Cudmore: Singing in the St. Ann’s choir in Amsterdam


Emily Vandermeer Youngs Devendorf wrote poetry and music and was active in Amsterdam’s community life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Emily’s husband was G. Smith Devendorf, an attorney with an office at 45 East Main Street. The Devendorfs had no children and lived at 40 Division Street, near St. Ann’s Episcopal Church where husband and wife were in the choir. 

G. Smith directed the group; Emily sang and composed music for the choir, including an Easter anthem privately published in 1876. In the anthem, the chorus sings, “for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.” 

A copy of the sheet music for the anthem became a prized possession of Anne DeGroff of Amsterdam, a member of St. Ann’s congregation. Only twenty copies were printed. The copy DeGroff possesses belonged to her great grandparents, Dr. John Riggs and his wife Annie, members of St. Ann’s choir. 

Also related to the Devendorfs, De Groff was in awe when she prevailed upon her piano teacher to play Emily’s anthem, saying, “first of all I don’t play the piano very well and it was very difficult. And I was in awe because of the number of sharps and flats.” 

Emily Devendorf died in December 1906. Her musical compositions were sung at her funeral by the “old choir.” 

After she died, a column called “Gleanings of the man about town” in the Amsterdam Morning Sentinel printed a poem Devendorf wrote in 1871 describing some members of St. Ann’s choir. 

Devendorf described herself as “a little Dutch woman — by name Emily.” She said of her husband, the choir director, that he was “a good detector of discords and everything else that’s wrong.” 

Of Dr. Riggs, Devendorf wrote “his voice is deep and tremendous strong and without him, we do not so well get along.” In about 1889 Dr. Riggs, a Schenectady native, sold the medical practice he had built up in Amsterdam and went to New York City to become a performer. 

Riggs came back within two years, opened a drug store on Market Street and made his living treating patients and manufacturing medicines, including Dr. Riggs’ Stomach Globules for Dyspepsia and Indigestion. 

Annie Riggs, the doctor’s wife, was frequently absent from the choir according to Devendorf’s poem, singing instead for her baby. 

Of undertaker W. Max Reid, Devendorf wrote, “next comes Max, who though not dealing in pills, sells coffins for all that the doctor kills.” Reid was a leader in the business community, a historian and author of “The Mohawk Valley: Its Legends and Its History” in 1901. 

Devendorf had these lines for a woman named Annie Catlin, “now comes our alto — kind Mrs. Catlin. She’s one of the ladies not given to tattlin’.” Of Delia Roberts, Devendorf wrote, “what can I say more than that she is fair. In size she’s larger than any the rest. And I can assure you, she’s one of the best.” 

Judge Martin L. Stover was described this way: “(He) pleads at the bar, but not for drink. No, no, not for that would I have you think.” 

Edward H. Finlayson, the young man operating the blower for the pipe organ, received this tribute: “On him depends a very great deal. And if he chooses, he soon can reveal how quick he can put us all in a fix. For when he stops blowing, the music is — nix.” 

Among 20th century choir directors at St. Ann’s were Mohawk Carpet executive Reginald Harris, who also directed the Mohawk Mills Chorus, and music teacher Otto Miller, who led Amsterdam Little Symphony in the 1950s.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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