Obituary of Wilber Christman
Wilber “Corkey” Christman, 80, formerly of Duanesburg, NY, and recently of Glenville, NY, died October 16, 2017, at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, NY.
Born in Schenectady, NY, he was the son of the late Philip Christman and Gladys Wilber Christman. His wife and musical partner, Patricia Christman, preceded him in death in 2014. He is survived by daughter Laura (Michael) Sodders, Athens, NY; sister Alice (Gail) Gingery, Greenville, SC; niece Christa (Randy) Habegger, Greer, SC; nephew Philip (Becky) Gingery, West Chester, PA; and a dozen grandnieces and grandnephews.
Corkey was born into a family with a strong literary heritage, which included his grandfather, W.W. Christman, an award-winning poet; his uncle Henry Christman, a noted historian and author; and his uncle Lansing Christman, well known as a regional print, radio, and television journalist who transferred the majority of the family farm to The Nature Conservancy as The Christman Sanctuary.
Corkey’s earliest exposure to the harp was at Duanesburg Reformed Presbyterian Church, where he took lessons from Betty Fuller Meiners, the wife of Reverend Harry H. Meiners. He later studied with Kathryn Allen Samuelson, who played harp for the symphony orchestras in Schenectady and Albany, NY.
Taking the bus from Duanesburg, Corkey attended Schenectady’s Draper High School for its art program. He then enrolled at a university in South Carolina as an art major, where he also continued his interest in the harp with visits to tune and play the harp of Mrs. Robert (Lula) Woodside. After three years, he made the commitment to focus on the harp and transferred to The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, PA, where his teacher was Carlos Salzedo, with whom he also studied at the Camden, ME, summer harp colony. After Salzedo’s death, he continued at Curtis with Marilyn Costello and in Maine with Alice Chalifoux.
Shortly after graduating from Curtis, Corkey moved to New York City, where he began his long and varied career as a performer. Combining his classical musical training with the family’s literary traditions, Corkey developed and presented programs that blended music, poetry (sometimes his own), and dance. He also began commuting back to the Capital District to teach harp at The Schenectady Conservatory of Music.
In 1967, a Schenectady Civic Players production of “The Fantasticks” brought Corkey and pianist Patricia Stanley Harris together in the pit. They joined forces as musicians, and in the course of the following year married, gave a Town Hall recital in New York City, and moved into Corkey’s childhood home on Duane Lake.
Over the next decades, Corkey and Pat (sometimes billed as “Patricia Dell”) performed together and separately at venues across the Capital District and beyond. Both played frequently for Schenectady Light Opera Company productions and in numerous school and club presentations, as well as at countless weddings and church performances. Corkey regularly played with such groups as The Schenectady Symphony, The Vermont Symphony, and The Williamstown (MA) Theatre Festival.
Always searching for new creative expressions, in the 1970s Corkey began study at Schenectady’s Ramsey School of Ballet, which led to performing as a solo dancer with Ballet North. For several years, Nutcracker audiences at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady were treated to the unique double-casting of Act I’s Snow Prince moving to the pit to play Act II’s famous Waltz of the Flowers harp cadenza.
In his later years as a performer, Corkey concentrated on dinner music, with regular stints at The Bear’s Steakhouse, Duanesburg; Turf Tavern, Scotia, NY (where Pat played frequently as well); The Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, MA; and Blantyre, Lenox, MA. His many innovative arrangements of classical, folk, and pop tunes made him a favorite with Tanglewood celebrities like opera star Jessye Norman and violinist Itzhak Perlman, the latter sometimes joining Corkey in Blantyre’s dining room for kazoo and harp duets.
Throughout the years at the couple’s Duane Lake home, the indefatigable Corkey maintained an expansive garden, built gazebos and other structures from both wood and rock, and amassed an enormous collection of artwork and paraphernalia with The Last Supper as the theme. The Last Supper collection grew into a project of his hand-stitching eighteen sets of robes and accessories based on Last Supper iconography.
In 2009, while receiving treatment at Schenectady’s Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital, Corkey began taking classes in the Studio Arts Program. This spurred a new burst of Corkey’s creative output in drawing and painting, which lasted until his final illness. Corkey prepared a brief biography for an art show at Sunnyview in which he described his life perfectly in a few words: “I produce art because I have no other choice; I feel compelled to. If I stopped there would be a big hole, nothing.”
Arrangements are under the care of Simple Choices Cremation Service, Troy, NY. There will be a private remembrance for family and friends.
Corkey’s recent artwork will be featured at an inaugural show of local artists to be held at Turf Tavern, 40 Mohawk Avenue, Scotia, NY 12302. An opening reception has been scheduled for Sunday, November, 19, 2017, from 12 to 3 PM.
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