Jerry Taylor is Minister of Music for the Kettering Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dayton, Ohio, a position he has held since 1986, making him the longest serving full-time minister of music at one church in the history of Adventist congregations. During his tenure at Kettering, the church program has flourished and expanded to involve several groups and musical assistants.
Jerry was born on a potato farm in Oregon, the grandson of Czechoslovakian immigrants who had settled there as homesteaders. He attended Walla Walla College, now University, where he completed a music education degree in 1975. Both Melvin K. West and Harold Lickey were major influences in his musical development during his undergraduate study.
Taylor began his career teaching music at Ozark Academy in Gentry, Arkansas, and then taught at Shenandoah Academy in New Market, Virginia. While at SVA, he built a 32-rank pipe organ, established the Shenandoans, a select choir, and increased choir participation to 125 singers.
While at SVA, he completed a master's degree with distinction in church music at Indiana University in 1981, studying organ with Oswald Ragatz and Wilma Jensen. Taylor also completed all class work for a D.M.A. at IU.
The Kettering church music program has expanded under Taylor’s leadership. When he started his work at Kettering, he inherited a choir of fourteen "dedicated singers." His first move was to establish a youth choir program with Martha Jean Hoehn that grew to 85 singers and was eventually moved to nearby Spring Valley Academy. This youth choir in future years became the feeder program for the church choir.
Several of those students have gone on to be music majors in college or to serve as Seventh-day Adventist pastors. The Spring Valley Academy choirs were invited to be the featured artists at Epcot Center in Florida and were taped for an international broadcast by NBC television. Today's fifty-member Kettering church choir sings every other week for worship and presents three major concerts each year with the church’s orchestra.
Taylor was instrumental in getting Vic Kostenko, then president of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers, and Joan Ulloth Dorgan to develop a graded handbell program that today includes a handbell ensemble, the Advent Ringers (experienced adults) and the Praise Ringers (youth and learning ringers). He also set up a modified Suzuki String program that became the basis for today's church orchestra directed by Maretta Alden.
Steve Hall, formerly band director at Union College, conducted a twelve-member church brass ensemble for three years in the first decade of this century, and Donald Huff, formerly Loma Linda Academy band director now at Spring Valley Academy, conducts the church’s Praise Orchestra, an ensemble that performs traditional and contemporary instrumental music. The church also offers a Kindermusic program and provides private music lessons in voice, piano, organ and strings.
During Taylor's time as minister of music, Kettering Church keyboard resources have grown to include three 9' concert grand and two smaller grand pianos by Baldwin and Steinway, a Zuckerman harpsichord, a three-rank Bennett-Giuttari portative tracker pipe organ, a 1912 Estey Harmonium, eleven Baldwin Sabbath School/practice pianos, and two electric pianos. Other instruments include seven octaves of Malmark handbells, six octaves of Schulmerich handbells, and a set of four Ludwig timpani.
As an organist, Taylor has been a performing artist for Baldwin Organs, Inc. and the Rodgers Organ Company, for which he has played a number of dedication recitals. He has served as organist for the General Conference Sessions world gatherings of Seventh-day Adventists. In 2002, he oversaw the renovation of the Kettering Casavant pipe organ, enlarging it to 130 ranks and installing a new four-manual console.
He also serves as organist for numerous organizations, including the Dayton Bach Society, Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Miami Valley Symphony, Dayton Junior Philharmonic String orchestra, and the Kettering Children’s Choir, where he was included as a soloist on their Sounds of the Holiday CD recording. Taylor was the first recipient of the prestigious Director’s Award from the Dayton Bach Society for his work in that organization.
Taylor also works as music associate for Dayton’s Westminster Presbyterian Church, mother church of the famous Westminster Choir College. Two highly acclaimed CD recordings have been made by the Westminster Choir and Handbells.
In 2009 Taylor talked about his work as Minister of Music at Kettering:
The joy of working with the Kettering church music staff is how we are able to make music together. We conduct each other's ensembles, sing and play with each other, and work as a team. When special musical guests come to visit, such as Melvin West, we all get a chance to make music with them. As a member of the pastoral staff I also take my turn in hospital visitations and am considered by many in our congregation to be their “pastor.”
During the month of December, the church hosts over 10,000 guests when the city’s music organizations and high schools present their Christmas shows in our facility. It’s a lot of work for us but a rewarding way in which to serve our community. When you meet someone on the street, they possibly have either performed at or attended a program in the church. Our program has and continues to provide a wonderful outreach for us into our community.
In 2011 Taylor celebrated his 25th year at Kettering. When George Nelson, Kettering Hospital’s first president, asked for land to build a church, Eugene Kettering was hesitant, saying “A church is such a waste of resources. They sit idle for all but a couple of hours of the weekend.” Nelson replied that he had a vision for a church that would become a center for great music in the community.
Care was taken to provide a sanctuary with excellent acoustics. Virginia Kettering gave the money for a Casavant pipe organ, in honor of Olive Kettering, who was an organist. One of Taylor’s most prized possessions is a letter from George Nelson and the Ketterings thanking him for making their vision and dream for the church come true.
In an interview with William Ness at the time of his 25th anniversary at Kettering, Taylor spoke about the results of making friends with the community:
One of the first things I did when I arrived at Kettering was take the key lock off the organ and make it available to the community. It is always great for other organ teachers in town who have organ students who are playing on a smaller instrument to come here and have a lesson and for the students to understand how a large instrument works. I like having young people interested in the organ. Often that means letting a young student play a piano piece on the organ. Eventually many of these students want organ lessons.
We make our Sabbath School room pianos available for music teachers. Over the years, people have donated fine pianos to us because they realized the whole community will benefit from them. We use the donations piano teachers give us when they hold their piano recitals here to keep the pianos tuned and in repair.
We were given a harpsichord by a man who said he could no longer keep it in his home. A woman who played timpani donated four new Ludwig drums to the church. When the Bach Society reorganized, they gave us their continuo organ. We have persons who have donated handbells and tables, some giving a bell at a time. They love the fact that their kids can be involved in our handbell program, which is quite extensive. We have been given many fine instruments and work to be good stewards of them . . . .
We host all the high school Christmas concerts for the local Kettering system, Centerville, Beaver Creek, Bellbrook, and any high school I can get to do their Christmas program here. I know they are not always sacred, but we get all those parents and students driving by here and remembering “I had a wonderful experience there.” And we have found that many of those people will come back for services.
During his 25 years at Kettering, Taylor has made the Kettering church truly a center for music in the community and provided a positive witness for the church. He is highly respected for what he has done not only at Kettering but in the wider musical community as well.
Sources: Interview with Jerry Taylor by Dan Shultz, 2009; “25 Years at Kettering . . . ,” Interview with William Ness, 2011, Summer/Autumn 2011 IAMA Online Notes ( altered and updated by Taylor in September 2013); “Master Musicians,” Columbia Union Visitor, August 2009, 15, 16; personal knowledge.