Sunday, April 29, 2012

Giving organ music a chance

Three years ago I did not know that Bach was an organist.

When I decided to become an organist three years ago, I knew very little about organ music. I had heard hymns accompanied by organ at my childhood church and at my current church (until they switched to praise band format).

Early on in my lessons, I learned the world of organ music is vast and greatly extends beyond hymns.  With the Internet, there is easy access to any type of music of interest.  Perhaps, you have never heard pipe organ music besides in horror movies. I encourage you to check out organ music, especially if you have not given it much consideration previously. Keep in mind that all performances are not equal! Do not let a bad performance on YouTube discourage you.

I hope you have not dismissed organ music without ever giving it a chance! 

I highly recommend Pipedreams. Pipedreams is produced by American Public Media. Each week they air a 2 hour program on many public radio stations. Most (if not all) of the music is recorded on pipe organs. A list of stations is available on their website. The programs are also available for listening on their website. I usually listen to the program while at work. streams organ music continuously. Some of the recordings are not great, but you can request any piece they have in their library to be played.

The Joy of Music with Diane Bish is broadcast weekly on TV (check website for stations). Diane Bish is very talented and provides me with inspiration. Her performances are wonderful and often include some history of the piece or that where she is preforming. I enjoy seeing the old European churches that have maintained their pipe organs.

I also suggest checking out live events in your area at churches (that still have and use their organs) or performances put on by college/university students. I have attended a couple of recitals put on by students from the University of Michigan. These students will not disappoint!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

First Presbyterian Church Ypsilanti Concert

Last Sunday, April 15, 2012, I traveled to the First Presbyterian Church in Ypsilanti, MI for a pipe organ concert. My friend, Arwana from church, drove along with me as she also enjoys organ music. According to their website, the church was built in the mid 1857 and remodeled in 1899. The front entrances have grand wooden doors. Inside, the crown modeling is magnificent along with the beautiful stained glass windows. The pews are wooden (but have cushions) with detailed carvings on the pew ends. The pews also have a slight curve to them.

The concert was put on by the Ypsilanti Pipe Organ Festival and featured students of Dr. James Kibbie from the University of Michigan. The program was design was interesting as four students performed one piece each in the first half of the program. Then after intermission five students (the same four as first half of program plus one more) each played one  of the five movements of Charles-Marie Widor's Symphony VI in G Minor.  This symphony is bold, powerful, and captivating

Overall, the program was very enjoyable and the students preformed very well.  Unlike me, these students have been playing for many years with most starting on piano and/or organ at a young age. And although students, several are already successful organists holding position with churches and performing recitals.

John Woolsey played Free Fantasia on "O Zion, Haste" and "How Firm a Foundation"  by Willian Bolcom as his stand alone piece. This piece left me feeling a bit disconcerted and I wondered if this was the composer's intent and if I was the only one that felt this way!

The third movement - Intermezzo - of Charles-Marie Widor's Symphony VI in G Minor was performed by memory by Mathew Dempsey. He was the only student to play a piece from memory during the program.

Below is a photo of the organ and console. There are several pictures of the organ from when it was rededicated in on 2009 after being refurbished on the church's photo page.

Pipe Organ at First Presbyterian Church, Ypsilanti, MI

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


You may have noticed that I did not make a post last weekend. I had a busy Saturday spending time with a friend from high school. Then on Sunday afternoon I attended an organ concert. I felt very tired on Sunday evening. Monday I also felt drained most of the day while I was at work. I had some itchy redness on my face that didn't seem to be going away.

On Tuesday I finally went to the doctor and learned that I have shingles! Fortunately, my case is relatively mild. I have not had much pain, mostly the spots have been itchy and I've been tired. I took a day off work to rest and feel like I am on the road to recovery. The size of the anti-viral pills is a bit intimidating.

I've learned a lot about shingles this week. My body gave me the shingles. The chicken pox virus has been in my system ever since I had chicken pox when I was a child and will apparently always been there. When the virus re-activates it appears as shingles.

I did not expect to learn about shingles this week. Have you learned anything unexpected this week?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lift High the Cross (Hymn)

Have you ever heard a song and unexpectedly felt great delight?

This happened to me this week when listening to the Pipedreams program: Prayers and Alleluias which aired on April 2, 2012.  With Easter being tomorrow, the pieces in this program are those usually preformed around Easter. The hymn Lift High the Cross caught my attention. Astoundingly, I was not familiar with this tune before hearing it this week. (perhaps, I have heard it previously in at church and do not recall).

This recording is spectacular and majestic. A choir sings the hymn. The organ elegantly accompanies conveying the emotion of the hymn. The combination of voice and organ is marvelous. The message in the lyrics is powerful.

To hear this recording of Lift High the Cross go to Pipedreams and then click on the link to listen to Hour 2. Lift High the Cross is the first piece played in hour 2 which is followed by a trumpet ensemble playing variations of this hymn.  The lyrics and information about the tune can be read from the Psalter Hymnal.

Of course, there are videos of  Lift High the Cross on YouTube. I did not find any as grand as the recording on Pipedreams. I listened to several YouTube videos and they did not touch me in the same way. I highly recommend checking out the Pipedreams recording.

The tune name is CRUCIFER. Jesus was crucified for us. I will end with the verse under the title of Lift High the Cross my hymnal John 12:32 "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Myself." (American Standard Version).