Monday, July 4, 2011

Thanks for the Life of Dr. Alphonso Levy

Dr. Alphonso Levy, director of the St. James Episcopal
Church choir, put up with my antics as an alto in the
group for the years I was with them. I shall miss him.
It is hard to believe it when a community member who has made such a huge impression on so many lives passes away. Very early this morning 83 years of music were silenced with the death of Dr. Alphonso Levy in Lake City, Florida. I say 83 years because it must have been music to his mother's ears when he cried out, "I am here!"

This was a man of physically small stature, but he was huge in his impression through his musical talent.  Three years ago on his birthday the Lake City Community College personnel and members of both Lake City and Columbia County leaders celebrated his accomplishments with a Dr. Alphonso Levy Day.

He was 'on stage' for most of his life and as members of his choir at St. James Episcopal Church, we were often regaled during rehearsals with tales of his early peccadillos, machinations, and general playfulness with family, relatives, friends and associates. And he had many, many friends... I was blessed to meet him and join that special group, if only for a couple of years.

Until he was too ill to play publicly anymore, Dr. Levy often could be found performing on the weekends in restaurants around town, or at various events. When I moved to Lake City in 2005, I was given a birthday dinner at Tucker's Restaurant (sadly now closed) where Dr. Levy and Tony Buzzella also known as "Alphonso and Buzz" were at that time offering up their unique weekend repertoire of musical entertainment. On the website link you can hear some of the music they made together. I especially like listening to Alphonso's piano rendition of  "Amazing Grace" with Tony on the sax. What a team! Singing, kibitzing, working the crowd, the two of them were a delight and I was happily entertained to have them serenade me on my special day. I couldn't have known then how both of them would intertwine their musical energies into my life then, but now I have these fine memories.

I went to St. James Episcopal Church that weekend and - surprise! - there he was again, leading the choir in "Dona Nobis Pacem," by Mozart. (The link to this group singing is not our choir, but we were about the same size.) A peaceful man by his nature, Levy managed to keep his head through the struggles of church leaders and stay focused on the music, leading the choir to an esteemed position in the local diocese for our excellence in performance - all the credit goes to Dr. Levy who had a high standard we worked to maintain. (NOTE: I may have had a personal family link to this church as well since I was married to a relative whose mother's family included the name Snowden.)

As a choir we worked hard to produce the musical sound that Dr. Levy wanted from us on any given Sunday. He would sometimes come to rehearsal with a composition he had been working on (He loved writing music as much as playing it!) only to decide on Sunday's pre-church rehearsal that he wanted to make a few changes. But it was never all hard work and we enjoyed much laughter and camaraderie in those years with him. One of his favorites was "Deep River," chosen for Black History Month. I grew to love it as well and invite you to listen to this version by the Indiana Wesleyan University Chorale (2005-2006) in his memory.

Our church group was never as large as the Chorale, but he swelled the ranks of the singers when he did several productions of Handel's "Messiah" and pulled together church choirs from around Lake City to do annual fund raisers for a local food bank. My son remembers singing in our choir when he was living in Lake City and recalled that "Dr. Levy had a great appreciation for talent and how to incorporate or use that person to get the best out of them." As a participant in the annual "Messiah" one year, he also recalled how Dr. Levy would simply stand silently in front of the group waiting for everyone to stop talking and pay attention to the man with the little white stick, waiting to direct them. Tony Buzzella and other musician friends, like Harry Woest, joined us for these "Messiah" performances in the orchestra, so there was always this musical undercurrent between them that they all played off of - still working the crowd!

There are lots and lots of people who have known Dr. Levy far longer than I have, and have closer ties to him. But he will always be someone I remember with great fondness and appreciation for the lessons learned and the special friendship we shared, albeit brief. Well done, faithful servant, may the heavenly choir welcome you.


  1. There will be a service at the Community College in the Levy Auditorium on Saturday, July 9, 2011 beginning at 10 a.m. The St. James Episcopal choir will be presenting and I am wishing I could be there....

  2. I'm so sorry on the loss of someone so dear to you. A funeral director once said to us (on the death of my father in law) that the older people go the more you thought they would be there forever. xx