Keith Chapman, 44, Organist At Wanamakers

Posted: July 05, 1989

For the last 23 years, Keith Chapman was the man behind the mighty organ that fills the John Wanamaker store in Center City with music twice daily.

On Thursday, Mr. Chapman, 44, and his wife, Sally, 52, were killed when their twin-engine plane crashed at 13,400 feet in the Colorado Rockies.

National Transportion Safety Board officials said yesterday they were investigating the cause of the accident, which occurred while the couple were en route to Omaha, Neb., after an organ concert in Los Angeles.

An experienced pilot who had logged thousands of hours, Mr. Chapman flew

himself to his concerts around the United States. He held both a private pilot's license and a commercial license.

By all accounts, he was a musical genius who was driven to try whatever intimidated others. "I have to pursue it - it adds to the excitement," he said in a 1982 interview.

Mr. Chapman's plane was first reported missing by his wife's daughter, Cynthia Hossack, who was waiting in Omaha for the couple to arrive on a visit to see their 2-week-old grandson.

On Sunday, a hiker found the wreckage of the couple's plane in a remote part of the Sangre de Cristo range in south-central Colorado. The bodies of the couple were later identified by family members.

Yesterday, as word of the accident spread, relatives and friends recalled the gifts that the Chapmans gave to others in what many described as their passionate pursuit of life.

"He was brilliant," recalled Catherine Crawford, Sally Chapman's daughter. "There wasn't anything this man couldn't do. He played the organ. He was very knowledgeable about computers. He rebuilt their 120-year-old home in Chestnut Hill by himself."

Berle Schiller, a family friend for 21 years and Mr. Chapman's attorney, called Mr. Chapman one of the treasures of Philadelphia.

"The city has lost one of its truly talented musicians," he said. "Not only was he a musician, but he was a teacher, someone who would go out of his way to make music understandable to the layman."

In recent years, Schiller said, the Chapmans traveled around the world to give concerts.

"Between the two of them, they were great ambassadors for this city," he said. "They were in Japan. They were in the Soviet Union. They were in the Orient. It is a shame to lose two people who could represent this city so well."

Sally Chapman was born in Cleveland, graduated from Shaker Heights High School and attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She was an accomplished ice skater and equestrian, and at one time sang soprano with the Christ Church choir in Old City.

Mr. Chapman was born in San Mateo, Calif., and grew up in San Francisco. An organ prodigy, he became a student of organist Richard Purvis at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, where he worked as an organ assistant.

Mr. Chapman came to Philadelphia in 1964 to attend the Curtis Institute of Music, where he graduated in 1968. He received a master's degree from Temple University in 1971 and a doctor of musical arts degree from Combs College of Music in Philadelphia in 1978.

Mr. Chapman began playing the organ at Wanamakers when he was still a student at Curtis. From his perch on the second-floor balcony, he would pull his 5-foot, 7-inch frame up to the organ's six keyboards and pump the pedals in a rigorous exercise that he used to say kept him "in shape."

Mr. Chapman's repertoire, all done from memory, included classical music, Broadway show tunes and popular music. No one knows for sure, but the Wanamakers organ - with its 30,000 pipes, 451 stops and 964 controls - is believed to be the world's biggest.

Even after years of playing the organ, which has become one of Philadelphia's landmarks, Mr. Chapman still stood in awe of the instrument's power. "I look up and I think, 'What am I doing with all this?' " he said in the 1982 interview.

The Chapmans, who were wed 23 years ago, lived for the last 12 years in Chestnut Hill, where they headed a local organ-design company and held the regional franchise for an Oregon-based organ manufacturer.

Mrs. Chapman is survived by her mother, Helen B. Scott; son, Ray O. Crawford 3d; daughters, Catherine Crawford, Patricia Crawford, Cynthia Hossack and Christine Crawford; three grandchildren, and a sister.

Mr. Chapman is survived by his mother, Betty Chapman, and a brother.

A memorial service for the Chapmans is scheduled for 8 p.m. Monday at the chapel of Valley Forge Military Academy, Radnor Road, Wayne.

The family suggests that any memorials be contributions to the Rona Stern Staut Hematology Foundation, in care of Dr. Edward D. Viner, 3 Cooper Plaza, Suite 215, Camden, 08103.

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