ’60s, they both taught music at Epiphany Lutheran Elementary School on Lincoln Place in Brooklyn, N.Y., several days a week. Gomer later became organist at another Lutheran church in Bay Ridge.
Gomer also began producing concerts—founding the New York Kantorei with conductor Barbara Lingelbach which did performances of Bach cantatas with a skilled chamber chorus and professional soloists and instrumentalists. He also started to present Willard Trask, a well-known translator of medieval verse with Rosalind Rees, soprano; Thomas Bogdan, tenor and Louise Schulman, lute and viol, in concerts and readings at nearby colleges and universities. The New York Consort for Poetry and Music, as they were called, made a recording of music of medieval Spain and Portugal, produced and distributed by VOX in the late ’70s.
In December 1970, Rosalind Rees married conductor and composer Gregg Smith. She had been touring with the Gregg Smith Singers since 1968. Originally based in California, GSS was now based in NYC and began a concert series in 1973. A year later Gomer Rees began producing the GSS NY Concert Series, doing publicity, finding venues and managing what was a prestigious choral series for 40 years, ending in 2013.
Gomer’s writing continued to flourish and became more centered on epigrams by the late ’70s. First called “sentences,” then Gomerisms and finally epigrams, he wrote on various subjects—bother, childhood, death, failure, music, New York, the office, truth, women, writing—all in all about 12,000! An Amherst classmate, Frank Ryan, was a featured reading partner with Gomer, and they were presented widely, and always at Amherst reunions and get togethers. Gregg Smith set nearly 20 of the “music” epigrams, first for solo voice and then for solo and chorus. GSS toured them nationally and E. C. Schirmer published them in the ’80s. Kim Rich, a poet and friend, collaborated with Gregg and Gomer in the late ’80s on a cabaret called “Pretty Good Company,” versifying nearly 25 of the epigrams to create a show which was presented with a quartet of singers. Great favorites were: “New Yorkers Never Grow Up,” “Salted Peanuts,” “I Don’t Want to Go Home in the Dark,” “Toothpick People,” “Silence,” “Money,” “Windows in Time,” “Each Year” and the beloved “Old Friends.”
Beginning in the early ’90s, Gomer spent part of every summer in Saranac Lake, N.Y., where he participated in the Adirondack Festival of American Music, presenting a program in the local library of poems and music with solo singers from the Gregg Smith Singers and bringing in guest poets, Kim Rich and her father Gerry Rich, actor Frank Ryan and Buzz Gummerie of Columbia University. Gomer also presented an annual late August reading in the Robert Lewis Stevenson Cottage there.
In the mid-’90s Gomer became organist at the French Church Saint Esprit on East 60th Street in NYC. In 1998 he wrote A Huguenot/L’Eglise Francaise du Saint-Esprit Chronology. Together with Nigel Masey, the priest there, he began work about 2008 on a new Huguenot hymnal which is soon to be published. Gomer is the musical editor.
In June 2011 Gomer moved to Yonkers where Rosalind and Gregg Smith own a home and became part of their household for the last six years of his life. He died on Jan. 20, 2017, just a few days after his 89th birthday.
In June 2017 he was remembered in a memorial service at the French church, and his ashes were placed in the columbarium in Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church, NYC.
Gomer is survived his nephew Asa Michael Miura, a grandnephew Kintaro Nichael Miura, a grandniece Risako Ellen Miura, his niece Hana Rebecca Miura and by his cousin Rosalind Rees Smith. Gomer’s sister died in November 2016.
Rosalind Rees Smith