J. Reilly Lewis dies at 71

J. Reilly Lewis, whose musical talents were shared with the region for more than 40 years, died June 9, 2016. He was 71 years old. (Cathedral Choral Society photo)

J. Reilly Lewis, who served as organist and concertmaster at Clarendon United Methodist Church for more than 40 years and was a leading figure in the classical-music scene across the Washington region, died June 9 at his home in Arlington. He was 71.

A heart attack is suspected.

“We are heartbroken – this loss is profound for our church family and the whole community,” said Rev. Tracy McNeil Wines and Lisa Gibbs-Smith, who informed church members of the loss on June 10.

In 1972, Lewis was appointed to his position at Clarendon United Methodist, where he served as organist and led the choir as well as organized special services, including the church’s acclaimed “Messiah” sing-alongs through the year that drew both professionals and amateurs alike.

Lewis since 1985 had served as music director of the Cathedral Choral Society.

“Reilly has been the heart and soul of the Cathedral Choral Society, inspiring us all with his musical artistry and passion,” said the organization’s board president, Ernie Abbott.

Under Lewis’s leadership of the 140-voice Cathedral Choral Society, more than 20 new works were commissioned and the group made nine recordings while also performing at venues throughout the region.

“His warmth and whimsical personality created a community of choristers, stimulating me and so many others to ‘go deeper’ musically than I ever would have imagined,” Abbott said in a statement.

It was in 1977 that Lewis founded the Washington Bach Consort, drawing on his own extensive knowledge of the works of Bach.

“Reilly was such a wonderful, special person, but only his love of each of you surpassed his love of Bach and great music,” the Washington Bach Consort said in a statement. “He was our leader, our center. Reilly was our friend.”

According to the Bach Consort, Lewis had spent June 9 rehearsing for a planned weekend concert and enjoying the late-spring day taking a drive in his Jaguar convertible.

Lewis’s career in music began before the age of 10, serving as a choirboy at the Washington National Cathedral.

Lewis earned a bachelor of music degree from Oberlin College and two advanced degrees, including a doctorate, from the Julliard School of Music. Two years ago, he received an honorary doctorate from Virginia Theological Seminary.

Lewis, who was born in 1944 in California but moved with his family to Arlington at a young age, is survived by his wife, Beth Lewis, of Arlington; a daughter from a previous marriage, Lauren Lewis, of New York; and a grandson.

Funeral services are slated for Thursday, June 16 at 10:30 a.m. at the National Cathedral.

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