William C. Macfarlane appears to have been a church organist and perhaps a choirmaster as well. Whether he held similar posts at any Reform synagogue has yet to be determined, but his contributions to music of Reform worship in the late 19th and early years of the 20th century suggest that possibility. On the other hand, his interest in setting Reform liturgy and in providing hymns for Reform hymnals could have stemmed from collegial relationships with fellow organists and choirmasters who served at one or more Reform congregations. Certainly he was known to Max Spicker, the organist at Temple Emanu-El in New York beginning in 1891, and perhaps also known by that synagogue’s cantor at the time, William Sparger, since they included his music in their jointly edited and published anthology, The Synagogal Service (1901). Macfarlane is listed as organist on the program of the concert held at Temple Emanu-El for the delegates at the twenty-second Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1911, which was convened and held with much fanfare—and at which the former United States president, Theodore Roosevelt, was among the non-Jewish as well as Jewish dignitaries who addressed the convention. As it is unlikely that an organist for so small a part in that program would have been brought from elsewhere to a city with so many competent musicians, it is reasonable to suppose that Macfarlane was based in New York and was invited to participate as a guest by Mr. Spicker and Cantor Sparger.
By: Neil W. Levin