I have had a weblog on BACHorgan.com ever since 2004 and it has caused me to think about things (so I will have something to write about). I started playing the piano when I was 7 but didn't start organ until I was 20 and in college. I graduated from the College of Wooster in Ohio in 1970 with a piano major/organ minor. I also attended the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati for 2 years, 1966-68. I was a piano teacher for 30 years until 2008. I was Associate Organist at 1st Church of Christ, Scientist in Mt Vernon, Virginia from 2006-2014 and also am a substitute organist/music director in the Maryland-Virginia-DC area. My organ teachers since 1973 included Ronald Stalford, Dale Krider, Music Director at St. Andrew’s Episcopal with whom I currently study; Charles Callahan, and Kenneth Lowenberg (organ, improvisation, and composition). I passed the Colleague exam of the American Guild of Organists in 2003.
I studied piano with Daniel Winter at the College of Wooster and with several other piano teachers at Cincinnati Conservatory (CCM). I studied piano as an adult for 13 years with Robert Dumm, a former professor at Catholic University who also wrote columns for Clavier Magazine and Keyboard Classics.
I made a professionally-recorded CD, “Susan Burkhalter, Organist/Pianist”, which dropped in stores in 2011. It has 9 organ pieces, with 4 by J.S. Bach, recorded on a large 3–manual pipe organ on the campus of Maryland University, and 8 piano pieces. My CD is available through my website, www.susanburkhalter.com, and as a CD or digital download on CDbaby.com and Amazon.
My husband, Curtis Shively, is a retired electrical engineer and also a fine pianist and baritone horn player. We have two adult children, a daughter and a son. (updated April 7, 2014)
Guest Rampage: "The Power of Music" by Susan Burkhalter, 5/11/02
I feel as though we organists have stumbled upon a secret, and that is, how amazing it is to play the organ. It's indescribable what it feels like to be in control of that much raw power, joy, quiet beauty, turbulence and emotion. It's as if we're borrowing the creative powers of God above, the Word made not flesh but wood and tin.
I've always had a great fondness for organ ever since I can remember, and few other sounds can bring me to tears. I discovered Bach when I was about 11, and my piano teacher started me on some of the Inventions. This was my introduction to Baroque music, which unfortunately, my piano teacher did not care for. However, she graciously indulged me. For years I was making the mistake of playing Bach on the piano and not really getting it, until I started with the harpsichord at 17 and finally got it. It was like discovering it all over again. But I still didn't really feel it until I began listening to the organ Toccatas and Fugues. Suddenly I felt that if I listened just close enough, Bach was describing the construction of the Universe, the wind and the water, earth and flame, God, man, and daemon inside these pieces. How could one man ever know God that well?
I'm going to quit while I'm ahead. I can say nothing about Bach's music that listening to it won't say better.
Until last year, I had only heard of Bach through school or the compilation CDs of classical music one buys from Wal-Mart. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought I would become utterly enamoured by the majesty of his music. It all began inadvertently really. I had purchased the Master and Commander Soundtrack, containing the Prelude from the first Cello Suite. It was love at first hearing. Shortly thereafter I was purchasing every Bach composition I could get my hands on. I then took the plunge and bought the Bach Complete Works 171 disc set and that was it. I haven't listened to anything from this century in over a year. Prior to all of this, I had scarcely studied music, slightly in my youth, but nothing to the extent of this. I soon learned to read music and shortly thereafter took up theory in college. It was not but six months ago I first laid my hands upon a keyboard and immediately became enthralled. I practice extensively and am now working on a few pieces from the Well Tempered Clavier Book I. 'Tis quite the mountain to climb I might add.
My true love however, amidst all of this seemingly endless banter, is for the organ. Nothing quite pronounces the voice of God as much as this and to actually hear Bach performed live is a truly moving experience. Mere words cannot do justice. I have seen and heard the Noack Organ at Christ the King Church in Houston, and was staggered by its beauty and magnificence. Undoubtedly my favorite pieces for the organ are the Passacaglia, Prelude & Fugue in A minor BWV 542, and of course the ever so popular Fugue in D minor.
Somehow, I have filled myself with an infinite longing to play this music. I love it absolutely too much not to attempt to learn. Most of the members of this website are experienced organists of a lifetime of playing. Though daunting, this gives me satisfaction in knowing that it is possible for me to become one. I want ever so desperately to learn this music, not only for the ability to celebrate the Grace of God, or for my own enlightenment, but to pass this majestic work on to future generations. I will soon take up lessons and will work tirelessly for the entirety of my life, striving to voice the art and glory of Johann Sebastian Bach.
I apologize for my lengthy rant, but every word of it is heartfelt and sincere. If anyone has any suggestions for a young organist-to-be please don't hesitate to email me.
I grew up in an Italian-American family in Campbell, Ohio, where music was always in the air. Aunt Josephine heard Caruso sing and knew all the famous opera arias by heart (She sang them to me when I was small.). My cousins used to play the piano at grandma's house during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter festivities. Consequently, I began studying piano at the age of 8 with a neighborhood teacher who also introduced me to the organ. She was organist at St. Joseph's Church, Youngstown, Ohio, where there was a pipe organ, an old 2-manual Wirsching. That was my first experience with a pipe organ, and it was a revelation! The sound intrigued me! It was after hearing pipe organs in movies like El Cid, with Charleton Heston, and The Sound of Music, with Julie Andrews, that I definitely was convinced of wanting to become an organist. I started playing the organ in my parish church, St. Lucy in Campbell, Ohio, where there was an old Hammond electronic instrument!
The first time I ever heard of Bach was during a Walt Disney movie on the life of Beethoven shown on television one Sunday afternoon. Young Beethoven was supposed to play Bach during a recital, but he played his own works instead. Someone in the audience whispered, "That's not Bach!". My first real contact with Bach was through the Two-Part Inventions, but it was after listening to a recording of Bach's works by E. Power Biggs on the Flentrop Organ at Harvard that I really wanted to deepen my knowledge of the instrument and Bach. I began studying organ seriously when I was 16 with Orlando Vitello who was organist at St. Columba Cathedral, Youngstown, Ohio, where there was a 3-manual Casavant. It was Mr. Vitello who gave me the desire to pursue a career, so, he asked me to be his assistant organist at the cathedral.
I entered the Dana School of Music at Youngstown State University where I studied organ with Samuel S. Badal, Jr., who was a student of Edwin Arthur Kraft (who studied with Widor!), and received a Bachelor of Music degree. I went on to graduate study at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati where I studied with Wayne Fisher (who had studied with Dupré) and received a Master of Music degree. It was while pursuing a DMA program in Cincinnati that I discovered the joys of playing a harpsichord and continuo playing, with Eiji Hashimoto as a teacher, all this just before going to Paris, France, to do doctoral research.
Paris represents a turning point in my life, for here is where I decided to live and pursue my career. I continued organ study at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris with Suzanne Chaisemartin. The lessons took place at Saint-Augustin where there is a 3-manual Cavaillé-Coll. What a pleasure to play a Cavaillé-Coll instrument! I then decided to make it a point to know all there is to know about these symphonic instruments. After receiving a Licence de Concert degree from the Ecole Normale, I was appointed Titular Organist at Saint-Jean de Montmartre Church in Paris, as the result of a competition. This church also houses a Cavaillé-Coll instrument. I have since given recitals on all the major organs of Paris: Notre-Dame, Sacré-Coeur, the Madeleine, Saint-Etienne du Mont, Saint-Augustin... I gave a recital of the complete organ works of Maurice Duruflé to commemorate his 80th birthday.
I have equally furthered my knowledge of the harpsichord with Huguette Dreyfus, one of the finest harpsichordists in France who has taught most of the major young harpsichordists in France. She is the finest teacher I ever had! It is thanks to the harpsichord and to Huguette Dreyfus' teaching that I have changed my outlook on Early Music and Bach.
I am currently Organist Emeritus at Saint-Jean de Montmartre Church in Paris, as well as Professor Emeritus of Harpsichord at the Conservatory of the 18th precinct in Paris, and it was as a harpsichordist that I played the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, by Bach, in a concert in Paris. I retired from both positions in 2015.
I have recently published an Online Harpsichord Method for children and all sorts of beginners. It was while teaching harpsichord in Education Action Zones (UK), or in Affirmative Action Areas (USA), that I noticed that a great effort still remained necessary to make the learning of this instrument accessible. The goal of this method is to favorize in a pleasant manner the learning and localization of the most commonly played notes, motor skills, as well as hand coordination and displacement by way of Basso Continuo, Diminutions, Articulations and Sight-reading. This project was born thanks to the pupils and their needs. It is the fruit of 12 years of planning and experimenting in real life situations. This approach parts from the standpoint that the beginning pupil has no previous musical knowledge. Please click here for more information: http://methode-clavecin.fr/?en
Before I was six years old I was in love with gadgets. I remember having a particular fascination with electric fans (yes, and I still don't know why!) I grew up in Florence, Alabama there was a local place we would call an "antique mall" today, but back then it was simply, "The Junk House." I remember my mother taking me there often and I always enjoyed discovering interesting things among the piles (literally) of old electric fans of every description, as well as more piles of old vacuum cleaners. In addition to those things, there were the pianos. Before kindergarten, I was banging on anyone's piano that would let me. I must have been demanding because before we moved to our permanent home, my parents bought me a beautifully carved upright piano and placed it in the carport. It cost $25.00, which back then I suppose was a lot for a young couple to spend on a four or five year old (and "one on the way,") but such is the love of a parent.
Unfortunately, I inherited from my mother a genetic sense of style and quality which was developed enough that the fact that the instrument was unplayable rendered it unacceptable to a youngster of my stature and it got no attention until the day they it got hauled off!
My father was a fantastic basketball coach, and principal at a local high school, and when I was a little older I would often go with him to work in the summer while school was out. I remember the freedom and excitement of having the master key to many acres of buildings, and one day while exploring a hitherto unnoticed storage room in the auditorium, I was thrilled to discover that it was filled with old pianos! Most of them were junk, but there was a small red spinet that all played and besides the baby grand on the stage, it was always the second thing I looked in on whenever I was there. I also looked forward to the wonderful lunch from the greasy-spoon nearby, and what a luxury it seemed when my father would open the drink machine hidden in his office closet and pull out two Dr. Peppers (he had his own key! It was like a gold mine!) I was incensed when the school had the gall to turn the grand old auditorium into a library. I remember thinking what a waste it was that the elegant grand piano sat entombed on the boarded up stage of the old auditorium, and chided my father years later when he told me it had fallen through the rotten stage floor!
The first time I understood what a pipe organ was occurred around age 10 I guess. I went to church with a friend and all that interested me were the ranks of exposed pipes and the large console. At the time it sounded incredible, but in reality the sound that so stirred me was made by a very coarse sounding neo-baroque organ that had not received adequate tonal finishing. The phrase that comes to mind is "God works in mysterious ways!" I was hooked. A Hammond spinet joined the old (but playable) upright piano in our basement.
Since I flunked an algebra class, I had to go to summer school. It was difficult for me to remain focused on the subject of math for the five or so hours each day, so I relieved the boredom with books about the pipe organ from our local library. One day the teacher "caught" me and asked that I stay after class. I waited anxiously for the upcoming lecture, and when the rest of the class departed, I did get the wise advice to make the most of the time and work on what I was there for (I passed, by the way,) but the wonderful lady quickly changed the subject to that of pipe organs. Her husband worked on them. I now know that was seems like coincidence was a God-instance. I became the note-holder for "Ed," and from Ed gained access to the 1925 E. M. Skinner in the beautiful downtown Methodist Church. I maintained a relationship with Ed & Sarah for many years, and one of the things I learned was that it was Sarah's father, a country preacher, who married my paternal grandparents.
By the time I finished high school the instruments in my basement were joined by my first pipe organ, thanks to Ed, and while I never got it playing fully, it brought me great joy. It was Ed who, after I decided to major in music in college, suggested that I study with Betty Louise Lumby. Having almost no formal music training of any sort, it's hard to imagine what went through Dr. Lumby's mind when I auditioned for her, but I'll never forget her comment as that day ended "I'll make a real organist out of you!" Dr. Lumby's characteristic and somewhat eccentric elegance has stayed with me, and I am coming to realize that I should let her know how things turned out. I was unprepared for the rigors of music study and did not stay with the program, although I eventually studied with other excellent teachers and completed my degree.
The year before college my parents began to realize the important place music would have in my life, and I remember listening for hours and hours to a boxed set of Bach recorded by E. Power Biggs on the Harvard Flentrop organ. That is probably what sent me off to college as an organ student.
Since then one dream after another has come true. My first real church music job was as organist-director at a beautiful Episcopal church with great acoustics and a small Moller in the gallery that sounded glorious in that room. During the eight years I was there the organ gained several ranks of used pipes, and was revoiced by John Hendriksen, former Aeolian-Skinner head flue voicer. I founded the first church-sponsored concert/arts series in our area, and I went on to serve several other churches, finish college, help found a local AGO chapter, and present my first public recitals.
In 1998 I was offered a full-time music position in a San Francisco Bay area Episcopal Church and left my hometown in triumph after many years of struggling to make up for the lack of proper early musical training as a youngster. In 2000, I accepted a position at another area parish, and my dream to create my "perfect" organ became reality when with the help of a local builder we completely rebuilt and revised the organ there. It went from 12 to 20 ranks, and I replaced the old worn out console and switching systems with a beautiful vintage Aeolian-Skinner console that I gutted and rebuilt with proper Skinner Style components and installed a software based control system. As a member of the local AGO chapter I have been privileged to perform in such well-known venues as Stanford University's Memorial Church, with its four unique but equally magnificent pipe organs.
My musical pilgrimage has not followed the traditional path, and it has been wrought with many challenges I am still learning technical aspects of playing that should have come long ago. My playing seems to reach "regular" church people in a special way, judging from the supportive comments I receive, and I have enjoyed a reputation as a fine organist that I often don't feel I am worthy of. I am thankful that I have had such a rich musical life in spite of the odds, and I don't take it for granted. I will keep on plugging, loving the organ as a complex machine and a musical instrument, its literature, and the challenge of playing that literature convincingly, for as long as I can!
BMus, Artistic Director
The Organ and I
"Pax Vobiscum," Handel, Bach, Pachelbel, and the long line of those illustrious organists and composers of organ music who have followed in their train. I am 87 years old, can't read music, (but I'm working on that,) and since I was 17 years old, I have had an on-going love-affair with classical pipe organ music.
In the bitterly cold Christmas season of 1933 I made the long tramcar journey from my home on the south side of Glasgow, Scotland, to attend a performance of Handel's "Messiah" in Glasgow Cathedral. The recital ended at midnight, and the tramcars had stopped running. I don't know how the other people got home, but I walked the 4 or 5 miles back to Langside.
This was the first time I heard pipe organ music and I determined that some day I would try to play an organ. While waiting for that magical occasion, I taught myself how to play some simple music on the piano, little suspecting that this small accomplishment would, in the early stages of WW-2, give me my first opportunity to play an organ.
I enlisted in the US Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, early in 1942, was assigned to the Medical Corps, and sent to a large training camp at North Little Rock, in Arkansas.
Each training battalion had its own chapel, and each chapel served as the forum for Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish services, and included a choir loft at the back, which contained a beautiful brand new Hammond Electric Organ.
On my first Sunday at church our chaplain announced the first hymn, but it was a poor performance -- no music to guide the handful of tentative singers.
After that first service I asked Captain Geron Roberts why he didn't use the Hammond Organ, and his answer was simple and very much to the point: "No organist."
I offered to try and see what I could do with my limited piano talent. There were a few hymns in the Army Hymnal I recognized and knew how to play on the piano, and I found out that the Hammond Organ was easy to start, easy to voice, and produced better church music than the piano.
For the 18 months I remained in that camp I was a church organist on Sundays, and a soldier during the week. Then, in early 1944 I shipped out from The Port of Oakland bound for New Guinea, and one of the three chaplains on board had brought a small Estey folding organ, and during the three-week voyage I was the organist for Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic Services. Each denomination had to sing the few hymns I could play, but nobody seemed to mind.
Fast forward to 1962...
I had completed my Master of Arts graduate degree at Arizona State University in 1957, and early in 1958 was appointed Superintendent of Education in Samoa. By 1962 I had signed on for a third contract, and was back in California on leave. My closest friend, David Whitney, was a superb organist, and, at that time, the top salesman for the Leatherby Organ Company in San Francisco, selling Conn Organs.
There was a very generous Government allowance for shipment of additional household goods on renewal of contract, so Dave suggested that he send a top-of-the-line Conn Classical Organ down with me, since the shipping out to Samoa would be included in my allowance for additional household goods. His thought was that I could use it, then sell it to one of the churches in Samoa, in which case he would send another one down, and I would repeat the process.
While I had the Conn Organ in my home, the get-togethers at our house on the waterfront had become very popular. I had learned to play some of the traditional Samoan songs, which pleased my Samoa guests, and in the process I had increased my addiction to organ music.
Before leaving Samoa in 1963 I sold the Conn to The Mormon Church, which sent it over to one of their churches on the neighboring island of Upolu.
I returned to California in 1964, bought a rural property in Santa Cruz County, with a living room that had a beamed ceiling and measured 18'x24', and was an ideal setting for an organ.
Twelve years passed and I had retired from teaching before I was able to acquire a used a two manual Conn organ, (similar to the one I had 24 years previously in Samoa.)
By February of this year (2003) it had been out of tune for several years, and I hadn't been able to find anyone locally who knew how to tune it, and was unable to use it. So I was woefully out of practice. Then on February 22nd, 2003, I had the opportunity to acquire a Three Manual Conn Model 650 Organ from a church in Aptos, which was no longer using it.
In addition to the three manuals, it has a full standard 32 key foot keyboard, and a large Leslie external speaker cabinet housing four speakers and two amplifiers.
Moving a 400+ lb organ is not a job for cousin Harry with his little Toyoto pickup truck, but I was lucky to find a competent and experienced mover, highly recommended by a lady who repairs and refinishes pianos, and who said that he had moved 9 ft Concert Grand Pianos for her without any problems. The move was successfully completed on March 7th, 2003.
With the previous Conn Model 641 organ moved out, and the newly acquired Conn Model 650 safely in place, I sat down and played "Amazing Grace" feeling that was a very appropriate expression of my reaction to the fact that one man could safely and successfully move a 450 lb organ and a 200 lb Leslie speaker from one location to another. (Handel's "Halleluja Chorus" from The Messiah would have been even better, but I haven't reached that level of competence yet.)
The next step was contacting a skilled organ-servicing technician to do the cleaning, adjustment, and tuning. This was done on Friday 20 March 03, and after six hours of very intense and meticulous work, the organ now sounds great, just like its designers and builders (in Elkhart, Indiana, in 1973) intended it to sound. It can vibrate the large 8x4 ft glass windows in the living room.
When Dean Volker (organ tuner) left at 9 PM on Friday he planned to return the following day to do the cleaning and lubricating of the big external Leslie speaker. Like the organ itself, it has a large "squirrel cage" fan which produces the tremolo effect when desired. The bearings on the shaft of this large fan need lubricating, as do the bearings of the two motors which drive it, at normal and slow speeds, depending on what degree of tremolo effect is needed. In addition, it has a rotating horn type of speaker which also needs lubing, as do its two motors.
Under optimum conditions both the Conn 650 Organ and the Leslie speaker should be serviced and tuned annually, but this scheduled maintenance had not been done during the past 15 years the church owned the organ, and I am very lucky to have found a tuner who will come out from Wisconsin on an annual basis. In addition to servicing the Leslie Speaker, he installed a unit called a "Damp Chaser," inside the organ itself. It consists of a long tube containing a special type of fluid which is wired into the main electrical circuits, stays "on" all the time, providing just the right amount of constant heat to the interior to prevent problems caused by dampness. (In warm dry weather, it shuts down.)
The difference in the quality of the sound that results when everything has been cleaned, lubricated, tuned, adjusted, and voiced, is amazing. I now play some of my old favourite songs and ask myself, "Is that really me?"
In some ways it is similar to the amazement and joy I experienced on my first personal experience with an organ, when I first discovered the "two-keyboard with foot pedals" Hammond Organ, in Geron Robert's choir loft of my battalion chapel at Camp Robinson in April, 1942. Now, 61 years later, (and three Conn organs later,) there is the same thrill with this big "Conn Model 650." Three manuals. Full 32 note foot keyboard.
My initial objectives are:
1) To have daily therapy for my arthritic hands.
2) Learn to read music.
3) Learn to use the 32 key foot operated keyboard.
Once I've done that, I'll proceed to Handel, Bach, and Pachelbel. Until then, they can rest in peace.
I am taking organ lessons, and learning to read music, from a 95 year- old German teacher, Ellen Funk. We must be a unique pair. "The oldest new organ pupil in Santa Cruz County studying the organ under the oldest teacher."
Let the good times roll.
D-Day at Sea.
15 June 04
Some of you may remember my tentative debut last year on this site as the 87 yr old beginning organ student study with a 95 yr old teacher.
Although there have been times when it seemed like a lost cause, I have stuck with it. Among other things, I've needed the discipline of directed practice and accountability.
I still need them. "Reading Music" has been very difficult!!!
The recent celebrations of the 60th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy brought back some latent memories.
On "D-Day 1944" I was in mid-Pacific, halfway between Brisbane, Australia, and San Francisco, California, on a Matson Lines freighter carrying sick and wounded from the South West Pacific Theatre, to Letterman General Hospital at The Presidio in San Francisco. Those of us below decks who could walk, limp, or hobble, joined the ship's crew on deck.
Two of my mates, who had been with me in hospital in Brisbane, were among the few survivors from the ill-conceived and poorly planned invasion of the atoll of Tarawa in The Gilbert Islands (at that time "The Gilberts" were still a British Colony.)
One of my mates had lost one arm, and between us we helped the other one who had lost a leg, up on deck to listen to the Captain's announcement. The Captain was a Merchant Marine officer, not Navy, so his statement was right to the point:
"During the night we crossed the equator and are now in the Northern Hemisphere, on a steady NE course towards The Golden Gate. You will all be encouraged to know that this ship has just received a radio message saying that Allied Forces have landed on the beaches of Normandy, and are proceeding into France in the invasion of Europe." There was some cheering. Most of us went back to our quarters below deck. My two mates were very quiet, remembering their own devastating landing on Tarawa. The ship continued it's steady NE course across a blue ocean towards it's home port of Pier 51 in San Francisco.
That was my "D-Day." Sixty years ago.
The voyage home took three weeks. On that Matson Line cargo ship there were no chaplains, and no Sunday services, but I found out that they did have a little "Estey" folding organ, so I asked the Captain if I could play some hymns on Sunday mornings. He agreed.
Also on board was a supply of the Military Edition of the "Episcopal Book of Common Prayer."
These were given to whoever wanted to attend.
We collectively read some prayers, I unfolded and energetically pumped the little "Estey Folding Organ," and played the few traditional hymns that I knew from memory, and which I hoped some other knew, we worshipped as best we could, and the ship sailed on towards California.
Sixty years ago, did this clobbered together service help anyone?
Sixty years later I like to believe that it did. We were then an odd lot of severely damaged young men, from a variety of South West Pacific conflicts.
I have recused myself from the conflicting discussions about Electronic vs. Pipe Organs in church. I am blessed to have rescued an abandoned "Conn Model 650, Three Manual, Full Pedal Board, Organ," and moved it up it to my home in March 2003.
In my small local Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist in Captitola, California, I am able to do some of my practice on the little Schoenstien Pipe Organ we installed in 1981.
We lost our Dutch organist last year, and have not been able to replace him. In the meantime I have privileged access to the Schoenstien.
My struggles as an "88 years old beginning organ student" have been a series of unfolding "Amazing Grace."
The sound has been sweet.
If there are any other 88 yr old beginning organ students our there, I'd like to hear from you.
Ted Hollingworth, "The Barefoot Organist." (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Meredith Ted Hollingsworth
St. John The Baptist, Capitola, California
MARTHA G DIBBLEE
I was about 10 yrs old. Our organist Harley Reifsnyder always played the Widor Toccata from #5; I would stand beside him while he played it. That sold me. I was determined to play that. This is Portland, OR USA an organ, prob. EP, which, later on, my father announced "would have gold contacts & be converted to direct electric" ... little did I realize how much I would remember about this. The Elders of the church "took a tour" thru the pipes. My father reported this experience. How I wish I could have influenced him. The acoustic of the venue was awful, filled w/ cushions & carpets. Why can't more american congregations understand what the organ must sound like? It's so discouraging to me to hear these beautifully voiced instruments in cotton boxes. All over the US. But not in Europe; at least they use stone. Eventually I studied w/ Douglas Butler DMA. U of Oregon USA. I'm also a friend of John Brombaugh.
I've been retired from the active Anglican ministry for a year now and am in my early 60s. I've been an organ fan since the age of 17 when I was switched on by an eight-rank Wurlitzer at the high school I went to. I've since learned to love the rest of the organ breed, though cannot abide electronics.
In the parish I've retired to (5 minutes walk from a magnificent beach - eat your heart out) there are three churches. Two have horrible two-manual Allen toasters, the third has a foul two-manual and pedal reed organ. I usually play 3 to 4 services a month as organists are very rare and retired clergy are a dime a dozen in this district, though I still do clergy things whenever asked, about once a month.
I've been collecting organ stuff for years and have amassed just over 40 ranks, assorted (believe me!) and of beautiful tone, the oldest pipes being the 8ft octave of an Open Diapason from 1829, the newest a half-length 16ft Fagotto from 1992. I have some soundboards, but not enough yet and can't afford all the solid-state relays and things yet. And I have a four-manual drawknob console, enlarged up from a two-manual. This has 61/30 compass and now has space for 104 knobs - ridiculously big, but it'll enable me to do any kind of thing whatever that I might like, like adding couplers or extensions.
I, too, am a total fanatic for Bach's music, and get through all of it fairly well, though still find the Trios and the Concertos only just possible. I also love the classic French stuff and anything old. I'm not a great fan of the Romantic organ composers, nor anything modern and discordant - even if I had the technique (which I don't have) to play much
of it. :-)
I grew up in a musical family: Daddy made violins and played them quite well; Mom played the piano and organ (had studied Pipe Organ in college); older brother played 'Cello, as did sister and I; younger brother played the radio. Mom gave me one lesson on the piano, but never gave me a second chance. I was hopeless. I couldn't read the "Trouble" cleff (as I called it). I was about 10 years of age.
In high school, I started teaching myself to read the treble cleff by playing the Bach Two- and Three-Part Inventions. Most of the time, Daddy would make some comment about my "banging" on the piano, and once told me, "You can't learn to play the piano by just learning to play those inventions." (I still learn one piece of music at a time, gaining whatever technique I must to meet the challenge of the piece.)
As a 'Cellist and singer, I performed most of the time from memory. Thus I was denied the necessity of learning to turn pages -- for myself, that is. I used to turn pages for Mom when she played in concert. I was so young that stage managers wanted me to "wait for your mommy here." But when I'm playing, I still don't like to turn pages, especially since I've graduated to the organ.
Self-taught, I started substituting at churches in and around Charleston SC in 1988, and have made my mark, however crooked, on the ears of most of that city's church-goers. I was amazed to have been accepted by the American Guild of Organists, asked to serve on the Charleston Chapter Board, was elected Dean, and was even hired as organist at one of the historic churches for a while.
My early attempts at Bach, though, set the temperment within me. Most of his fugues are still beyond my grasp, but by working through his easier works, I have a better handle on the works of others. I consider J.S. Bach to be my musical hero, and if I manage to get compliments on my playing, I sometimes respond, "Well, I play just like Johnny Bach did -- hands on the manuals and feet on the pedals."
It was listening to Bach organ music as a teen - blasting the walls and absorbing the great Passacaglia into my whole self before I knew the slightest thing about his life - that convinced me Bach was transmitting something deeply spiritual to me across the ages. During my college years I read Hesse's eternal golden thread concept in Steppenwolf. I connected the thoughts, that there was a golden thread, an elemental truth and spiritual beauty, that flowed across the ages in Bach's music.
Later I studied Bach in college, I learned about musical symbolism, I learned about his life as a church composer and Cappellmeister, and everything I learned seemed to reinforce the notion that Bach was able to instill the beauty and awe of the spiritual experience into his music in a way that resonates in a way that is hard to explain, and it came from his own profound religious sentiment. The St. Matthew Passion became another element of my personal musical liturgy, along with the great and powerful works for organ. I have learned that many share my experience, although they explain the intense emotional feelings in varying ways. A book I am reading, "My Only Comfort, Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of Bach" by Calvin Stapert conveys the deeply religious viewpoint.
When I was learning to love Bach's music I was vaguely anti-religious, in the manner of youth disaffected by the obvious hypocrisy among the church goers. For me Bach was a direct connection to God himself, it did not matter that Bach was a church musician most of his life.
I have returned to the church myself, accepting people for what they are, rejoicing in the ritual, the fellowship, and of course, the music. I joined the choir, and I study voice, trying my best to master some bass arias written by my powerful religious and spiritual influence, J. S. Bach.
ROBERT C. SHONE
I had started piano when I was 6 years old, and after moving to Baltimore at age 8, my mother suggested that I try out for a men and boys choir. When I was thoroughly inculcated in the music and the organ, I began to be more interested in the piano again. One of the older boys began to encourage me to play better, and more lessons ensued. I became thoroughly hooked on Bach. That older choir boy and the choirmaster took me to a couple of organ recitals. My older sister sang in a Presbyterian choir with Richard Wiegley and Virgil Fox. Virgil was always my ideal, and a good friend of my family. Then at Christmas I received a recording of E. Power Biggs playing Bach (a 78 rpm). I just about wore that record out.
When we moved to Washington, DC, the first service was at the Washington Cathedral. I said to myself, I must study organ with that organist some day. That was Paul Callaway, and after a few years of study with our parish organist (piano and organ) I did study with Paul Callaway. He was a kind and strict teacher who expected every note to be correct, and he would not hesitate to point out the inaccuracies. When I attended the Catholic University of America, Dr. Bernier, the organ professor, allowed me to continue with Callaway. I played my senior recital at the Washington Cathedral. I began and ended with Bach, opening with the Trio Sonata in E flat and ending with the Prelude and Fugue in A minor.
During my gratuate school studies I studied with Carl Weinrich and Vernon DeTar. Later, back in DC I began studies with Callaway again, and often was coached by his assistant Richard Wayne Dirksen. I stayed in close touch with all of those men over the years. The survivor, Dr. Dirksen, is still a mentor and friend via email. A few years ago, I played again at the Washington Cathedral, and though the organ was changed considerably, it was like visiting an old friend.
I am still playing as organist and choirmaster of St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Pinellas Point, St. Petersburg, Florida. I am fortunate to have a small 2 manual Casavant Frerres (in the French Style) to preside over. I know that my preludes and postludes are appreciated, especially the Bach selections, as members of the congregation often come up to thank me for my performance. I often think that my life has been enriched because of my study of the organ. I always sought out the best teachers available, and was blessed by their guidance into the wondrous world of BACH.
I come from a long line of Lutheran pastors and school teachers. My family was always involved in the church and the church's music program. I started playing the piano when I was 10 and after years of playing the piano in church, I became interested in the new sounds and music of the organ. Jim Gladstone, the minister of music at my church, was great in showing me the cool stuff of the pipe organ. After years of watching and practicing music on the organ, I got the chance to play a few hymns in a service. I was hooked from that point on. I spent many summers at the Lutheran Summer Music program, studying organ with some of the best teachers in the world. I am now minister of music at a Lutheran church in Florida. I direct the vocal and bell choirs while playing three services each weekend.
Presentation: "Introduction to the Pipe Voices of the Organ" by Ryan Hostler
http://www.BACHorgan.com/THE PIPE ORGAN.htm
BACHorgan.com Questionnaire: JONATHAN DIMMOCK
What is your most favorite Bach organ work to play or listen to, and why?
The Passacaglia is my favorite. It seems to be tireless in its capacity to unfold and show depth of character.
What edition(s) do you use?
The Bärenreiter NBA.
Whose interpretation of Bach's organ works do you enjoy and why?
Harold Vogel, Bill Porter. They are both expressive and historically informed. They don't play academically.
Who is/was your favorite teacher?
I assume you mean for the music of Bach (because it varies depending on the repertoire). Bill Porter.
What is your favorite organ stop and why?
Principal 8 foot. If it's not a desert island sound, then the whole organ can't make up for it.
Your main organ:
What is it?
What kind of action?
How many manuals?
How many ranks?
What and where is your most favorite organ?
Jacobikirche in Hamburg (Schnitger)
Finally, what do you think about when you are playing a Bach organ piece?
Utter joy, relaxation, shaping the music, being present in the moment.
More information about Jonathan Dimmock:
I grew up in a small farm village near Dayton, Ohio. It was settled mostly by Pennsylvania Dutch in the early 1800s and everything was simple protestant churches - Lutheran, Reformed, (these two shared the same church for about 40 years), United Brethren (ala Otterbein), then Methodist in the middle 1800s, Church of God later and finally a Roman Catholic church in 1941. The old churches got pipe organs early, but were very unsophisticated. I grew up in the Reformed church - a German/Swiss Calvinistic group like the Presbyterians in Scotland and the Dutch Reformed church in Holland. There was no liturgy like the Lutherans, but we had the typical organ music every Sunday: variations on 19th century opera tunes (Berceuse from Joclyn, etc) plus the hymns that we sang.
In my late teenage years, I began to learn something about Johann Sebastian Bach and his ideas on church music. This converted me to becoming Lutheran and I thought about building organs for my vocation. As I learned more, I began to see how the old organs were used in the protestant churches to aid the singing of their hymns. Since that was the type of customers I expected, I decided that I better learn more about this type of organ. I read lots of books during my time getting a Master's degree in Electrical Engineering at Cornell University and was very surprised to learn the development of the organ in the medieval time, even before. The organ, I discovered, was one of the earliest musical instruments that is still in use in our west European civilization. When I say west European, I mean that of the early immigrants to the place that was to become the present USA: mostly English, a few French, Dutch, and Swedes, eventually lots and lots of Germans, and then in the 19th century, also large invasions of Scandanavians, east Europeans of every type, Irish and Italians. Except for the Scandinavians, the latter tended to be Roman Catholic and Jews, but in the early times, except for the English Roman Catholics from Lord Baltimore and a few French, almost everyone was protestant. The protestants came in two categories: the English Puritan/Pilgrim types which were anti-Church of England, and anti liturgical - very much like the Dutch Reformed preachers. The only group that tended to be liturgical was the Lutherans and eventually the Anglicans, but the majority of the Virginia Anglicans tended to be low church. The German/Swiss Reformed group, though Calvinistic, seemed to go for a low Lutheranism.
So I studied more and more about how the pipe organ developed for the liturgical Continentals, since that was my own ancestral background. My wife-to-be grew up in NW Germany (we met in Cincinnati when I was working for Baldwin Piano Company as a principal in the development of electronic organs by that firm), and we got married in her hometown. We also saw some organs in her part of the world and I became even more fascinated with them than what E. Power Biggs' and Helmut Walcha's recordings had done for me. I realized that this simple type of organ which was based on centuries of development in NW Europe going back before 1200 was perfect for the average American protestant church. (Actually, the basis for these instruments goes back much further to the time when Charlemagne's father got a primitive organ as a present in 757 from the Emperor in Byzantium; in fact, it goes even earlier, but that is not much of a basis for the present organ in Europe.) My experience is that these ancient instruments have a special sound that eventually got lost around the same time as when J.S. Bach died. To me, it seemed like a terrible loss. I wanted to see if I could rediscover why these organs sounded so good, why they motivated people like J.S. Bach to make such incredibly wonderful music for us, and if I could even make something which had the attributes I liked so much in these instruments. Obviously, this became a passion for me - you might call it my religious rampage!
More information about John Brombaugh:
"Pipe fitter," article from The Lutheran
The Brombaugh Organ in Duke University Chapel
Fairchild Chapel Organ, Oberlin, OH