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Denver cathedral to honor Evergreen founder

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Charles Winfred Douglas made key contributions to music of Episcopal Church

By Stephanie DeCamp

St. John’s Cathedral in Denver is planning to honor one of Evergreen’s founders on Feb. 16 with a day of music and historical observances.

Father Charles Winfred Douglas built the Hiwan Homestead, established the Evergreen Conference Center and earned an international reputation for his contributions to music in the Episcopal Church.

St. John’s is planning a forum on Douglas’ life and accomplishments on Sunday morning and performances of his songs during the morning service and at evensong. It is collaborating with the Church of the Transfiguration in Evergreen and the Hiwan Homestead Museum on the event, said museum director John Steinle. St. John’s is at East 14th Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Denver. 

Douglas served as organist for St. Paul’s in 1892-93, and was ordained as a priest on Aug. 6, 1899, at the Mission of the Transfiguration in Evergreen, which later became the Church of the Transfiguration.

He and Dr. Josepha Williams were married in 1896 and lived at the Hiwan Homestead. Douglas conducted choir camps in the summers, and the couple were instrumental in establishing Evergreen’s first library. The music school that Douglas established here in 1907 later became the Evergreen Conference, Steinle said, which established Evergreen’s reputation as the place to meet for music, theology and worship. 

“He was also on the school board,” Steinle said. “He and his wife were really instrumental in establishing a lot of the institutions here in Evergreen.”

Music was Douglas’ prime contribution to the church, and he is still recognized for how his work brought ancient and modern hymns together, said Stephen Tappe, organist and director of music at St. John’s. 

“He took Latin Gregorian chant and translated a bunch of it to English,” Tappe said, “then set it back to the same chant structure and provided accompaniment. So in the official hymnal of the church, he has many hymns and service music to his credit. He was everything from a translator to an adapter.”

Douglas died Jan. 18, 1944, but his conference lived on through the 1990s, and his legacy is strong both here in Evergreen and throughout the Episcopal Church.

“We are able to sing a good deal of Gregorian chant in English now instead of Latin, and this opens up the church’s repertoire,” Tappe said. “Finally we’re able to sing these chants that for centuries weren’t intelligible in ways that people can understand. It’s a major component of the reformation, doing these things in a native tongue so that people can understand them.”

The conferences hosted some of the most influential musicians in the church, Tappe said, including composer Leo Sowerby. Douglas even worked with Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff to translate Rachmaninoff’s “Songs of the Church, Opus 37” into English.

“There are people here who don’t know who he is,” Tappe said. “So this is a consciousness-raising thing as well as giving him honor. It will be about Douglas personally and what he accomplished.”

The day will begin with a forum on Douglas and his accomplishments at 10:15 a.m., followed by an 11:15 service featuring his music alone, Tappe said. Then, evensong at the church will feature his music as well. 

Those speaking will include Steinle and Douglas' great-grandson, Channel 9 executive producer Jack Maher.

The Jefferson County Historical Society will present a portrait of Douglas to St. John’s that will be hung in the cathedral’s Dagwell Hall, Steinle said, along with other artifacts from the Hiwan Homestead Museum. In turn, St. John’s will present a CD that its choir recorded with a number of Douglas’ songs, Tappe said, including an original piece that will be played at the museum for visitors as they explore.

Contact Stephanie DeCamp at Stephanie@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1043. Check CanyonCourier.com for updates and breaking news.