Vespers Organ Recital held in Honor of Dr. Wil Alexander

Dr. Angela Kraft Cross, LLU Alumna, performed a Vespers Organ Recital in Honor of Dr. Wil Alexander on February 25, at the Loma Linda University Church

Dr. Angela Kraft Cross performed a concert to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Wil Alexander, which included a piece she composed called, “To Make Man Whole.” The concert took place at 4:30 p.m., Saturday, February 25 at the Loma Linda University Church.

Dr. Kraft Cross, a San Francisco bay area organist, pianist and composer, graduated from Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music in 1980 with bachelor’s degrees in Physics and Organ Performance. She then earned her Doctor of Medicine degree at Loma Linda University, completing her residency in ophthalmology. She worked for 22 years at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Redwood City and now volunteers as an ophthalmologist at Samaritan House Medical Clinic.

Her illustrious music career, performing on both organ and piano, includes over four hundred concerts across the United States and internationally. She has performed in venues that include the Notre Dame Cathedral, Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and the St. Sulpice and the Madeleine in Paris. She has released eight CDs and three of her organ albums have received critical acclaim in The American Organist magazine. Currently, she is the Artist in Residence after serving as the organist of the Congregational Church of San Mateo since 1993 and is also the staff organist at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

The Center for Spiritual Life and Wholeness is appreciative to Dr. Kraft Cross for honoring Dr. Alexander’s legacy in this way. We interviewed her about her connection to “Wil,” the role of creativity in her personal and professional wholeness and about the inspiration to compose this new work.

(Interviewer: Kris Lozano, Manager of the Center for Spiritual Life and Wholeness)

Tell us the story of how you become acquainted with Dr. Wil Alexander (Wil)?

“I was in (the School of Medicine Class of) ‘84, and in the Fall of ‘81, I was enrolling in my sophomore religion class, and I chose the class in Spiritual Care run by Drs. Wil Alexander and Harvey Elder, as did my two roommates, Deanne Ho-A-Shoo and Jane Cermak, all Med 84. We all instantly bonded to both of our mentors!! I did not come from an SDA background, and had chosen Loma Linda University to pursue medical school because I felt that my career of medicine should be a ministry, a direct extension of my Christian faith. And so, this class totally captivated my attention, and embodied what I pictured as Loma Linda's most unique gifts as a medical school.”

What were your first impressions of Wil?

“Wow!! What a beloved mentor who radiated unconditional love, empathy, and an amazing inner peace and contagious inner joy! And he was so very intuitive!!!”

Do you have a funny or interesting story from encounters with Wil?

“I think that "Uncle Wil" got a kick out of the three classmates who were all roommates; he used to call us The Three Graces, after the Italian sculpture by Canova.

In Uncle Wil's later years, my husband and I loved the fact that when he and his dear wife, Mary, turned 90, they invested in harps and harp lessons to prepare for the hereafter!”

From either your interactions with Wil or your time at Loma Linda, what did you incorporate into your own practice as an ophthalmologist?

“Uncle Wil was the paragon of empathy and compassion, and I have always strived to be that kind of ophthalmologist. He taught us all to be better listeners, and to really take the time to hear the whole story, even when it didn't suit our agenda of the moment as a physician. Ironically, this view of medical practice is not always in style in today's corporate medicine, where efficiency in managing appointments reigns supreme. And it was largely due to my dedication to medicine as ministry that I took early retirement from Kaiser, and have eventually found my way to volunteering at the medical clinic at our local Samaritan House. And because of that, medicine (ophthalmology) in my life is feeling joyful again!”

You mentioned in 1993 that you asked Wil to perform your wedding ceremony. Would you like to share that story?

“Uncle Wil has long been a father figure to me and it felt totally joyful bringing him up to San Mateo to officiate our wedding in January 1993. My husband, Robert Cross, had never met him, but they bonded instantly!”

Your background includes degrees in physics, organ performance, medicine and music. Tell us about these uniquely varied interests and how they intersect and connect for you? Do each of them inform and impact the other areas?

“Music has always been part of my life and I have played piano since age seven and organ since age ten. I think of music as the native language of God, so music is an essential part of my spiritual life. I also think of music as on an equal level to eating and sleeping, so when med school became intense, I was never tempted to let my music go. In fact, quite the contrary, when med school was its most demanding, I found the courage to deal with those challenges through music. I have always seen medicine as my ministry, which is also why it feels so rewarding to be volunteering in my retirement, and that clinic gives the room to practice whole person care!”

How do you balance your ophthalmologic practice with your art? Why is this important?

“The balance between medicine and music has been flexible and evolving through the years. In medical school, residency and my young career, medicine was a full-time pursuit, with music wedged in wherever possible. Over time, I reduced my schedule at Kaiser, which made more room for music. In addition to organ and piano performance, especially in the last decade, I have been spending more and more time learning and trying to practice the art of composition. Retiring from Kaiser has been very helpful in allowing more time for the time-consuming process of creativity.

I have always felt that music and medicine balance each other well: Medicine keeps me grounded, while music keeps me uplifted.”

What inspired you to compose this work and perform this recital in Wil’s honor?

“Uncle Wil has always been very supportive of my music ministry, and in the recent years, he was very supportive of my composing. I remember that he had bonded to a piece I wrote, and told me that he had heard Whole Person Care in the work! When he passed, I thought it would be deeply joyful to be able to write for him a piece concentrating on his ministry of Whole Person Care, hence the title, “To Make Man Whole.”

How did you approach putting together this concert? How did you go about deciding what pieces to craft and what would be most appropriate to honor Wil’s legacy?

“The concert will be a mix of several beautiful organ works by favorite composers Bach, Brahms, Vierne and Widor, as well as a few of my compositions, and especially featuring “To Make Man Whole,” written in Uncle Wil's honor, to make a musical tribute to his legacy.”

As an artist, what do you hope that those who attend this concert will experience and take away?

“Whenever I perform, I always think of God's unconditional Love channeling through the music, so in a nutshell, I want those to come to feel loved! I also hope that they will relate to the story in “To Make Man Whole,” which features a principal character who has both a heroic theme and an anxious worrying theme, then that character becomes ill. After receiving loving and empathetic care, the road to healing begins. I also want those who hear to realize that Uncle Wil's legendary ministry and teaching epitomize Loma Linda University's stated purpose and values!”