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Upcoming Performances

February 11
Inaugural recitalist, Casavant organ, Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, Columbia, S.C.

March 9, 2018, 12:15 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, National City Christian Church, Washington, D.C.

March 11, 2018
Guest recitalist, Waldensian Presbyterian Church, Valdese, N.C.

May 13, 2018, 5:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, N.C.

Tuesday
May102016

Big summer, once again

Why is it that even when a summer is jammed FULL of work, it's still more fun than the academic year?

May 19-21: ASU studio recital trip to Charleston, S.C. Studio performance Saturday at noon. Whoo hoo!!

June 19-23: AGO convention, Houston. Thursday afternoon performances by Joby Bell. Whoo hoo!!

June 26-July 2: OHS convention, Philadelphia. Saturday afternoon performance by ASU grad student Rodney Ward. Whoo hoo!!

July 6-30: Europe, here I come again. Recital in the cathedral at Magdeburg, July 11. Whoo hoo!!

August 4-12: ASU studio fun run to Washington, D.C. Organs, arts, Capitol Steps, food, and more. Whoo hoo!!

August 16: Classes. *Sigh*

 

Tuesday
Mar152016

Not a dry eye

Three organs on this earth have brought tears to my eyes on first hearing: Ste-Clotilde in Paris (the Cavaillé-Coll stops that Franck knew); St. Mary's Anglican Cathedral in Edinburgh (Father Willis), and First Baptist Church, Longview, Tex. (G. Donald Harrison signature Aeolian-Skinner, Op. 1174). Since first encountering the Longview instrument in about 2000, my ears have been opened to American Classic organ building; my eyes have been opened to the glory of Modern Gothic architecture (you have to visit the Longview church to believe it); and my mind has found its passion for the marvels of historical instruments and their importance to our heritage. Couple all this with the fact that the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Longview, Tex., has always recognized the treasure they have, and this organ remains tonally unaltered and well cared for. (I choose to ignore the conversion to Peterson ICS as an "alteration." We need those kinds of things these days, especially on an organ that big and that old.)

This organ is the product of the classiness that characterized many places in the 1940s/1950s. Take lots of oil money, add in a new church building (1951), add a contract with America's pre-eminent organ building firm, and mix generously with the design and tonal finishing of America's great voicer Roy Perry, and you have one of only a handful of epicenters that still bespeaks this perfect storm. The architecture never gets old. The organ never gets old. I have stepped into that space countless times since the first time, and it takes my breath away every time.

The genius of this organ is in the sum of its parts, the buildup of the ensemble. Plenty of foundation, and bright silvery mixtures in all the right places. The Pedal has plenty of its own stops for every registrational need (ANY pedal division that doesn't require coupling to fill it out is worth the price of the organ!). There are FIVE celestes. But the crowning glory, if you ask me, is in the 16-8-4 unit Pedal Ophicleide. Such power and tone, and yet such completion of the whole ensemble when it comes on. And you don't dare use it on just anything.

Why do I describe this organ so lovingly and so thoroughly now? Because I have just finished a two-day recording session on it. This recording will have its high spots, as any will. But the real high point is in sitting between those two massive chambers and bathing for three days in that sound that brought tears to my eyes all those years ago. I am fortunate indeed and will be the most rewarded listener of this recording. Even if the recording bombs, I will always have these moments at that instrument to remember.

I chose all-British repertoire. This organ was "fathered" by an Englishman, and it makes sense to use it in this way. We'll have the Alec Rowley Suite, a handful of chorales by Healey Willan and C.H.H. Parry, the Three Pieces of Frank Bridge, and first Sonata by Basil Harwood.

I arrived on Sunday, March 13, 2016, to begin registering. Long day, which finally ended about 9 pm. Producer Keith Weber arrived from Houston that night, and the "secret weapon" -- engineers Ryan Edwards and Shannon Smith of Houston -- arrived Monday lunch time. We recorded Monday from 1:00 until 8:00 pm and then Tuesday from 9:00 am until 4:15 pm. It was record time for such a long program (it will push the 80-minute limit of a standard CD).

Not only do I seek to showcase an organ with a recording, but I also try to use as much of its colors as possible. We'll hear lovely chorale solos on the Swell Nazard, the Choir Cromorne and English Horn, and on the 8-foot principals of the Swell and Great. A tremulant or two will make more than one cameo. And we'll hear plenty of that pedal reed when the time comes. The ultimate sheen provided by the second mixture on the Great will make its appearances judiciously but proudly. We'll hear from the Trompette on the Bombarde division, and we'll even hear a short, dramatic cameo from the Antiphonal.

As recording sessions go, this was just another one, with multiple takes of the hard stuff and surprisingly few takes of the easy stuff. This is the third collaboration between these guys and myself. But I believe that we attained new levels of mutual appreciation and professional respect. They appreciate my actually being ready to record (apparently, that's not the norm in this business, which is inexcusable), and I relaxed much more this time and let them tell me what to do. Once I have practiced and shown up, the rest is up to them!

Of course, I am grateful to the church and the music staff for their generous hospitality. For the most part, gratefulness to a church staff and congregation goes without saying, because without their support, you don't have a recording! But they deserve our endless thanks and praise not only for welcoming little old me, but more importantly for recognizing and preserving the treasure of that organ.

Keith and I are of one mind on this organ. At one point, he stood at the console rather than stay in the hallway with the engineers. In that location, you are literally flooded with the sound of the organ. At the end of one particular piece where the Ophicleide comes on to ice the cake, he had tears in HIS eyes.

Saturday
Mar052016

What a week

A full time musician who was actually trained in music can't help but count his blessings. I have been a full-time musician since graduating college in 1990, but every year I feel more full-time than ever. Take this past week, for instance: I finished up chairing a search committee at school, played two recitals, rehearsed Avenue Q, and am now practicing furiously for a recording project in two weeks. And I celebrated my birthday.

And yet on top of all this was a nasty head cold that threatened to lay me out for several days. But as is any workaholic's mantra, "I'm too busy to get sick." And so busy I stayed. It might be a mistake in the future to carry on so hard, but I'm happy to report that I'm back and working away. My dean has encouraged me on multiple occasions to take some time for myself. I wonder what he's trying to say. I can't imagine what the problem might be ...

Monday
Feb082016

Still memorizing

I was taught, not merely commanded, to memorize. (I have discussed that difference before.) But even though it is a painstaking process to get there, that feeling of euphoria that comes after finishing memorizing a piece is unbeatable. The piece on my mind today is the Dupré A-flat Prelude and Fugue, a masterpiece of counterpoint, yet an intense sojourn of beauty. Truly one of the most magnificent organ pieces ever written. It has been on my bucket list for years, and it's finally here. I'll be "premiering" it at Appalachian State on March 1 at 8pm Eastern. Also on that program will be BWV 651, the Böhm Partita on Freu' dich sehr, and Rachel Laurin's romping transcription of the Brahms/Handel Variations.

My memorizing life has changed with the addition of a black cat to the household. He paws me for food, meows in my ear, and walks across the other manual. So long as I don't try to incorporate those sounds in my memory, I think I'll be okay. Otherwise, I may crash and burn in performance if I don't hear meowing at the right time...

Monday
Feb012016

An obscure anniversary

My mother kept everything in her calendar.

Her handwritten calendar.

Every year, she would get a new calendar and start transferring all information she wanted to preserve from the previous year into the upcoming one. This birthday, that anniversary, etc. But she would also transfer other events such as the dog's birthday, the dog's death day, the date of a major surgery, the death of a beloved cousin. The amount of information looked to us like much ado about nothing, until we discovered when going through her estate that she had SAVED all previous years' calendars. Therefore, when it was all said and done, we had a perfectly preserved record of pretty much her entire adult life and our family history.

As it turns out, I do the same thing. But my calendar is electronic, and therefore, a lot less trouble. I have created simple annual repeating events that pop up from day to day. And so I, too, am able to remember this birthday or that birthday. And I have found it satisfying nostalgic to be reminded that a particular day was the death of one of my dear classmates or family member or a major milestone in my career. And it has promoted much good will in my family for me to be able to call the grieving one year after a death and say, "Hey, I'm thinking about you today. I know what today is." Much ado about nothing? Maybe to some. To me, it's a promotion of necessary parts of human life: fellowship, support, remembering together.

All that to say that today, February 1, my iPhone has reminded me of the start date in 1997 of my seven-year tenure as the organist at First Presbyterian Church of Houston, Tex. That day, I really felt I had arrived -- in charge of beautiful instruments, working with beloved conductors, making soon-to-be beloved friends in the choir, and beginning to learn more about organ chamber air conditioner breakdowns than I ever wanted to know.

Anyway, happy anniversary to me, for an event that ended in 2004. And an early Happy Groundhog Day to you.