abba's way

Remembering Al Carmines — A New York City Composer and Writer of Plays and Musicals

This page remembers and celebrates Al Carmines, who died in New York City after a remarkable career as a minister who was also a musical and theatrical genius.
Al Carmines became my good friend when we were students together at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Al had come from Swarthmore, was — clearly and transparently — highly intelligent, and from the beginning projected the musical and artistic interests that were hallmarks of his long and creative days in this city.

Al and I used to go out to the West End Bar for late night snacks and down to Times Square for supper at Tad’s and a sci-fi flick. On Sunday nights we’d sing harmony while he played the grand piano in the Union Theological Seminary Social Hall. Mostly simple folk songs. “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” as if the Everly Brothers had adapted it.

I remember going town to Judson Church to see about a pastoral job. Howard Moody, Judson’s pastor, was polite but he clearly wanted more than a pastor. Al became his associate there and it was a perfect fit because Al was the one in a million who not only could talk the talk but walk the walk when it came to hands-on appreciation of, and personal creation of, cutting-edge music, dance and drama.

We kept up through the years. My dad had an aneurism in the early 80s and my brothers and I made a decision that he would have not one but two operations to ensure him continued, conscious life. The second operation was for a shunt to even the pressures in his head. After Al subsequently had his aneurism, I told him about the second operation when he was seriously depressed. I believe Al’s decision to have the shunt put in contributed to his recovery and to the productive decades he enjoyed subsequently.

Al was not completely well during these last several years. He would veer from one debilitating situation to another and he was in and out of hospitals and finally required full time in-home care.

At the same time, he was always Al — warm and loving, capable of sermons which were so completely his own that they will pass away with him, simply to be recalled with admiration and affection. Singing, increasingly songs like Give Me Jesus, at the piano at Trinity-Rauschenbusch where he had served many years as founder and pastor of the Rauschenbusch-UCC wing of the congregation, whose members were drawn in many cases from his artistic associations over the years.

I believe that creation for others is perhaps the most significant thing we do. And Al was always doing that. That he could come out of the warm, Southern evangelical tradition and absorb the philosphical and artistic air of everyone from Kant to Gertrude Stein to the Niebuhr’s, Tillich’s and Driver’s that he studied with — well the synthesis and consistent love projected out to all and sundry seem to me to be among the memorable marks of a life whose impact will be felt by many long after tears have been shed for his recent loss

Walter Rauschenbusch


Bronx Bob said…

If you do a Google search on Al Carmines, the 20 plus pages of references offer impressive testimony about the influence and significance of this great composer, playwright, pastor, and theologian.

Although his failing health in recent years reduced his public creative output, those of us who attend worship services at Manhattan’s Trinity Presbyterian Church enjoyed Sunday after Sunday the special treat of his genious and spontaneity in the music program he directed and the thinking about life and issues of the day he brought to the pulpit.

Every year, I looked forward to attending Christmas Rappings — his masterful and delightful oratorio recounting the Biblical stories about Christ’s birth. Somehow we have to find a way of preserving this Christmas tradition.

8:18 AM

jackie said…

The important thing about Al is that his work go on. Not only his musicals, but his atitude that the artistic spark of creativity that lives in all of us is a spark from God.

3:24 PM

Stephen said…

There will be a memorial for Al in the main chapel at Union Theological Seminary at 5:00 PM on Sunday 6 November.

The seminary is located at Bruadway and 120th Street in Manhattan and the main entrance is at 121st and Broadway. James Chapel can beaccessed from Claremont Avenue but it is not known whether that entrance will be available.

My plan is to leave this blog up so that it can be used to post other recollections or comments using this comment feature. I would appreciate the comments having to do with Al and his contribution and life. Best, S
10:46 AM

Vince said…

I am glad to find somewhere to collect and listen to stories about Al Carmines. I did not know him well, but when I wandered into his church as a sophomore at NYU, I fell in love with the man. I remember vividly that he was in the back room smoking two cigarettes at once. We began to talk and in a few minutes he asked me to sing “Old Rugged Cross” during the service. When I came back a month or so later he stopped in the middle of the service and had me sing “Old Rugged Cross” again. That day he said what must have been a ten minute prayer for a man named Princess Pansy that he had met at a bar the night before. He was truly one of the most interesting and inspiring men I have known, and I wish I could have gotten to know him better. As I head to seminary in the fall, it will be to do ministry as Al did it, honestly and joyfully.

7:43 AM



6 thoughts on “Remembering Al Carmines — A New York City Composer and Writer of Plays and Musicals

  1. DAVID Johnson says:

    I remember him on tv when He would sing and play piano for Madeline KAhn. LISTEN I FEEL was such a wonderful song and only she could handle it. Wish I could remember more

  2. Sarha Murphree (Murph) says:

    I’m so glad I stumbled across this site! I was an old friend of Al Carmines (Murph of Gail and Murph from Ohio. Gail was Al’s friend from high school and I met him some years later when he was at Union Theological. We kept in touch throughout his life but thanks to Gail’s handicap didn’t get to New York much.) Anyway, what you’ve said about Al is dead on: he was a loving, life-affirming, creative, eccentric and often quite hilarious soul, with a deeper side. He was often very funny even in the depths of the depression that followed his aneurysm. Incidentally, thank you for mentioning the shunt to him. While it did not restore him to his old self it did relieve the constant agonizing headaches he was having at that time . He and Gail used to commiserate because she had awful migraines. One time she was describing her pain when Al broke in with his most dramatic tone and exclaimed “but Gail! MY head HURTS!!” Talk about LOL!

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