RB News & Notes
A LIFE IN 20th-CENTURY CHURCH MUSIC
Roberta Bitgood began serving as a church organist while still in her teens, in her hometown of New London, Connecticut. She attended the local Connecticut College for Women, where she took a double major in Mathematics and Organ. As a college student she gave recitals at the New London Methodist Episcopal Church and at St. James Episcopal Church. Encouraged by her college organ teacher, she obtained a scholarship to study at the Guilmant Organ School in New York, where she studied with William C. Carl. In addition to her studies at the Guilmant school, she served as assistant organist at First Presbyterian Church in New York, also working as organist at the First Moravian Church.
In 1930 Roberta Bitgood became a Fellow of the American Guild of Organists at age 22. In the same year she was awarded the Gold Medal of the Guilmant school. In 1932, she took the job as organist and choir master at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bloomfield, New Jersey, also teaching courses at Bloomfield College and Seminary. In the same year she earned a master's degree in music education from Teacher's College at Columbia University. In 1935, she earned the Master of Sacred Music degree from the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary. In 1935, too, she began publishing her own compositions. "Rosa Mystica" was first in a series of sacred choral works which are still admired and performed by church choirs today. During her career at Union, Roberta Bitgood studied with Clarence Dickinson, and later with David McK. Williams. In 1945, she received the degree of Sacred Music Doctor, again from Union's School of Sacred Music.
From 1947 to 1952, Dr. Bitgood served as organist and choir master at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Buffalo, New York. Subsequently she moved to California and a job as minister of music at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Riverside (1952-1960). From there, she moved to Michigan, where she served first at Redford Presbyterian Church in Detroit (1960-62), then at First Presbyterian Church in Bay City (1962-69), and finally at First Congregational Church in Battle Creek (1969-1976).
Approaching retirement, Roberta Bitgood became the first woman elected national president of the American Guild of Organists, serving two terms, from 1975 to 1981. As AGO president, Dr. Bitgood visited local chapters from Seattle to the Panama Canal Zone, and sparked the development of innovative leadership structures within the organization. She moved back to Connecticut in retirement, where she again served local churches and synagogues in her professional capacity until 1999.
For more than 70 years, Roberta Bitgood performed as a leader in the profession, training choir singers and organists in many parts of the United States. Her published works include sacred anthems and cantatas for choir and organ, vocal solos, compositions for solo organ, and some for organ with other instruments.