Upcoming Performances

November 18, 2018
4:00 pm Central

Guest recitalist, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Columbus, Miss.

December 4, 2018
8:00 pm Eastern

Organist, Appalachian Chorale, Rosen Concert Hall, Appalachian State University

February 12, 2019
8:00 pm Eastern

Organ-plus-one concert with ASU faculty, Rosen Concert Hall, Appalachian State University

April 28, 2019
3:00 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Kingsport, Tenn.

May 5, 2019
Guest recitalist, St. Paul's Cathedral, Des Moines, Iowa

June 21-26, 2020
Worship Organist, Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, Lake Junaluska, N.C.


Masterpieces galore: A Shreveport narrative

I have just finished recording two Widor Symphonies – 6th and Romane – on the Aeolian-Skinner at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Shreveport. The finished product will be out in a few months. But for now, its tale so far is a joyous one.

After hearing Michael Kleinschmidt perform the Romane at St. Mark’s for the 2014 East Texas Pipe Organ Festival, I said to myself, “That is the perfect piece for this organ!” And then I said to myself, “You know, I play that piece pretty well myself. I should record it sometime.” And then I thought, “This organ is a masterpiece – Roy Perry’s largest; it resides in a sumptuous acoustic, is used lovingly and constantly for dignified liturgy, and it has been carefully maintained for its entire life (sixty years in 2015, by my reckoning). Why has it not been recorded professionally?”

And here we are now!

I contacted dear Houston friend Keith Weber about producing this recording. His enthusiasm was contagious, and his professionalism throughout the entire process is most calming. He contacted trusted engineers Ryan Edwards and Shannon Smith of Houston, and we set dates. I was to arrive in Shreveport on Sunday, June 7, 2015, register, and be ready to record Monday-Wednesday, June 8-10.

Being a traveling geek, I added a quick pre-Shreveport stop to this trip. It was only 70 extra miles to Texarkana to visit the grave of my teacher Clyde Holloway, and so I left home a day early to overnight in Texarkana on Saturday and then drive down to Shreveport on Sunday to begin practicing after church.

Sunday, I introduced myself to Bryan Mitnaul, Canon for Cathedral Music, whereupon I discovered that I was about to be treated as a very welcome guest. Bryan was a most gracious and enthusiastic host, and he saw to it that we were never disturbed. That attention to detail is worth the price of admission every time! Many thanks to Bryan.

So I started practicing Sunday afternoon. After about an hour, the Very Reverend Alston Johnson, Dean of the Cathedral, passed through. He saw that I was a stranger in the house, and he offered a warm welcome. Once he discovered why I was there, he knew immediately that it was a special thing, and he expressed a delightful enthusiasm. It is a happy thing when the boss understands and supports what we musicians are up to! Many thanks to Dean Johnson.

Keith and the guys showed up later on Sunday to make friends with the room. Setup began Monday morning, and we were off! From there, I can only stare in wonder at how smoothly everything went. Keith’s approach is refreshingly laid back, allowing plenty of opportunity for me to take brain rests along the way and enjoy leisurely meal breaks. Ryan and Shannon are awfully young, by my standards, but that didn’t affect their top-notch professionalism and deep knowledge base. I am impressed, and Keith swears by them.

Between the Romane and the Sixth Symphonies, there are nine movements – five fast and four slow. We had three days to work with. How to split the movements up? Begin with a slow movement to “warm up” to the recording mindset, or begin with a fast one while energy is fresh? And if starting with a fast movement, should it be a difficult one to get it out of the way, or an easier one for “warmup?” How would the energy hold up best across the three days? Keith suggested that making our way straight through a given Symphony would keep its mood intact throughout all its movements. I have the Sixth memorized, and with due respect to Widor, I’d say its musical challenges are not as acute as the Romane. So off we went with the Romane, while energy was fresh. We recorded its four movements in order. Keith’s approach had me play each movement through at least twice, then record short patches as needed. With his kind care with me and his quick work with the engineers, we got the entire Romane done on that first day! Based on Day One’s success, we began Day Two with confidence. I had to stop for a few more brain rests at Keith’s direction, but we got the entire Sixth done that day. We all left Shreveport a full day early!

Along the way, Keith developed a wonderful salutation for each take. On his way from the console back to the recording table, he would stop and ring the Sanctus bells next to the door and invoke the name of some saint or another. "This is to Saint Bernard!" "This is to Saint Cecilia!" Perhaps the best one of all was on the very last take of the project, which was a long patch for the fourth movement of the Sixth, where he said, "This is to Saint Francis. As in Poulenc! [made smoke puff sound]." It was just the smoky atmosphere I needed to get that perfect, laid-back, screw-you French sound!

Widor’s style only occasionally requires unique colors in the registration. I say that to remind the savvy listener that although the St. Mark’s organ is full of beautiful stops, don’t expect a recording that demonstrates them in great detail. Widor paints his loud movements with large swaths of stops. On the other hand, I have made use of as many colors as I can in the slow movements. For example, where he calls for the Hautbois in the third movement of the Romane, I use the Clarinet from the Choir. Where he calls for it again in the fourth movement of the Sixth, I use the 4-foot Oboe down an octave, rather than the 8-foot Hautbois (yes, they both exist on the Swell). And the strings in the second movement of the Sixth are downright delicious.

It was overwhelming to record this historic music on an historic instrument such as this. It is not exaggerating to say that my mind was constantly flitting back and forth from historical figure to historical figure. From Roy Perry’s landmark ears represented in the voicing, to the history of Bill Teague’s musical leadership on this organ for its first few decades, to G. Donald Harrison’s leadership of Aeolian-Skinner, to my teachers, to Widor himself, I felt audaciously seated among greatness. But what a thrill to bask in the sound of that organ in that room! This is a monumental organ, and I am delighted to have been allowed to record on it. Two Widor masterpieces played on a Roy Perry masterpiece in an acoustical masterpiece of a room. It just doesn’t get any better.


In search of new models, Part II: College scholarships

A U.S. college degree has to be paid for. By someone. The price is the price, and the university will get its money one way or another. Scholarship monies are real dollars, not just an abstract cost reduction, but they rarely go directly to the student. Rather, they are usually applied toward the student’s account and resemble more of a discount for whoever’s paying. For the purposes of this series on "broken models," I’d say the interpretation of a scholarship “discount” is where the broken models exist.


Hypothetical conversation A:

“Billy is going to HappyDays University, where he has always wanted to go. We couldn’t be prouder!”

“What kind of scholarship did he get?”


“Then why is he going there?”

“Because he wants to.”


Hypothetical conversation B:

“Suzie is going to HotShot University. They gave her a good scholarship.” [Variation: “They gave her a better scholarship than DownTheRoad College, where she really wanted to go.”]


Conversation B is probably the most common. Conversation A is rather unlikely, but that would be a very interesting conversation to overhear, with two different models being pursued in it – one of sending a student where he wants to go, and the other of wanting the juicy details of how much the price has been discounted. In either case, a conversation about college always moves to scholarship money very quickly. If you ask me, that is a non sequitur. For whatever reasons, our society is conditioned to treat college as something horribly expensive that has to be paid for with outside assistance, rather than as a place to nurture a young person’s passions and self-discovery, no matter the cost. At the same time, the worth of the student appears to be tied up, however subliminally or subconsciously, in how much discount in tuition s/he is receiving/winning/being offered to attend there. This model is so ingrained that even the super-rich routinely apply for financial aid.

Whom does scholarship money serve? With it, the student feels valuable for any number of reasons, the parents enjoy the discount for any number of reasons, and the university has landed a big fish in its bucket of students. Win-win-win? Only if all three parties are pursuing the same model in their thinking. When those models don’t match up, the games and the bidding wars begin.

Let’s pause here and acknowledge those students who put themselves through college. Those stories are real, but they are usually celebrated as sensational, not “normal.” “Normal” usually involves the glory of landing a big scholarship, but anyone who figures out how to self-pay for college has already discovered broken models and come up with new models of their own. They don’t need to read anything I have to say about it!

So, Suzie and her parents apply at two colleges. The school they prefer doesn’t offer as much as the other, so the Suziefolk ask for more. Then the other school counters, the game is on, and higher education takes another step toward becoming a commodity straight off the shelf. Meanwhile, Suzie feels more and more valuable all the time, the parents feel more and more affirmed for their hard work in raising her, and one of the schools is about to forfeit the game, whether by being outbid or by coming to its senses and dropping out of the game. Once all the cards are on the table, Suziefolks all across the land appear to make their decision based on dollar amount, rather than on percentage of costs covered. Ten thousand dollars will go a lot farther at the mid-sized state institution than it will up an ivy-covered wall. But watching that money roll in is spellbinding to so many, and they will choose the more expensive school with its larger dollar amount of scholarship, even though the prize represents a much smaller fraction of the costs of attending there vs. the other place. And at some point during the next four years, the winning school may wonder if Suzie was worth it. But as I said in the second sentence of this paragraph, Suzie already has a favorite picked out. But she's willing to let it lose the game based on the broken model of the bottom line.

Lest I sound idealistic in suggesting that money ain’t everything, I must acknowledge the broken-but-realistic model that college is indeed horribly expensive, and it’s getting worse. The amount of money being funneled into state universities from public sources is higher than ever, but when it’s divided up student-by-student, it’s pitifully low. Mommy and Daddy: be prepared -- you knew this day might be coming when you got pregnant. The college fund should be started when the engagement ring materializes. [Better yet, the college fund should be started in lieu of the engagement ring. Another broken model, but I digress.] Another model to examine is the one that says college should be automatic after high school. I'll deal with that one in a couple more posts.

Will the university award monies to the student who demonstrates the stronger past or to the student who demonstrates the stronger future? Will that money be used to give the professors the privilege of teaching the “best” student ever, or will it be used to help the future U.S. President get his chance at the table? And to what end is all this money offered? Some state schools are having to use scholarship dollars to appease state legislatures by keeping numbers up in some programs (another broken model). Or the schools of music are trying to keep large ensembles fully staffed (another one) or weaker studios populated (yep).

Many schools are credited with graduating only the finest organists. But I have to point out here with all due respect that many of those schools accept only the finest organists. There are some schools one does not attend to learn how to play the organ – you already have to play well to be admitted. Then there are others that will teach anyone, just to keep the program going. Then there are the middle-ground folk (like me) who will teach anyone with the passion to play, the passion to learn to play even better, a thorough command of written and spoken English, and the ability not to fall off the bench at the audition. In short, I teach people how to play, how to practice, and how to foster their passion.

In some perfect worlds, Billy would attend tuition-free. But in a true utopia, Billy would attend where he can pursue his passions at his highest performance level, money or not. I’d say the passion-nurturing model, not the richest model, is the one we ought to be seeking. That would be the ideal, even though we’re nowhere close to attaining it. We haggle over price at flea markets, car dealerships, home buying contracts, and wedding organist consultations. And now over higher education, I’m sorry to say. What’s wrong with just going where you want to go? Asking for the scholarship is fine, but if you have your place picked out, then go. And stop playing games.

When I was applying for grad school, I had a choice. Was I going to go where I was a small fish in a big pond but where I would be exposed to a very important boot-camp style of teaching and technical attention? Or was I going to go where I could be a medium-sized fish in a big pond and where the faculty all but asked at my audition, “Where have you been all our lives?” I chose the boot camp; I knew I needed that more than I needed more stroking. Best decision I ever made. But the irony is that I probably would have been more famous, had I gone to the other place. Money never entered into the conversation until it was time. We figure out ways to pay for what’s important, and I did. But I also got some generous scholarship. Somehow.

So about the only new model I can offer here is a change of thought, idealistic though it may seem. While I'd be a fool not to acknowledge the bonus of getting a scholarship, a choice of college is about what’s available there, not how much discount you receive to discover it. It’s about following passions. It’s about earning a seat at the table of self-discovery, not at the mythical table of guaranteed success.


Franck-ly speaking, Part XII: Fantaisie in C

This is the twelfth and final installment in a series on my take on playing the twelve large works of César Franck. Today’s topic is the Fantaisie in C. See the first post in the series for background information.


This is the first of the big twelve that Franck published. Clearly it is also the most primitive. You can see him trying to expand things, which he did in spades in the next piece, the Grande Pièce Symphonique. Here we have a mini-symphony, three short movements played without pause.

Measures 7-8, 11-12, 47-48: Those hairpins should be tiny. Listen carefully to the effects there. All Franck had to do was tap a bit on his spring-loaded swell lever, and the box would swell and shut in a short moment.

Measures 17-40: The canon should sound the same in both voices. Don’t make one voice linger for the other; each has to carry its own baggage!

Measures 29-40: The right-hand melody is a counter-melody. I would make its contour fit in with the canon still going on in the other voices. In other words, don’t dwell on this melody at the expense of the more structural activity going on under it.

Measures 58, 60: Keep counting. No fermatas.

Measure 73: I would be very conservative with the box and the fermata here. It’s only a half-cadence, not a sandwich break!

Measures 82 and 162: I would suggest that after the fermata, cut off the chord in tempo. That would help propel the melody into the next measure.

Measures 213-end: No 32-foot stop? Play the entire Pedal part an octave lower. (Interesting that Franck wrote it the way he did, as if he knew it could be an option to play it 8vb.) But then you’ll need to figure out what to do about that low B in 233. Look around and see if you’d like to move to the tenor range for more than just that one note. For example, you might play loco from 229 and then switch back to 8vb from the third beat of 233.

And with that, Franck’s first piece has been covered last in this series. And his Final was covered first. There is nothing dramatic about any of that – I just learned and wrote about the pieces in the order I wanted to!


Help Yourself XVI: Last ones

Here are the last free offerings from my little cache of re-harmonizations and other works. As with all works in this tagged series, you are welcome to click, print, and use freely.


FAITHFULNESS with descant




Franck-ly speaking, Part XI: Grande Pièce Symphonique

This is the eleventh and penultimate installment in a series on my take on playing the twelve large works of César Franck. Today’s topic is the Grande Pièce Symphonique. See the first post in the series for background information.


I love that cop-out title Franck came up with. He was trying to help the organ grow up as a recital instrument, and he composed here what became the French prototype of the solo organ Symphony. And the best he could come up with for a title was “Big Symphonic Piece.” I just love that.

This piece (the GPS in my casual references) seems to be the most experimental piece Franck wrote. It continues an idea of short, multiple movements played without pause, which he explored in his first published organ piece, the Fantaisie in C, which I cover last in this series). The GPS is the only one of its kind in Franck’s output, and it was early in his oeuvre, yet it was in a new style that his successors seized on and took the organ world by storm with. Because it is so experimental, it is full of…uh…experiments. Franck was testing this idea here, that idea there, pulling here, pushing there. As a result, this twenty-some-minute piece is absolutely full of melodic fragments, repeated ideas, and expanding formal structure. The greatest danger lies in all the fermatas (of which I count 23, an average of one every 25 measures, plus an additional 7 instances of Franck writing a pause via extended rests without fermatas). Franck is constantly coming to a halt here, pausing there, lingering there. The piece is much like an improvisation, an approach to which could be a life-changing experience. The number of fermatas is not excessive, but I have heard performances where we could order pizza during the pauses! And so if you’re not careful, this piece could end up sounding like a glorified organ demonstration, which would kill not only the piece but also the listener.

Technical difficulties aside, the GPS is so motivic and fragmented that it may represent the biggest musical challenge of the entire series. I have performed this piece only once. I learned it in college in 1990 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Franck’s death. My teacher and the studio were able to perform all twelve works in three recitals during a wonderful weekend of study of French music for organ and for organ and brass. I also wrote a paper on this piece in grad school. I was using it in a Grundgestalt analysis, as well as a complete formal analysis. (Made an A+ on it. Still have that paper, of course.) But I have not been moved to re-present the piece in public since then, until I started on my way through all twelve pieces. It’s a tough piece to pull off due to the difficulties discussed above, and I have never been satisfied with live performances I have heard, so I have been slow to try my hand at it as a professional.

This piece is long, but it recycles themes. Therefore, it might help you (and your listeners) if you have an overarching goal in mind. Decide exactly where you want the piece to make its thesis statement. There are several choices, such as the first appearance of the main theme in 64, the re-visitation of all primary themes beginning in 424, the only appearance of the main theme in major mode beginning at 472, or the tenor solo suggesting a Tuba (which Franck didn’t have) beginning in 540. In any event, if you can keep looking ahead (or back) to the “thesis” you define for the piece and keep fermata overload in check, your audience will survive it better.

Beginning: This is not the main theme. It’s a “stitching” theme that introduces the whole piece here and ties various sections together later. Because it is important background but not primary foreground, don’t dwell on it too much; the real meal will arrive in 64! Nevertheless, this introduction has some beautiful moments in it – measures 43-56 are perfectly ravishing.

Opening registration: You may need to adjust registration to make the melody audible.

Measure 6: This, too, is introductory material, but it will be elevated in status later on by being given its own intermezzo of sorts beginning in 192.

Measure 25: The introductory theme finally gets to roll along without stopping. If you discover that you tend to move the tempo here, then consider using that same tempo at the very beginning, at least as a subtle background guide to everything up to this point.

Measures 35-41: Be sure the left hand and Pedal trade off evenly, without blurring or breaks between notes, and without changes in tempo.

Measure 60: Franck says non troppo e maestoso!! Sometimes I want to stand up and say that aloud in live performances.

Measure 64: Notice that Franck is notating in exact rhythms what later composers would do with staccato marks, with the directive in their teaching and publications that staccato notes to the French organist are simply (and exactly) half-value. Since Franck uses exact notation, then the more exactly those notes and rests are presented, the better.

Measures 70, 90, 100, 123, 131: You’ll need to decide for yourself if you want to separate those half notes like the separated eighth notes and eighth rests throughout the rest of this main theme. I can go either way and have no biased advice.

Measures 113-117: Be sure all cutoffs are consistent among the parts!

Measures 139, 141: Notice that the manuals cut off, but the Pedal continues legato.

Measures 192 and following: This might not need to go as fast as you might think. I believe that your desired tempo at 231 should guide selection of tempo for 192. Throughout this entire section, be sure the right hand stays absolutely steadfast in its rhythm. We don’t want the higher note of any given beat in the right hand to be mistaken for the beat. Cleanliness is next to godliness.

Measure 261: It is so very tempting to play this movement Largo, but he marked it Andante. The quarter note must rule the tempo, and if you trust that as you go, then the movement makes more sense. Use your preferred tempo at 277 to determine tempo at 261, and then don’t speed up in 277 just because the texture gets easier! This movement is also difficult because Franck registers the melody on a non-expressive division (at least for the organ he played regularly).

Measures 277-281, 297-301: I don’t break between manuals, but I have no objection to breaking.

Measure 303: Strange registration! Go with it and see how it sounds. Don’t take this section as fast as it looks – those sixteenth notes are not textural – they are melody! Perhaps your preferred tempo at 343 should dictate the tempo for 303.

Measures 343-374: If you discover that this section keeps slowing down, it’s probably the left hand’s fault. The initial sixteenth rest on each beat tends to get overblown after awhile, which grinds everything to a halt. A good fix is to listen to the melody and require the accompaniment to keep up, rather than try to move the accompaniment along on its own steam.

Measures 410-415: The right foot has a decision to make between lunging for each note and just breaking proudly and gently between notes. I’ll take detaching over panicking any day.

Measures 417-418: It’s rare to see an accented note in organ music (how do you execute that?). Franck could just tap his box lever open, and the box would swell and then spring shut again. You can experiment with your own swell shades and see if you can achieve the same effect. Depending on the organ, the room, and your creativity, you may be able to play the accented notes on two manuals and then release one of them before the second beat. But that seems much ado.

Measures 422-423: The Pedal notes will disappear if you don’t have some independent 8-foot stops drawn for them. (Franck doesn’t call for pedal couplers there, anyway.)

Measures 472-500: Some performers just can’t seem to play this section fast enough to suit themselves, and others of us are blue in the face from pointing out that Franck wants this theme played much more grandly than it has been up to this point. This is the only time this theme appears in major mode, and it’s in the rather grand-but-dark key of F-sharp. I beg you – don’t confuse this section with the Sowerby Pageant! You can pick a faster tempo at 502.

Measures 540-569: The left hand part in this section begs for a solo party horn of some sort (which Franck didn’t have). But if you do and it’s not too brash, go for it. I recommend playing it through the downbeat of 570 and then moving off of it.

Measures 582- 587: Legato pedal and detached manuals seems instinctive to a lot of players. Go with your instincts.

Measure 592: Those three beats of rest bother me. I’m always afraid someone will mistake them for the end and start to applaud. On the other hand, the piece is over, and so I had better prepare those rests perfectly. The choice of tempo from 582 will be very important for pacing through 592 and for proclaiming that the piece really is over.

Measures 593-594: Franck’s voicing of those chords has been discussed by others. They are indeed strange, and it can leave the listener wondering if it’s really over. I do not advocate adding extra notes to “fill things out.” I believe your handling of all that has come before will be crucial toward making this last page make sense and concluding this most epic of all of Franck’s organ pieces.


In search of new models, Part I: Models explained

My thinking on some matters has changed. It did not come about gradually; it hit me in an instant, like a rogue baseball.

I’ll begin my explanation with a confession: I have been bitter for years. I have been bitter about not winning that competition (nor that one), not getting that job (nor that one), not being invited to play here (nor there), not being invited to join that roster (nor that one), not being invited to play for that conference (nor that one in my own backyard). I have been bitter about being treated like the hired help here or like a novice there. I have been bitter about the publicity for one of my recordings being completely bungled out of my control.

But one day I partook of the perfect cocktail of a readiness to understand mixed with talking to one person who understands these kinds of things better than anyone else.

In my profession, some things don’t work the way they should. Some things never worked in the first place. Some things have evolved into serving too few people to be of any continuing service to the rest of the community. This series will discuss some disserviceable models in organ/musical-related matters of teaching, job searching, advertising, performing, career management, and conventions.

It’s easy to look around outside our own profession and notice that some things have changed. Flight attendants are no longer respected as the in-flight authorities and well-trained safety agents they have always been. Physicians used to be respected as the final word in a patient’s healthcare. Professors used to be listened to as authorities in their field and as real-world resources; nowadays they are treated as degree dispensers and viewed suspiciously as greedy participants in that radical agenda known as higher education.

Chalk it all up to a loss of respect of authority and crumbling of decent society? Sure. But it’s also not helpful that many of those flight attendants, physicians, and professors are waiting around for things to get better, for things to get back to how they used to be. Waiting is passive and therefore futile. We should do something to command the respect we still deserve, right?

Not so fast. As soon as the professor seeks to instill the old sense of respect in the student by insisting that the student stop being late to class and stop being sloppy with assignments, the student cries persecution to someone in authority. As soon as the physician tells a noncompliant patient, in the old way, to get off his backside and change his own situation, the patient moves on to another doc and spreads the word that Physician A lacks compassion. As soon as the flight attendant enforces the rules with a recalcitrant passenger, she gets labeled as grumpy and unprofessional, and it ends up in some online evaluation (that only the bitter read, apparently).

The old ways appear to be ... old. "Their" model and "our" model may not match up any more.

Well, so now what do we do about it? We need more common ground between old ways and new possibilities. We need more win-wins.

We can seduce people.

Seduce them into doing better. Seduce them into wanting to learn more, into contemplating change, into considering the big picture. Appeal to their passions and not to their waywardness. This series is about passions, serving the greater good, channeling what makes us tick, and helping others do the same.

Undergirding the series will be the idea of changing models. There are some old models of doing things that we would be well served to stop chasing. We can do something new with some of those models, something that seduces an old modeler to join you and move things along more serviceably for many more people. I have no advice for the physician or the flight attendant, but we professors, performers, accompanists, and conductors are in for an even rougher ride if we don’t make some changes ourselves.

The point of examining my bitterness is that I discovered the common ground among all those things that anger me. Once I discovered that my bitterness was coming from mismatched models and goals, the bitterness evaporated instantly and I was able to see things differently and start changing my approaches. My bitterness had been aimed at people, but I realized that every time I revisited an old grudge, I saw that both of us had been chasing a disserviceable model in the first place. The very moment I realized it, I just walked away from the bitterness and started fresh.

Sour grapes? No, more like recognizing my own grapes. Sure, I would have enjoyed achieving some things along the way that I’ve seen others achieve with less effort and sometimes less talent. But it was a most liberating moment when I realized that I wasn’t going to (or wasn’t willing to) achieve some things in the old ways. Real satisfaction in what I’m doing will come more readily when I’m no longer chasing outdated models.

To be continued.



Little-known facts, Part 4: My ecclesiastical history

Born Southern Baptist, Front Street Baptist Church, Statesville, N.C. The organ was a 1971 Greenwood, 9 ranks. But it was a pipe organ!

First organ gig: Supply Organist, First A.R. Presbyterian, Statesville, N.C. The organ was a thrilling (to a young kid in those days) Zimmer. With exposed pipes and everything! In Statesville, N.C.!

First Mass played: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 1985 or so, St. Philip the Apostle, Statesville.

First Episcopal Eucharist played: Trinity Church, Statesville, 1983 or so.

First regular church job: Junior year in college, 1988-1989, Crossnore Presbyterian, Crossnore, N.C. Eminent organ.

Next regular church job: Senior year in college, 1989-1990, Boone United Methodist Church, Boone, N.C. Schantz organ, 17 ranks. The largest pipe organ in a church in the county. And I had the keys to the building. I felt like the hottest thing on two legs.

Next: Grad school, 1990-1994: St. John the Divine (Episcopal), Houston. I was the Assistant Organist/Choirmaster to Richard Forrest Woods and then to John Gearhart. I was confirmed there by William Sterling, Bishop Suffragan of Texas. Have been an Episcopalian ever since. Big Wicks organ that played a mighty service on full-ish organ but had no individually lovely sounds on it. It has since been replaced by an enormous Letourneau.

Next: 1994-1995: Interim Organist/Choirmaster, Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, Houston. Not the happiest time. I felt like Bach returning home from the north and no one knew quite what to make of him. The people and I just didn’t gee-haw very well, and I still don’t know why, but I’m sure it was my fault. Young guy quitting the biggest Episcopal church in town to set out on his own and see what might come along? Yeah, that might be part of it. I also did a bit of battle with tendonitis (Visser-Rowland organ there, as well as a ten-key data entry job to make ends meet), but that was the turning point in my organ playing, because I honed my technique to eliminate the pain. It worked; the pain has never returned, and I did it without medical intervention except Aleve.

Next: 1995-1997: Organist, St. Philip Presbyterian Church. A turning point in my understanding of people, the Church, and myself. One of the most nurturing congregations I have encountered. God love them all. Fort/Visser-Rowland organ, electric action. A rather smooth sound that was oddly endearing. The organ has since been replaced by a perfectly splendid Fritts.

Next: 1997-2004: First Presbyterian, Houston. This was my last church before moving back to N.C. to teach at Appalachian. Also the longest I have served a church (7 years). And so my history there is rich and complicated, but during my time there, I learned a lot about the ins and outs of church politics, air conditioner breakdowns, organ maintenance, choral conducting, and chilling out [not!] over liturgical faux-pas and snafus. I also presided over the most beautiful organs in the state of Texas: Aeolian-Skinner Opp. 912 and 912A.

Next: 2009-2011: First Presbyterian, Lenoir, N.C. Aeolian-Skinner. I left this church because I got too busy on the road, where I really wanted to be anyway. I composed this blog post about my thinking at the time.

Next? Although I joyfully sub around, I have maintained for a few years that I can’t cram regular church service into my teaching and performing schedule any more. But I’m beginning to soften on that stance. Let’s check in with each other on that later.


Help Yourself XV: Running low

I'm running out of these things! I have been sharing my hymn reharmonizations and other works in this series, for free. Today's offerings are the penultimate posting; the others will appear here in about 20 days.

As with all my works offered in this tagged series called "Free PDFs. Help yourself," you are free to click, print, and use for your own purposes, with my compliments. Since no publisher was interested, I might as well share freely!

AMAZING GRACE with descant

CWM RHONDDA with descant

DARWALLS 148th Dill text, with descant, in D

DARWALLS 148th Wesley text, with descant, in C



Franck-ly speaking, Part X: Choral in A minor

This is the tenth installment in a series on my take on playing the twelve large works of César Franck. Today’s topic is the third Choral in A minor. See the first post in the series for background information.


This is the last organ solo piece we have from Franck. The popular perception is of him finishing the manuscript on his deathbed. Whether or not that is accurate, we do know that he was fighting an infection and died soon, and we also know that this music is the crowning achievement of Franck’s quest into transforming the organ into a concert instrument capable of playing its own symphonies. This is a profound piece indeed, and there is absolutely no shame in approaching it as a sacred treasure every time you sit down to it.

Of the three Chorals, this one is probably the easiest to play. That’s all relative, you understand; none is truly easy. And everyone will have his own opinion on which Choral speaks to him most deeply. This one speaks to me, if I listen to it through the lens of it being Franck’s final notes written for the organ. But my favorite Choral, indeed my favorite Franck, is the E major.

Measure 1: I would suggest that the opening tempo be determined by how you would like to play measure 30 and following. That is the real Chorale, and perhaps the ideal tempo for that should be transferred to the beginning. More often than not, the beginning is played far too fast, especially in proportion to the rest of the piece. This is neither a toccata nor a cadenza. The piece has something to say in the opening notes, and there might even be a phrase or a nuance or two to be had in this section. Give yourself time for them. And be very precise with the difference in length between sixteenth notes and eighth notes as Franck wrote them.

Measure 5: Metrically speaking, the last note of this measure is very unimportant. Therefore, it destroys the pregnant pause that follows when this note is held even slightly past its value. Other examples are measures 7, 14, 16, 18, 52, 54, and 56. I can tell that a performer is listening to every note (or not), based on their treatment of these cutoffs.

Measures 16 and 18: Notice the fermatas are on rests, not on notes.

Measure 27: Franck initiates the ritard here. Many people start it in 23, but that overblows all these quarter notes starting in 26 and makes the section interminable. Allow Franck’s slower rhythms to be their own slowdown on some level.

Measure 30: One should probably resume tempo here, so that we can discern the melody (which is the real Chorale). Otherwise, it’s just chords.

Measure 39: I take the alto E-flat with the left hand and then use (dead) Pedal to assist with legato on the third beat.

Measures 91-96: Don’t start this section too slowly. It will get tedious and labored otherwise.

Measure 96: The fermata is on the final note of the outgoing registration, not on the first note of the Adagio section. I would make the pickup from 96 into 97 be in your intended tempo.

Measures 97-116: This slow chorale (arguably not the Chorale in this piece) is among the most excerpt-able moments we have from Franck. Be sure the melody notes don’t blur together. If they do, it just makes that Trumpet loud and muddy. Play every note right where it belongs. I would suggest treating this section like Chopin, where there is a general pulse in the background that is stretched and compressed here and there but never loses count. Finally, in too many performances, the player gets stuck on the ties in the melody (96-97, 98, 99-100, 105-106, 107-108, etc). But it is directly on a tied note where the melody needs to regain its momentum after the longer note that precedes it. Listen, listen, listen.

Measures 117-141: This is one of those sections that needs to be “perfect,” plain and simple. Too slow, and it languishes in its repetitiveness. Too fast, and it takes the limelight from what follows it.

Measures 143-145: Don’t speed up. You’ll just have to slow right back down in a moment.

Measure 146: The fermata is on a rest, not on the manual note!

Measure 147: I put my left hand on the Récit to avoid sharing middle C among the hands and breaking eighth notes into two sixteenths. In 153, I bring the left hand back to the Positif.

Measures 147-173: Try entertaining the notion of a subtle accelerando, all the way to 173.

Measure 170: I move the right hand to the Great on beat 3. That’s a safer spot to move that hand accurately, and it doesn’t interrupt the flow into 171 that way.

Measure 173: The registration instructions appear to be aligned with the downbeat in the editions I have used. But I would suggest that that piston be hit on the third beat, to coincide with the first note of the “chorale” climax.

Measures 190-199: Of course, legato with manual octaves is impossible. I feel it is most unfortunate that composers for the organ write full chords or octaves for hands and then mark it all legato. The French are pretty sparing about that; when, say, Widor or Guilmant wrote full octaves and chords, the style was already march-y or heroic, so you knew that it would automatically sound right. But Franck was still experimenting. [The British are utterly notorious for such writing. It’s kind of like playing the organ like a piano that has a broken damper pedal. It drives me insane.] Anyway, there are some options in this section. You could separate the octaves and make them a bit more declamatory. You could jump from octave to octave in a panic trying to lunge for legato (please don’t!). You could leave out some notes, particularly to keep the upper melody legato. I still experiment every time I get to this section. It just depends on what you want to say with the music. How it sounds is most important. Making alterations toward legato would sound completely different from a declamatory broken style. Take your pick. Franck wouldn’t be allowed to complain about your choice, since he marked octaves and full chords legato in the first place!

Finally, I make the ritard in 190 last until the very end. Every note is a wee bit slower than the one before. Such a slowdown is very long, very gradual, and very subtle and requires lots of practicing and lots of listening. Keep the beat or any background pulse you have going. The danger is in overblowing it. We still have to get to the end, you know, so don’t park somewhere when you’re not arrived yet. Think of this like trying to stop an old steam locomotive. You can pull on the brakes, but it won’t stop for a while! You have to pull harder, harder, and it finally slows down, little by little, until completely stopped.


Franck-ly speaking, Part IX: Choral in b minor

This is the ninth installment in a series on my take on playing the twelve large works of César Franck. Today’s topic is the second Choral in B minor. See the first post in the series for background information.


You may want to fire me for saying this, but this piece sounds better if played in one rather than in three. Yes, Franck indicated 3/4 and marked it Maestoso, but a large beat of 1 can be majestic, too. I’m not advocating for 3/8, but if this piece is too slow, then the recurring theme and its momentum are lost, and there is little glory in things to come later on in the piece. Give it some thought, make the theme move along, and make any accompaniment fit in with that at all times.

Measures 1-32: There are a number of spots where it might help the rhythm and the independence of voices if the hands and feet release notes at different times. For example, in measure 4, the Pedal needs to release the F-sharp in order to re-strike it, but that does not mean the hands should release their note early, as well. Experiment with this sort of thing as you wish. I feel it enhances the independence of the various lines and lends a sense of continuing, rather than bringing everything to a halt just because the primary voice needs a breath.

Measures 8, 10, 12, and similar spots throughout the piece: It is fine to break the main melody for phrasing. (Don’t forget that wall-to-wall legato came around after Franck.) The problem with that occurs when those breaks alter the forward-moving rhythm of the whole theme. Don’t allow any breaks to interfere with the progress of the theme.

Measure 24: I don’t repeat the F-sharp in the right hand.

Measures 27-28: I play the bass notes in the Pedal (no Pedal stops on), to assist with legato.

Measures 33-39: Here is another example of what I’m talking about by playing the piece in a feeling of one rather than three. Most folks make a huge, emotive deal out of the eighth notes and eighth rests in the manuals in these measures. But the melody is in the Pedal here, and it has its own ideas of how things should be paced. Pay attention to the melody, and stop setting up camp on the eighth rests in the manuals. Keep things moving; use the shape of the melody to inform all other voices.

Measures 41-48: Again, the melody needs to move and to rule. Although the accompaniment here is difficult to play, it must move along in service to the melody. Transfer your ears’ allegiance to the theme, and the piece suddenly comes together.

Measures 49-64. Same comments. Melody, melody, melody.

Measure 64: I have always found that moment strange the way Franck wrote it, and so I “fix” it by playing the third beat in the Pedal an octave higher. I also don’t make a huge break into 65; I use the eighth notes of the third beat to carry us into the next theme. Seamlessness is a good thing.

Measures 65-80: I know it’s tempting, but this section should not go slower. Don’t forget that this theme will be combined with the main theme later on, and so it should follow the contour of the main theme, even if not present.

Measures 80-114: This begins a “development” of sorts, as it were. The main theme is not present, so now you may emote and mess around with rhythm and tempo!

Measure 114: Most people put the brakes on hard here. I put the brakes on, but I start much earlier, to make it a more subtle ritard that leads smoothly into 115.

Measures 115-126: This is the true Chorale, hiding in this little section and in its companion section at the very end of the piece. Don’t hurry through it, and remember that it is subtle and will not survive attempts to turn it into a major event.

Same section: No 32-foot? Play the Pedal an octave lower (except the low Bs, of course). That’s one option. Another option is to play 115-118 an octave lower, then move to the tenor octave in 119. That will prevent the chromatic descent in the Pedal from being displaced an octave when the B comes along in 120. Now, to move to the tenor octave in 119, I play the first beat on low D (continuing 8vb from 115), then add a quarter note on the second beat on tenor D. It’s only one note so subtle and unexpected that few people will hear the difference. No one will run you out of town for it. Again, both of these options just described are useful only if the organ doesn’t have a 32-foot flue, or if the 32-foot flue it does have is too heavy or too quint-y.

Measures 119-122: Notice Franck’s quoting of his own melody from the first movement of his Symphony (for orchestra). That can’t be an accident!

Measures 131-135 and 142-147: I wouldn’t go too slowly here. This needs to be looking ahead to the gloriousness to come. In both sections, you can make some interesting decisions on what to tie, what to make legato, and what to detach. Use your own judgment – it’s probably right. I also couple the manuals to (dead) Pedal to assist with legato in 133-135 and 145-147.

Measures 148 and following: This is the "fugue," if you insist on finding one. Franck says we can move this along a bit. In any event, the “development” is over, and it’s time to get back to having the main theme call the metrical shots.

Measure 149: This is one of those maddening moments in organ music: Should we break that G in the melody to hear the eighth-note motion in the accompanying voice? In most cases, when we encounter a moment like this, we can make a decision based on the acoustics, the organ, or anything else. But I have discovered that if played all on one manual, this spot never sounds good, no matter what. My solution is to start at 148 with the right hand on the main manual and the left on another similarly-registered manual not coupled. Then bring the left hand to the main manual during the rest in 156.

Measures 162-194: You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to decide when to tie, when to break, and when to play legato. But it’s worth the trouble. Work things out, and write them in. In some cases, you’ll want to break more notes in a warm acoustic. But always make a decision that serves the rhythm and meter. If too many notes break, we hear an “event.” If not enough notes break, we lose the eighth-note motion.

Measures 182 and 186: I use (dead) Pedal to assist with legato.

Measure 187: Many people ritard here, but again, since it’s in the middle of a statement of the main theme, it should follow the same contour the melody has maintained all along. Listen with all your might to the main theme throughout this entire piece, and the piece will then assemble itself into a very clean structure that needs little help from you otherwise.

Measure 188: I move to a somewhat louder registration here.

Measures 195-226: The themes are finally combined. There is nothing you can do to make that clear to your audience, especially to first-time listeners. So just play it, no slower, and obey the contour of the main theme (in the Pedal) for phrasing.

Measures 209-210: The soprano tie across the barline between these two measures is a mystery to me. It doesn't appear in sister sections (79-80 and 225-226), so I'm taking it out!

Measures 211-226: There’s that pesky main theme calling the shots again. I can’t overemphasize that approach to structuring the phrasing. Although the upper voice appears to have more emotive potential, it absolutely cannot be allowed to derail the main theme (Pedal), just because it “wants a moment!”

Measure 222: After much discussion with myself, I decided to change a note. (Quelle horreur!) Compare the left hand in 222 with the left hand in 206. If 222 goes as written, then there would be parallel octave motion between the second tenor and the Pedal. I "fix" that in 222 by changing the second tenor third beat to an E, to match the voice leading in 206. Now, Franck does indulge in parallel fifths all the time (measures 96 and 104 in this piece, plus plenty in other pieces), but notice how this section (195-226) is absolutely pure in its five-voice texture -- it is some of the richest writing we have from Franck, because it is so pure in its voice leading. Hence my suggested change (well, that, and making the notes identical from statement to statement is easier to memorize, too!).

Measure 257: Some ritard is good, but too much will spoil the chromatic tension here. You need to arrive at 258, not get stuck in 257.

Measures 258-272: Of course, we can go slower and grander here. But that melody is still in charge – use it to determine the flow of things.

Measures 266-269: It is possible to play both octaves of the Pedal legato. Pedaling for the Bs to the F#s is straightforward. The Gs to the Ds may be pedaled LF o^, RF ^o (toes pointed out, not parallel). Loosen up those ankles and give it a try!

Measure 270: Franck’s Molto rall. is not kidding. You’ll need it to keep 273 from taking off before you were finished with the main theme.

Measure 273 leads into 274. Try not to take a huge break to hit a piston. Try to keep it all flowing, one idea to the other.

Measures 274-285: Same comments as for 115-126.

Measures 285-end: I solo out the eighth notes. In 287, I span my left hand across two manuals, playing the low B on the eighth-note manual and the tenor F-sharp on the Swell. I transfer the low B to the Swell in the very last measure; it helps to make further decrescendo.

Measures 287-288: The Pedal will disappear on the low Bs if you don’t have some independent 8-foot stops drawn. Listen carefully there, and if you do choose to make a registrational adjustment, make them from 274 on.

This piece has always been with me. I learned it in college, one of my teachers recorded it, and the other one claimed to have played it “when God was a child.” Although it is mostly quarter notes and eighth notes, it is hard to play and to play well. Approach it with love and care and with ears listening in the right places.