Rotarian Seth Warner – May He Rest in Peace

Mathematics Professor Emeritus Seth Warner: A man of Science and of the Arts, Seth Warner epitomizes the spirit of Durham; Teacher of Mathematics and a musician at heart.

Seth Warner (PHF) joined the Rotary Club of Durham, NC on 1 January 1975.

On a recent Thursday, Warner, a math professor emeritus who taught at Duke for 40 years, walked up a winding stone staircase to Duke Chapel’s Flentrop 1976 organ. With more than 5,000 pipes towering around him, he used a metal shoehorn to slip on special leather sole shoes to better control the wooden pedals.

As a necessity, Seth Warner learned to play organ as a boy growing up during the Great Depression.

His mother knew that learning how to control the massive pipes was a step toward job security in the 1930s. Talented organists were in demand by churches and synagogues looking to fill their halls with hymns and traditional music.

“I am glad, through my music, to contribute to the music of Duke Chapel and hope to continue to do so as long as I am able,” said Warner, (then) 87.

Warner is among the volunteer organists who put their repertoire on display every weekday, between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. in Duke Chapel for curious visitors and reflecting staff and students. The demonstrations are free, and a few of the musicians are retirees or current Duke Employees.

Warner has been playing an organ in the Chapel for about 40 years. During his hour-long performances, he’ll begin with the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and then move on to pieces by French composers such as Pierre Dumage. On a recent Thursday, he played a piece by Bach, “Come, Holy Ghost, Lord God,” while his daughter, Sarah Burdick, listened in an adjacent room that houses the Flentrop’s blower, which feeds wind through the pipes.

In elementary school, Burdick said, her class visited the Chapel while studying Gothic architecture. Her dad ended up playing for her classmates.

“It made me very cool for the day,” said Burdick, now director of administration and special projects for Duke Facilities Management.

One day as Warner played; Rosamaria Scasserra sat in the Chapel pews and listened. She had traveled from the Bronx to visit her cousin, who lives in Durham, and they were touring campus.

“It’s beautiful,” Scasserra said of the organ music. “It just sets the tone. It’s very spiritual.”

Contributed by by President
B. C. Dash
                                                                           20 April, 2017

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