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Published: Sunday, 5/18/2008

Christian musician started, led festival choir and orchestra

Roger H. Bradley, 66, a violinist, bassist, and singer who founded a Christian choir and orchestra that featured singers and musicians from 120 churches, died Monday in Flower Hospital after a stroke.

By day, he tuned, fixed, and sold pianos through Bradley Piano Sales and Service, run from his Sylvania Township home.

He had multiple sclerosis since 2000. As his condition worsened he stopped piano tuning, violin playing, and, finally, directing the choir at St. Paul's United Methodist Church near downtown Toledo, his wife, Jan, said.

Earlier he gave up directing the Christian Festival Choir and Orchestra, which he founded in 1982 to bring together choirs and musicians from churches around northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

The group held annual concerts through 1987. Concerts resumed in 1996 and, through the years, have been held at the Peristyle, SeaGate Centre, Lourdes College, and at high schools.

"It was his vision," said Denise Spohler, secretary of the group. "Roger just had a way of masterminding getting all these church choirs together and wanted this wonderful choir of all these denominations together, crossing cultural lines. It was more than denominations. It was colors and cultures together."

That was his aim, said his wife, who helped him organize the events and who played keyboards in them.

Mr. Bradley was born in Maryland, but grew up in southern Africa from ages 4 to 17. His parents were missionaries in Swaziland. He came to Toledo to teach music at the majority black Spencer-Sharples schools in western Lucas County. And he was music minister at churches across a variety of denominations.

So the Christian choir and orchestra "was his greatest passion," his wife said. "He almost felt he was born to bring unity to the church."

His day job financed his calling. He tuned pianos in homes, schools, and concert halls in 13 counties.

"He's better known in the general community for his piano tuning than for his church-choir directing," his wife said. "[The concerts] never paid for themselves. He always had to kick in thousands of dollars. The piano business gave him the ability to do that."

He was a former concertmaster of the Michigan-Ohio Choir and Orchestra, which holds annual Christmas concerts. He accompanied visiting Christian singers in their Toledo concerts.

When more than 22,000 people walked and sang their way around East Toledo in 1997 on the annual March for Jesus, Mr. Bradley was music director.

He received an associate's degree from United Wesleyan College, Allentown, Pa., and a bachelor's degree from Duquesne University, Pittsburgh.

Because of multiple sclerosis, he put aside his model railroading hobby. But he liked riding on trains pulled by steam locomotives and took excursions in Yellowstone National Park and to northern Ontario above the tree line.

"He said [a steam locomotive] was the ultimate musical instrument, and the more cinders flying in your eyes, the better," his wife said.

Surviving are his wife, Jan Bradley, whom he married Aug. 11, 1962, and daughter Karen Rhinehart.

There will no visitation. Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Whiteford Wesleyan Church in Ottawa Lake, Mich., where the family will greet friends after 10 a.m. Saturday. Arrangements are by the Reeb Funeral Home, Sylvania.

The family suggests tributes to the Christian Festival Choir and Orchestra.



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