Joan E. Cayo Sandmeyer

1927 -  2016

Joan Sandmeyer, an organist, enjoyed a career as a professional musician, playing at several churches, including serving as director of music at an historic church in Virginia for two decades. Her responsibilities in that position and others like it at different churches through the years included direction of adult and children's choirs as well as handbell ensembles.

Joan and her identical twin sister, Jacqueline (Jackie) Hull, were born on September 18, 1927 in Buchanan, Michigan, the only children of Edward L. and Elizabeth Rouse Cayo. Their childhood was spent in Benton Harbor, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Vancouver, Washington. Although their parents were not musical, the twins both took piano lessons while young and later participated in a music program in the Milwaukee public schools in which children were able to choose an instrument and then receive free lessons. Joan chose the double bass and Jackie the cello.

In 1942 they entered Auburn Academy, where they were both active in music. Following graduation in 1944, by coincidence on the same day as the D-Day invasion in Europe, they enrolled at Walla Walla College, now University, as music majors in piano. At the beginning of her second year, Joan changed her performance instrument to organ, an option not listed at the time. In a 2011 interview with Jeremy Dietz, a writer for the WWU alumni magazine Westwind, she described the reaction of the school to her request:

The school initially didn't want to give me an organ major, but told me that if I could prepare a recital in my junior and senior years, I could have it, so I did. In a way, I guess I kind of created the major by my demand.

Both sisters, known on campus as "the Cayo twins," also sang in the choir under John T. Hamilton and were in a photograph of nine members of the choir featured on the cover of This Week, a national Sunday paper magazine published on December 21, 1946.

Following her graduation in 1948 with a B.A. in organ performance, the first to be awarded at WWC, she married Edwin Sandmeyer, who had been one of the returning veterans from World War II. They would have three daughters. After he graduated in 1951, they worked at Laurelwood Academy in Oregon for four years and then moved to Maryland, where her sister, Jackie, and her husband, Eugene Hull, were living.

In 1962 Sandmeyer became the organist and choir director of The Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, a church founded in 1774 which is on the historic tour in that area. At the time of the church's bicentennial, she presented several special programs and commissioned a work by Robert Jones. The composition was a set of choral variations on Amazing Grace accompanied by "virtuoso violin."

Prior to that appointment, she studied with John McCreary at All Souls Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., where she learned what being a minister of music entailed and how to conduct choral groups. It was an enlightening experience that has informed all that she has done since then in church music ministry.

She attended Catholic University, where she completed an M.Mus. in organ performance in 1968. Her study expanded her knowledge of music history and literature, musical eras, and composition and she became particularly interested in American music. This interest proved helpful in her position at OPMH in the years leading up to and during the American Bicentennial celebrations.

In 1982, twenty years after Sandmeyer assumed responsibilities at the historic church, she and her husband retired and moved to Newbury Park, California, where he died in 2001. In retirement, she continued to practice on a regular basis and played twice a month at the Camarillo Seventh-day Adventist Church and weekly at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks. She was residing in Newbury Park at the time of her death on September 11, at age 89 and is survived by her sister Jackie.

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Sources: Information provided by Joan Sandmeyer, September 2011; Jeremy Dietz, "The Music Goes On," Summer 2011 Westwind, 15, 16; Dan Shultz, A Great Tradition, Music at Walla Walla College 1892-1992, 99, 246.