Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) ceremonial organist Dr. Randall Sheets retires after nearly 25 years of service. During his tenure Sheets performed at 18,000 funeral services, 850 weddings, and many National Prayer and ANC Thanksgiving breakfasts.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) ceremonial organist Dr. Randall Sheets retires after nearly 25 years of service. During his tenure Sheets performed at 18,000 funeral services, 850 weddings, and many National Prayer and ANC Thanksgiving breakfasts. (Photo Credit: Rachel Everett) VIEW ORIGINAL
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va., -- In his nearly 25 years of service as an organist Dr. Randall Sheets has played for 18,000 Arlington National Cemetery funerals and 850 weddings, giving the many families who sit in the pews of Old Post Chapel at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall their first opportunity to hear an organ, an instrument Sheets has played since 1974.

“I studied piano from the time I was in elementary school and during my junior year my music teacher encouraged me to learn the organ,” Sheets said. “I studied the organ that year and within my first couple weeks of college, I had a part-time job playing the organ at Sunday morning church services.”

After completing college and receiving his Doctor of Music from the University of Maryland, Sheets worked at several churches in the National Capitol Region, including a Baptist church in Baltimore, Maryland and an episcopal church in Annadale, Virginia. He taught part-time at the National Cathedral School for Girls at Washington National Cathedral as well several private schools. Part of what drew Sheets to apply for the ceremonial organist job was that it was a government job with Arlington National Cemetery.

In his first several years as the ceremonial organist, Sheets played the organ for more than 100 weddings a year.

“There were many days where I would have back-to-back weddings at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4 p.m., and a 5 p.m. catholic mass,” said Sheets. “It is no exaggeration that this organ is a workhorse and has probably been played more than any other organ in the nation.”

Built in 1935, the metal and wooden pipe organ is played five days a week, 52 weeks a year at various denominational services to include protestant, catholic, Jewish and Russian orthodox. The 87-year-old organ was installed and voiced by Richard O Whitelegg, protégé of Henry Willis whose organs are highly regarded as the finest in the United Kingdom. Despite its build however, the organ has quarterly tuning and routine maintenance done.

“We are hoping to receive a grant to completely rebuild this organ so when it celebrates its 100th birthday in 2035 it will be in better condition than it was when it was new because there are things we can do better now then we could have 87 years ago,” said Sheets.

A complete rebuild of the organ would expand the lifespan of the organ by another 50 years.

Sheets said he looks forward to playing the organ every morning. Over the course of his time as a ceremonial organist, Sheets has produced and directed annual Christmas concerts in Old Post Chapel as well as performed at many national prayer breakfasts and Arlington National Cemetery Thanksgiving breakfasts, but for him the most rewarding part has been working with the families.

“I never get tired of playing the organ,” said Sheets. “It does not matter if I am playing the organ for a private with honors from WWII or a four-star general.”

“Sometimes I am playing for families who might have no musical education or church affiliation, so this is a brand-new experience for them to be in church and hear an organ,” said Sheets. “Other times, I’ve had families who are educated in classical music request Johann Sebastian Bach pieces that I didn’t know and had to learn how to play for the service. I learn things from some of the requests that the families make.”

In retirement, Sheets will continue to play the organ, performing nation-wide with the Seipp/Sheets Trumpet & Organ Duo. Over the past five years, Sheets and Chuck Seipp, who is retired from the U.S. Army Band, have played more than 100 concerts in 24 states and produced more CD recordings.

For more information Seipp/Sheets Trumpet & Organ upcoming performances visit https://www.seippsheetsduo.com/upcoming-performances/.