Gifted musician, University organist dies

June 14, 2004 10:45 p.m.

David Messineo, a gifted musician who was principal University organist at Princeton, died Friday, June 11, of an apparent heart attack at his home in Shohola, Pa. He was 45.

Messineo began playing the piano at age 4 and took up the organ at age 11. Only a few months after he began playing, he landed his first job in a Pennsylvania church and began his career as a church organist. He went on to become a classically trained musician, winning the American Guild of Organists' New York City chapter competition three times and twice becoming a finalist in the national competition.

But Messineo also liked to extend beyond the confines of the traditional when it came to his craft. In 1979, he opened the new Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall and continued as organist there for several years, playing with celebrities such as Liberace and Frank Sinatra. In July 1996, he was invited to play a concert at the music hall for the National Centennial Convention of the American Guild of Organists by Peter Schickele of PDQ Bach fame. He studied theater organ with a former silent movie accompanist and was well known at Princeton for his annual performance around Halloween improvising with the 1925 silent movie, "The Phantom of the Opera."

"David's music was ethereal -- through it, he was able to transport us to a place of serenity and peace," said Janet Dickerson, Princeton's vice president for campus life. "His presence as a musician has been such a gift to us; it is hard to imagine the absence of his contributions. We were truly blessed by his presence."

A memorial service on Princeton's campus is being planned for the fall.

Contributions may be designated in Messineo's memory to the American Guild of Organists, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 1260, New York, NY 10115.

More details are available in a news release.

Contact: Ruth Stevens (609) 258-3601