Upcoming Performances

December 1
3:00 pm Eastern

Messiah organist, First Presbyterian Church, Statesville, N.C.

December 3
8:00 pm Eastern

Haydn Creation organist, Rosen Concert Hall, Appalachian State University

December 13
12:15 pm Eastern

Music at Midday, National City Christian Church, Washington, D.C.

February 9, 2020
3:00 pm Eastern

Inaugural recitalist, St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Columbia, S.C..

February 16, 2020
5:00 pm Eastern

Evensong recitalist, Church of the Ascension, Hickory, N.C..

March 6, 2020
7:30 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tenn.

April 5, 2020
2:00 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Macon, Ga.

April 18, 2020
7:30 pm Eastern

Concerto organist, Milligan College

May 12, 2020
12:35 pm Central

Tuesday Series recitalist, Church of St. Louis, King of France, Minneapolis, Minn.

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

Entries in Little-known facts (4)


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 It has since been replaced by an enormous Letourneau.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.


Little-known facts, Part 3: Big toys

I grew up operating heavy construction equipment. Front-end loaders (of both wheel and track varieties), low-boys, dump trucks, motor graders, bulldozers, etc., even a few minutes on an old trencher. Now I play musical heavy equipment for a living. [How did I miss the blogging fodder in all this until now?]

I have played many organs that I love, but I don't have a favorite that I can think of this minute. But there is one piece of heavy equipment that is my favorite big toy on earth: a Caterpillar 930 front-end loader, born the same year as I. Oh, the earth, gravel, and snow I moved with that one. Responsive steering, intuitive bucket controls, and room for an admirer next to the driver's seat. I might not have picked up any women in it, but I kept them for longer when they sat in it with me.

All this occurred at Bell Construction Company, Statesville, NC, founded in 1946 by my grandfather W.C. Bell and subsequently presided over by Uncle Boyce and then my father Donald. I was never paid, probably because I was young and a terrible operator, and Dad never wanted me to go into that business as a career, anyway. So I was always a tagalong, but I watched in awe as half the land in Rowan and Iredell Counties, NC, was graded in site preparation. My dad was da man. And I still drive in those places with a sense of pride and fond memories. I am also happy to report that the company is doing as well as ever, now under the leadership of cousin Dwayne Bell.

And that Cat 930 is still going strong.

Which is more than I can say for some organs from that year. :)


Little-known facts, Part 2: Help wanted

Writing one’s own obituary is often suggested in books and seminars as a good way to assess one’s life and to help identify what’s important in life – and what’s not. I take that a step further and ask my students to compose an announcement of a “job opening” to “replace” them as students and budding professionals. I have them consider where they are at that time and write a job ad accordingly. Here’s mine, as of today:

WANTED: organ professor, organ recitalist, church organist

-- Must teach undergraduate, graduate, and secondary organ majors.

-- Must coordinate and teach sacred music curriculum.

-- Must teach service playing.

-- Must teach organ literature.

-- Must bring many years’ anecdotal experience to the classroom to illustrate how the world works.

-- Must conduct and/or accompany a large chorus made up of students and community members. Must find a way to keep them all entertained and/or educated at the same time.

-- Must enjoy playing organ recitals, piano collaborations, and Broadway shows.

-- Must be willing to perform minor organ repairs and touch up own reeds when necessary. This involves getting a helper to help move a 25-foot extension ladder and to hold keys, plus being willing to thumb nose at Physical Plant and OSHA regulations to climb the aforementioned ladder. All this must often be done in a suit and tie.

-- Must accompany faculty candidates on difficult pieces the piano faculty don’t have time to learn.

-- Must tune and play the harpsichord, upon which no training was ever received.

-- Must come to terms with the fact that the organ “teaching studio” is often mistaken for a concert hall during teaching hours.

-- Must enjoy playing with children and pets.

-- Must crack one-liners constantly to keep the social machine oiled.

-- Must graciously allow visitors to the organs at any time.

-- Must have a heart of tolerance and compassion for all people in their journey. Must, however, try not to suffer fools for too long.

-- Must hate weddings. Must be preparing a multi-multi-part blog series on that subject.

-- Must shun the administrative spotlight.

-- Must enjoy any music that is well-written or well-rehearsed, preferably both.

-- Must be a fan of good musicians, no matter what music they write or perform. Therefore, must be a fan of opera, orchestras, Broadway shows, conscientious church organists, Gordon Lightfoot, Ricky Skaggs, and ’80s Rock.

-- Must eat often with family and friends to celebrate the joys of being human.

-- Must celebrate position on food chain by being willing to eat absolutely anything any time. Must, however, prefer not to eat celery, raw onions, bell peppers, curry, liver, cilantro, or wild game.

-- Must be able to play the Vierne Carillon and In The Garden in the same service, probably not on the same instrument.

-- Must be able to recall and play on the piano any hymn from the 1956 Baptist Hymnal.

-- Must detest the current United Methodist Hymnal.

-- Must be patient around strangers when stuff goes wrong on the road.

-- Must enjoy church-hopping whenever possible.

-- Must enjoy re-visiting places of good childhood memories. Must enjoy going back home to visit every now and then.

-- Must recognize and thank the people who had an impact during the formative years.

-- Must go back and apologize to people who were wronged, no matter how long ago.


Little-known facts, Part 1

I often need to get in touch with my non-musical side. It’s right up there with my feminine side. People ask about hobbies, but I’ve never been sure that I need any regular hobbies, since my real job is so enjoyable. I do love getting outside and seeing beautiful scenery, but beyond that, I’m happy to practice and study. Enjoy some more tidbits with my compliments:

-- I couldn’t care less about the altar. I want to climb into the steeple!

-- I love funeral homes. Any time I visit one, I ask for a tour. I actually very nearly forsook the organ some years back to go into funeral directing. It is a dual attraction: the fascination with the industry and a tender heart for the grieving.

-- Chocoholic.

-- I hold a Private Pilot certificate (aka pilot’s license). That was my graduation gift to myself when my doctorate was completed. I am certified to fly anything with only one engine and fewer than 200 hp. I am not instrument rated – I find the ground too interesting not to watch, and I take no chances with weather. But maybe someday, just to be a better visual pilot.

-- I’ll take hiking and mountain biking, please. Whenever possible.

-- I was a Southern Baptist at birth in 1968.

-- I come from a family of Ford owners. When my father died, he still had every car he had ever owned, except the very first one, all Fords and Lincolns. I have bought three Fords myself, and I finally own the right combination of high clearance and drive-train that I want and need. I will not buy another car until the current one dies and falls into at least 2,739 pieces.

-- I played for Gene Tierney’s funeral.

-- My favorite place on earth is Big Bend National Park.

-- I love visiting graves of the rich and famous. A few I’ve visited: Rachmaninoff; Bernstein; Col. Sanders; Bert Lahr; Frank Morgan; Conway Twitty; Presidents Washington, Grant, Wilson, Kennedy, and Johnson; my father.

-- I was confirmed in the Episcopal church in 1990.

-- I have not subscribed to TV service in years. Movie rentals are much cheaper and more interesting.

-- I am a conservative dresser but a liberal everything else. I wear coat and tie to school and to church. I would like to wear a tux when I perform on the home turf at ASU, but the new stage lights are too hot.

-- I was a pet owner for one month. It didn’t work out. The carpet couldn’t take it any more.

-- I love to mow grass. I detest pulling weeds and planting.

-- I have been on Presbyterian payrolls since 1995.

-- I act just like my father and my maternal grandfather. When you meet me, you meet them, God rest their souls.

-- Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Christmas Eve is my favorite service. Four days from today!

-- I wish you a blessed Christmas.