Sunday, December 23, 2012

Why I chose to be a guest organist rather than have a "regular" position

I fell in love with the pipe organ when I was 8 years old. We lived in Staunton VA.  I was acolyte for my aunt's wedding at the local Lutheran church, and YuLee Larner was the organist, playing the 1880's 2-manual Adam Stein tracker organ (the builder and information I found out later when I was older.)  She let me play a little on the instrument and I was totally hooked from then on.

Churches weren't particularly interested in having the kids learn to play the organ, as they were afraid we would "break something."  So I pretended the piano at home was an organ.  Then the Baptist church where I attended (which had a Robert Morton theater organ in the sanctuary) got a new spinet piano for the chapel which had an electronic organ of 3 stops built in.  They didn't care if I played on that, so I played it whenever I got the chance.  I finally got to play "the piano" for a Sunday evening service, and I used the "organ" part, which surprised them.  The prelude I played was "Handel's Largo" from the "New Blue Book of Favorite Songs."  (I still have a copy.)  That was about 1955.   By 1957, the Lutheran church, where my aunt directed the choir, gave me permission to practice on the organ.  The Adam Stein had since been rebuilt by Mark Wetzel and was now electric action.  I played things from "The Green Hill Junior Choir and Duet Book" by Katherine K. Davis.  Tschaikovsky's "A Legend" was one of the first, and I learned to contrast 8' & 2' with 8' and 4' flutes by experimenting.

When I graduated from High School in 1958 I started taking organ lessons from Dr. Carl Broman who taught music at Mary Baldwin College and was organist at Trinity Episcopal Church.  I stared on an amplified reed WurliTzer in the college music building, but I must have made quick progress because I was soon studying and practicing on the 1957 3-manual Austin at Trinity.  That first summer I learned two Bach Preludes and a Prelude and Fugue and started on some pieces from "80 Chorale Preludes."

That fall of 1958 I started in Electrical Engineering at UVA.  I talked my way in to practice on a 1929 Austin at University Baptist and a 1929 Ernest Skinner at St. Paul's Memorial Episcopal, and also was able to practice on the 1907 Skinner in Cabell Hall.  I also practiced on a Baldwin at Wesley Memorial Methodist, which was a 10 minute walk from the dorm.  Early in the fall I got the job of organist at St. Mark's Lutheran in Charlottesville, which was a 10 minute bicycle ride.  (Students were not allowed to have cars back then.)   The next year I got the job as choirmaster/organist at Hinton Avenue Methodist with 3 services a Sunday plus I had choir practice, chose the music etc.  I held that until I graduated, but after two years in engineering I switched to music education.

After I graduated from UVA in 1963 I got the job as band director at Buffalo Gap High School near my home, and held that job for 23 years.  For a few years I was organist-director at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Staunton, and was their first organist in the new church on the new Moller organ of 7 ranks.  I left Covenant in 1969.  In 1970 I became choir director (not organist) at Tinkling Spring Presbyterian in Fishersville, my wife's home church.  I held that job for 12 years, but by that time our two boys were of age to get into scouts and other activities, so I stopped church music except to sub.

I subbed off and on for a number of years.  Then 15 years ago I had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and underwent Chemo and Radiation.  There was an ad in the local newspaper for a used Allen Organ, and I bought it for $250.  That got me through the ordeal of cancer and got me back to practicing.  About 5 years ago my aunt (the same one I mentioned above) passed away and left me some money, so we paid off the house and I bought a nearly-new Rodgers organ and sold the Allen for what I paid for it.  Now I was really motivated to practice.  I started letting people know I wanted to sub.  Now I play just about every week.  Before my wife retired I practiced at 7:30 every morning after she left for work at JMU, where she was on the faculty.  I left teaching after 23 years for the business world, by the way.  Along the way I became director of The Stonewall Brigade Band in Staunton, which is the nation's oldest-continuous among over 2,000 community bands nationwide.  So the organ playing and the band directing are my hobbies.  They are for fun and to give others enjoyment.  Now I practice each evening (except Monday which is band night) from 7-8 while Wheel and Jeopardy are on TV.  My service area now extends from my hometown of Staunton to Harrisonburg, Luray, and Charlottesville.

The nice thing about being a guest organist is that I meet so many nice people.  I never intend to take a full time post, so I'm not a threat to the local organist.  I get to play lots of neat instruments, both pipe organs and digital organs.  It is fun to see what really nice sounds I can get out of them.

I started this blog mainly to give composer and programmatic information about the pieces I am playing for preludes, offertories, postludes, and the occasional recital.  Check back to see what I'm playing and where I'm playing.

No comments:

Post a Comment