MARCO ISLAND — It was a match made in heaven. He was an organist that longed to move back to Southwest Florida and the United Church of Marco Island was in need of a part-time organist.
Meet William “Bill” Lee Elliott: Organist, father, grandfather, Francophile and conversationalist. Elliott’s love of the complex mix of wood, metal and cow bones that makes a pipe organ, with its rich dynamic sound, the king of instruments goes back to his childhood in Kentucky.
“When I was a little boy and we would go to church and the organist would turn on the organ a little amber light would come on,” said Elliott. “I would get as excited as the other kids would get when they heard a fire engine.”
Elliott has a rich background in music, a B.A. in church music and organ; a M.M. in organ performance and a minor in vocal pedagogy and music theory; an International Summer Academy of Organists Diploma, Haarlem, the Netherlands, private study with André Marchal, Paris, France; and a Royal School of Church Music Diploma, Croydon, England.
He was a professor of church music, organ and music theory at Aquinas College, Grand Rapids. He also served as church musician in several Episcopal, Lutheran and Roman Catholic Churches.
He has also had several recital tours in France playing historical organs, as well as, at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He designed an organ modeled after the classical French organs for the recital hall at North Texas State University. Its construction was featured in a National Public Television documentary entitled “The Wind at One’s Fingertips.”
The United Church of Marco Island’s organ was especially designed for the sanctuary. It is the only true pipe organ on Marco Island. It is two-manual, 23 stop mechanical-action instrument built by Helmuth Wolff and Associates of Laval, Quebec. Elliot knew the designer and one of the workmen but did not know the organ existed.
Elliott semi retired in 2005 to Punta Gorda where he played a digital church instrument that he jokingly referred to as a “pregnant radio.”
“If it doesn’t have pipes and wind it’s not an organ,” he said. However, he missed the sound and feel of a true organ and took a position in LaGrange, Georgia in 2007.
In April of this year as he contemplated turning another decade older one of his daughters asked him, “If you could do anything in the world what would you want to do?” He answered, “I would like to go to southwest Florida and play a good organ.” They went on line and found the Wolff organ at the United Church. “It is one of the few church organs in the country with mechanical action … It’s one of best church organs in the country,” he said.
He applied for the position and was accepted. “It was meant for me to be here,” he said. In addition to playing the organ he will direct the choir and hand bell choir. He had taught hand bells at the college. “If I was any happier there would be two of me.”
The Church Lady asked about the transition from the more liturgical style of worship as found in the Catholic and Episcopal churches to a Congregational church. “Now that I’m older I’m taking off my formal clothes and putting on my casual cloths as I move from a more liturgical to a more evangelical style of worship.”
“I hope to offer organ concerts at the church because the organ deserves to be heard,” he said. He is also willing to give lessons on the church organ.
In addition to music Elliott loves cooking French and Italian food, reading theology and philosophy and going to garage sales. Another love is his “fuzzy-faced girl friend Jacqueline”, a three-year-old chihwoodle, a chihuahua and a poodle mix.
His first Sunday playing at the church was June 26. “Everyone has been very welcoming and helpful,” he said.
“He’s a gift from God,” said Patty Zoller, search committee chairman. “We received many applications for a new minister of music, but when we reviewed Bill’s, we were immediately excited, she said. “Bill’s background is so impressive. We are very lucky to have one of the finest pipe organs in Florida and when Bill sat on the bench for the first time, it was unbelievable. The music the two of them made was breathtaking. Then he sat down and played our baby grand piano, and we never wanted him to stop. We can hardly wait to hear our choir and bell choir under his direction.”
“We feel extremely blessed that Bill Elliott accepted our call,” said Senior Minister the Rev. Richard Adair. “He’s very personable, has a great sense of humor and will fit in well here.”
Kathleen Tuttle, a Marco Island resident since 1987, has written articles for various nonprofits for more than 25 years. She is a community volunteer, former science teacher and microbiologist.