When the Music Stops : Choirmaster Slain in Holdup Is Remembered Fondly

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In a city where violence has become commonplace, the death of David John Falconer was tragically typical: A man stops at a convenience store on his way home from work, is held up and gets shot to death.

But the life of David John Falconer--well, that was another matter entirely, as the parishioners and children of the St. James Episcopal Church and School in Hancock Park can testify.

To the hundreds of people who mourned Falconer this week, the 40-year-old organist and choirmaster with the graying beard and imposing height was as extraordinary as the cause of his death was needless.


Here was a teacher who could inspire an inner-city 12-year-old with the soaring trumpet fanfares of Telemann and Bach. His elementary school pupils--all 330 of them--could listen to a bit of a tune and not only tell you that it sounded like Schubert but then go on to tell you why.

So dedicated was he to his job as church organist that he almost single-handedly raised the $750,000 now being spent to restore St. James’ historic Murray Harris pipe organ. So popular was he as the parish’s choirmaster that 75 children a year at the St. James school gave up recesses just to sing for him.

“That a man like this should get cut down in the prime of life is so hard to believe,” said the Rev. Kirk Smith, St. James’ pastor.

Noted 12-year-old Eddie Thayer, a sixth-grader at the St. James school: “When he died, a part of the school went with him.”

According to Falconer’s friends and Los Angeles police, Falconer was killed shortly after 10 p.m. on Thursday outside a Los Feliz convenience store near Hillhurst and Franklin avenues. Three gunmen confronted him as he was getting into his car. What they wanted is unclear.

Choir practice had just ended Thursday night when the slaying occurred, and Falconer was heading home to the Silver Lake house he had bought two years ago with his life partner of 10 years, the Rev. David Charles Walker.


“He liked to have beer and popcorn when he came home from choir,” Walker said, “and often he’d stop on his way home to pick up a can of beer.”

Walker, 56, said he had often worried for Falconer’s safety on the nights he worked late at St. James, a stately parish whose ornate, cream-colored facade is wedged like some gracious artifact of gentler times among the appliance storefronts and high-rises of Wilshire Boulevard.

But as time passed, he said, he learned to relax, and on the night of Falconer’s death, he went to bed early and left the lights on.

“I awoke at 2:30,” he said, “and realized that the lights were still on.”

Alarmed, he called a member of the choir. No, she said, rehearsal had ended on time. Walker dashed to his car and drove to the church. Falconer’s car was not in the lot. Terrified, Falconer’s friend, a white-haired, bespectacled man with round, pink cheeks, finally drove to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart Division, where a desk sergeant confirmed his worst fears.

Walker arrived at County-USC Medical Center just in time to be greeted by a surgeon who told him that the bullet had entered Falconer’s torso under one arm and ripped through his vital organs before exiting at his waist. His pulse was just a whisper when the paramedics had arrived. Walker was sent to the morgue to identify the corpse.

Weeping, Walker recalled the man with whom he had shared his life--the way Falconer would bring out the fine china and the good crystal, even for an informal dinner for two, the way he would romp with their two Kerry blue terriers, the way he would goldbrick while Walker did all the gardening and then joke about how he had done such a nice job.

Falconer was such a lucky guy, he recalled, that the USC doctorate he finished this summer was paid for mostly by a windfall he had won at a Reno slot machine.


At St. James’ school, Falconer’s students alternated between sobs and laughter, remembering the puppets used by Falconer to coax the shy students into singing.

“You see stuff like this on TV, but you don’t think it’ll happen to someone you know,” said 12-year-old Anne Collins. “What makes it so sad is, he died because someone wanted an object of his. . . . It just seems so pointless.”

A requiem is scheduled Wednesday at 7 p.m. at St. James. Memorial donations may be made to the David John Falconer Scholarship Fund for Research in the

Kodaly Method, c/o the School of Music at USC.