Barbara Taylor Moore—organist, piano teacher, and volunteer firefighter—was born in Charlottesville to a family that goes back several generations in the area. If that makes her a rare bird, it also gives her a trove of ancestors and anecdotes. In true Southern style, she regales me with this oral history for a full hour before we get to her own appearance on the scene, in 1951. To hit two highlights, her great grandmother Taylor was a Lee related to Robert E. Lee, whom she always called “Cousin Bobby”; and the Taylors of Orange County include Zachary Taylor, twelfth president of the United States.
Her father forbade firefighting, saying her hands were too precious, but after his death in 1994, Moore joined the Charlottesville squad.
Slender and elegant, weighing less than a hundred pounds, Moore seems an unlikely firefighter. But she comes by the distinction honestly. Her father Frederick “Jimmy” Taylor was a building contractor and firefighter. He took Barbara as a young child to fires, where she stood just inside the taped-off area, beside the trucks. One of her earliest memories is riding on a ladder truck in the Dogwood Parade, wearing a majorette uniform.
Also from her earliest years, Moore wanted to play piano. She says she is “the oddball in the family,” in which all the men were builders and brick masons, and no one was a musician. At age 7, Moore began piano lessons with Mrs. Georgia Renfro. She practiced first thing in the morning (still her favorite time to practice) before going to school, which meant getting up at 6 o’clock. “My mother always sat beside me at the piano,” Moore says, “which was quite an investment, given all the other things she had to do.”
Moore attended Burnley-Moran Elementary School through seventh grade, then Lane High School for eighth grade. In 1965, when public schools were racially integrated, Moore was assigned to the Jefferson School for ninth grade. Because of crowding, all students were asked to give up one course, and Moore skipped gym class. This happy chance allowed her to take organ lessons at the First Baptist Church, then located at the northeast corner of Lee Park, a short walk from school. Mrs. Renfro, the organist at First Baptist, was again her teacher. Piano and organ lessons continued through high school, and Moore substituted on organ at church.
From 1969 to 1973, Moore attended Mary Washington College, as a music major with a minor in history. “At that time,” Moore says, “there were no auditions. At my first lesson, my college teacher, who knew nothing about me, said: ‘You learned from Renfro.’ It was a distinctive style, clean and precise.”
During those years, Moore decided against a career as a concert pianist. “I was told that my hands were not big enough. The preference, at least in America, was for strength and power.” Instead, she attended Baylor University, in Waco, Texas, and in two years earned a master’s degree in organ in 1975. She chose Baylor in part because she got a job as a teaching assistant. As required for the degree, she gave two recitals. Her parents drove to Texas to hear her play, then brought her back to Charlottesville.
“I wanted to teach in college,” Moore says, “and people suggested that I go for a PhD, but by the end of Baylor, I did not want more school.” Providentially, Donna Renfro, daughter of Georgia, left Charlottesville just as Moore returned. “I took over her piano students, stepped into her place.” Two years later in 1977, the First Baptist Church burned, and the Renfros moved away. In 1978, Moore was hired as organist by the church, which built its current home on Park Street.
In 1983, a young man named Jim Moore showed up in the First Baptist “Singles Class.” Also born and raised here, the son of a University of Virginia professor, Jim came from a musical family and played piano. Six years younger than Barbara, he courted her through a blizzard, a broken foot, and her unshakeable conviction that he was “just a friend.” She saw the light, and they married the next spring. A graduate of UVA in architecture, Jim drew a house, Barbara’s father built it for them, and they live there today, near her mother, Marjorie.
In 1987, Moore moved to University Baptist Church, where she continues to be the organist. She plays for Sunday service, weddings and funerals, and is the accompanist for Jubilate, an auditioned choir of college students. She is one of five piano teachers at the University of Virginia, and she teaches privately as well. Most of her private students are children, and most lessons are on piano. An outstanding student was Oliver Wolcott, who graduated from high school in 2009, and who now studies organ at the Eastman School of Music.
Moore is a founding member of the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists, a cofounder of the Charlottesville Music Teachers Association, and a long-time member of the Wednesday Music Club, which sponsors music scholarships for young people. Her father forbade firefighting, saying her hands were too precious, but after his death in 1994 she joined the Charlottesville squad, and was elected to his long-time office as secretary. While the gear is heavy, she points out that “I can squeeze into places those big, burly men cannot.”
On September 7, Moore performed a rare recital on organ and harpsichord at University Baptist. The program included one piece by her favorite composer, J. S. Bach, seldom heard works by Buxtehude and Bruhns, and a tour-de-force of pedal variations on a theme of Paganini, by George Talban-Ball. “I like the challenge of playing with hands and feet,” she says. “I like the range of color on an organ, and the fact that I have all the strength needed to produce a gorgeous, glorious sound.”