The organ and pipes at Christ Church Manhasset. (Photos by Christ Church Manhasset)

Key Changes In The Air

Christ Church Manhasset gains new organist

By Amanda Olsen
The sound of a church organ is iconic. The organ at Christ Church is no exception; the notes reverberate, filling the space with sound that seems to come from the very stones. The instrument itself dominates, the pipes reaching heavenward from either side of a massive stained glass window.
But without a skilled musician, the instrument cannot inspire. Fortunately, Christ Church has been in the capable hands of two such musicians: Merideth Baker manned the keys off and on starting in 1978 until November of 2023, and then her lifelong friend and successor, Leslie Waltzer, took over.
Baker has made a career out of liturgical music. She began in the city at Church of the Heavenly Rest, but when she heard about several openings on Long Island she came to audition, first at Christ Church and then at South Shore Lutheran. “I was playing the postlude after the service when someone came up to me and said, ‘there’s a phone call for you.’ And it was Frank Johnston, the rector then (at Christ Church) saying, ‘Would you take the job? Would you please come up and speak to us right now?’ and I said, ‘Well, I have to finish the song, but yes.’ Baker recalled.
She did take the job, which allowed her many musical opportunities beyond just playing the organ for services. “I had a youth choir of 30 kids. I had adult choir of almost 30 and that includes a paid quartet…I bought handbells. It was a lovely time,” Baker said.
At this time, however, she was also completing her doctorate. So she made a move to Cold Spring Harbor, and then ultimately ended up at the Catholic chapel for West Point, where she was director of music for 25 years. When she retired in 2016, she returned to Long Island and shortly thereafter, to Christ Church Manhasset. “I came and it was glorious. One of my youth choir members from before was now senior warden of the church. It’s sort of a strange flipping of responsibilities. It was like coming home. And I really enjoyed that,” said Baker.
Waltzer has also been a lifelong musician. “I had a career as an opera singer for a number of years, and I did a lot of traveling, freelancing. I also have been a pianist and an organist since an early age. And I’ve always had liturgical work. Liturgical music has been a focus for me since I was in high school,” Waltzer said. “So yeah, I’ve had a long music career, doing many, many different things.”
Waltzer started at the church right before Christmas, and seemed to step in without missing a beat. “I started on November 5, 2023. It was just a serendipitous occurrence because I had just reconnected with Meredith the year before. I had done some sub work for her singing at Christ Church and then I was subbing for other organists in Nassau and Suffolk counties. And so then Meredith indicated to me that she was going to retire, and would I be interested.”
Coming out of the pandemic has been difficult for many activities where people gather, and Christ Church is no exception. The church did provide online services, with Baker playing in her home. “I liked the commute, because during COVID We just did Zoom services. So I was commuting from my kitchen to my music room to play my Steinway for services on Zoom,” said Baker.
Both Waltzer and Baker said the new rector, Stephen Tamke, helped to foster a supportive environment for the music program. “Father Stephen is a dream to work for and work with. And the choir is so accomplished. I’m just looking forward to continuing what Meredith established and working with Father Stephen and all the possibilities going forward. Now that we’re out of COVID, of course, it’s a little easier,” Waltzer said.
“We’re hoping that more people will discover that Stephen is just a magnificent director. And that Leslie has a great, great handle on this program, and that the church will grow again, because COVID and everything else really was difficult,” said Baker.
Waltzer, for her part, is looking forward to continuing the legacy Baker has created at Christ Church. “I have big shoes to fill. But I it’s just such a beautiful program. It’s such a high level of music making… I’ve worked in a lot of places, in a lot of different churches, and I can say that Christ Church is almost heaven sent. It’s just such a beautiful place. You feel like you’re in an English country churchyard when you walk to the church, and the people are so warm and hospitable. There’s a lot of wonderful activities and after church events and things, so it’s been just wonderful. I can’t say enough positive about Christ Church. I tell all my musician friends how lucky I am.”

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