Upcoming Performances

May 4, 2014, 2:00 pm
Guest recitalist, Bethel Lutheran Church, Rochester, Minn.

June 8, 2014, 4:00 pm
Guest recitalist, First Presbyterian Church, Burlington, N.C.

August 28, 2014, 8:00 pm
30th anniversary concert, Casavant organ, Appalachian State University

October 3, 2014
Guest recitalist, Valdosta State University

October 12, 2014, 5:00 pm
Evensong recitalist, Saint Thomas Episcopal Church, Houston, Tex.

November 9, 2014, 4:00 pm
Guest recitalist, Independent Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Ala.

February 20, 2015, 7:00 pm
Guest recitalist, Shandon United Methodist Church, Columbia, S.C.

June 22 and 29, 2015
Featured recitalist, Conferences on Worship and Music, Anderson Auditorium, Montreat, N.C.

June 23, 2016
Featured recitalist, somewhere very exciting, TBA!

May 28, 2017
Evensong recitalist, Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York, N.Y.


Stiff competition

I have judged, competed in, and administered those nasty little manmade abominations known as competitions. Two of them have re-entered my thinking this week:

One is the Hayes Young Artist Competition, a full-ride competition among first-year entering students to the Hayes School of Music at Appalachian State University. Each year, we hear splendid playing by upwards of 12-15 students, and we always wish the judges the best of luck in determining a winner. This year, the rightful winner was named, as usual.

Then he turned the prize down to attend college elsewhere.

Which brings me to this advice to any competitor in any competition: it is the ultimate in poor planning to enter a competition “just to see how far you get.” After all, you could win. Just like marriage in the Episcopal Church, a competition “is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.” And furthermore, it is the ultimate in arrogance to win a major competition such as this and then decline to accept the prize. I mean, how much do you think a university should beg to give you $30,000? There were plenty other competitors who would have gladly accepted that prize or less. Don’t get me started. Oops, too late.

Okay, on to the second competition fresh on my mind. Results are in from a membership survey for the American Guild of Organists on its playing and composition competitions. The tide is turning again, as is its pattern. The opinions coming out of the woodwork are the usual ones: too many judges, too few, too much prescribed repertoire, too little, age range too young, too old, our American competitions are not European enough, there’s not enough prize money, there are too many rounds, too few, instruments used are lousy, not enough trackers, not enough digital, competitors should be able to play a WurliTzer as well as a Fisk, judges should not be current or even past teachers of competitors, blind judging, double-blind judging, fully open judging, audiences should see the competitors, audiences should not, competitors should bow and show stage presence as part of the judging package, competitors should address the audience intelligently as part of the judging package, we need ways to ensure we choose the right winner who will continue on to a major career, we need more prize money, we need to can the competitions completely and teach these kids how to play hymns better, we need to give all that prize money to struggling churches, et cetera, et cetera.

I administered an AGO competition for six years, during which I learned a great deal about organ pedagogy in this country. I treasure having learned as much as I did, because it made me a rather excellent teacher in cultivating the complete performer and not just the hotshot organist. But that learning came at a price. It made me no friends among the competitors (except the winners, of course). And it kind of made me look to my successors like a steadfast defender of the status quo. For the record: I could live with the competition in its previous state, and I’ll have no problem living with it in its upcoming altered state. I think it’s admirable and necessary for the AGO to re-define why its competitions exist and what we hope to accomplish with them. But I fear the sponsors of the first prize will likely not enjoy hearing over and over that cash is more important to a winner than two years’ free artist management and a free recording project.

Well, no matter how a competition is set up, a competitor’s performance is merely a snapshot of her world in that moment. It can go in any direction from there. It is not a guaranteed home run, and it’s not a prediction of future success. A judge’s verdict could be as easily influenced by what he had for breakfast as by how well the competitor played. And Lord knows there have been winners who were never heard from again. And there have been plenty second-prize winners who have made decent careers for themselves. And there are plenty hotshots out there who have never won any competition.

I’d say winning an audience’s heart is the real prize these days. And let's not forget that mediocrity is ultimately our only "competition." We must battle it every day. Eyes on the ball, please.


Naming names: a review of a new phenomenon

This will be the first time I have discussed an organist by name. But he has said that he loves the publicity he can get without having to say anything himself. So congratulations, Cameron Carpenter – this will amount to yet another Google hit when I post it.

March 9, 2014, I attended an event I was morbidly curious to attend. It was the inaugural recital of Cameron Carpenter’s digital “International Touring Organ” (“ITO”) performed in the Starr Theater in Alice Tully Hall. Organ design by Carpenter, software and sound production by Marshall & Ogletree, console by R. A. Colby. It is a mammoth array of console, speakers, speaker cabinets, and presumably heavy padding, designed to travel with Mr. Carpenter and be played anywhere. His aim was not only to travel with an organ to eliminate the need for extensive on-site practice on an otherwise unfamiliar organ but also to have available at all times an organ that can play absolutely anything from organ music to transcriptions to Mr. Carpenter’s original compositions, just the way he wants them. But in presenting the ITO as a “solution” to those “problems,” Mr. Carpenter does not celebrate its possibilities but rather laments the “reasons” to need it in the first place, presenting it and himself as saviors of the organ from obscurity and further purist restriction.

Concert instruments are concert instruments. They are designed, hopefully, to play most organ music and to hold their own against an orchestra. In the past 20 years there have been many new ones installed in concert halls, thank goodness. Many are underused, undervoiced, or overbearing, but on the whole, who cares? I’m just glad they exist. But most organs are not concert instruments. They are church instruments, and their first responsibility is to play hymns and service music for the given congregation, then anthems for the given choir, then organ music for the liturgy, then concerts. This makes any given church organ unique and tied to the building in which it resides (another “problem” Mr. Carpenter laments in his Playbill notes). But more importantly, it is tied to the people who desired it and had it installed. And although I myself am tired of some of the purist organs I encounter in some churches, I am delighted there are still churches using an organ. Who cares if it can’t be transplanted to another room? [Actually, many of them can be with proper voicing, and often are.] Who cares if it can’t play the Mahler 5th? Who cares if it can play Bach but not Franck? The artist needs to practice his art, no matter the quality of the canvas available. Taken this way, the ITO is the most expensive cop-out I have ever seen.

But it’s not a cop-out. It only looks like a cop-out when Mr. Carpenter blames its raison d’être on all these external, inane forces he laments and is presumably too lazy or advanced to work around. But if allowed to speak for itself, the ITO might be more readily accepted for what it really is – a marketing tool for one person. And since it is just that, no matter what else he ever says about the establishment, Mr. Carpenter has my blessing to use it to make millions. He has said before that he is in the business of promoting himself, not the organ. He finds it silly that organists promote the instrument in the abstract rather than themselves. He has a slight point there, but it’s also slightly off-target. The organ is so much more fascinating than a clarinet or a violin, and so we organists can use that drawing power to our advantage. [God knows I am not likely to attend a bassoon or violin recital, and I loathe voice recitals.] Young people love the organ because it’s fascinating and powerful. Mr. Carpenter has done much to draw young people toward the organ, but he has done so (correctly) by drawing them to himself and dressing like what they like to see. [However, the audience I saw at the inaugural recital of the ITO was primarily of the old geezer variety. Must have been the ticket prices that drove the youngsters away. That might need to be addressed in the future. And should Mr. Carpenter ever elect to get over the whole punk thing in his dress and hairstyle, it shouldn’t affect his popularity. If it does, then there is something wrong with the audience.]

The ITO itself: It has everything it needs to play absolutely anything, I suppose. The problem is that in spite of all that variety, I didn’t hear more than about four distinct sounds. Everything sounds alike, and none of it sounds like the instrument/s it attempts to imitate. There have certainly been strides taken to make a digital organ have the acoustic expanse of a pipe organ, but this wasn’t it. The speakers were all aimed at the audience. They might have sounded fuller by being aimed at the walls or at least in multiple directions – hey, much like a pipe organ sounds. The problem with speakers is that they produce their sound out the same little opening note after note. There is no variety to the source of the sound, whereas the pipe organ has little tone producers scattered across many square and cubic feet of space, automatically giving a sense of spaciousness. This will forever be the primary barrier to digital supplanting pipe. So let it be written. But I don’t think Mr. Carpenter is trying to replace a pipe organ with the ITO; he’s just getting something that can play anything at all. His taste in what can be played on the organ is farther ranging than most of ours. But honestly, I haven’t heard all that Bach and Widor have to offer me, and so I’m staying with them for a little while longer.

Mr. Carpenter bewails in the Playbill the fact that an organist [I’ll add pianist here] has to make friends with a new organ [piano] in a mere couple days or a few hours before performing, whereas instrumentalists get to live with their instrument 24/7 for life and always have their expression available. I disagree that this is a problem to be solved for the organist. In my case and that of many others, I am constantly affirmed by audience members how well I use the organ, how much color I get out of it, how much passion there is in my playing, etc. Making friends with an organ is an art. And it’s not difficult. And I’m good at it. And so is Mr. Carpenter. Therefore, when taken at face value, I don’t know what his problem is. The ITO does have some restrictions, just like the stationary organs it exists to surpass. It’s the same organ, the same organist each time. I was tired of it the first time and elected not to attend the second recital that day. Audiences enjoy traveling to a famous venue to hear what’s inside. The ITO is touted for its ability to come to the audience, and when it has done that once, the appeal may be over for many. And it will be horribly expensive to move and to present, which will limit its appearances to only the richest venues. Furthermore, now gone is the creativity at making a stationary organ do what the organist wants it to do. At the inaugural recital, Mr. Carpenter bragged that he will no longer be making so many program changes as he usually does on a stationary organ. I think he has done that in the past to highlight a stationary organ’s limitations, but if he’s not careful it could just look like laziness in not reviewing an organ’s spec before choosing a program. Duh. But the point is probably now moot – the ITO is now Mr. Carpenter’s constant companion, assuming presenters can afford its hauling charges.

Mr. Carpenter has been described as “revolutionary,” after his recording and DVD where he plays the left hand of the Revolutionary Etude with his feet. He has followed that same trend, playing the piccolo part of The Stars and Stripes Forever with his feet, etc. But his career is not “revolutionary.” The use of that word would suggest that everyone will be doing things that way before long. Rather, Mr. Carpenter is an island, an aberration. No one else can step in and take over. No one else can take it to the next step. But Mr. Carpenter has the same ten fingers and two feet that the rest of us do. The difference is that he plays the way he wants to, which means that all the pyrotechnics are his invention. That would be much more difficult to do if he were trying to play someone else’s way. We all have some keyboard skills that are better than others’. Mr. Carpenter has exploited his own talent, rather than develop new ones. That’s not so hard to understand, is it? Many people could play the way he does. But no one has the time to develop it, and very few have the inclination. Mr. Carpenter’s style is to play nearly all the time while spanning two to four manuals. There is a constant “thumbing down” of melodies and counter-melodies and a constant use of the piston sequencer. The rest of us have to practice playing in three dimensions, but it can be done, and I suspect even Bach did it. But when Mr. Carpenter renders, say, Franck with constant solos and countersolos where Franck didn’t write them, it just begins to sound weird, not revolutionary.

I haven’t figured out why all this is necessary. Mr. Carpenter lays a lot of blame at the feet of the establishment for the existence of his creativity. What’s wrong with just being creative and innovative? And I haven’t figured out how it could be sustainable. It is not sustainable because only Mr. Carpenter plays that way, and there is no one else coming up the ranks. It is not sustainable because no one has the desire, ability, or need to do the same. It is not sustainable because Mr. Carpenter has not exhibited a desire to teach the style to anyone else. And so it makes much more sense to accept Mr. Carpenter as a marketer of himself and not of the instrument he has chosen for his expression or that he claims to be saving from the purist’s wrecking ball. As soon as he gets bored with it and has no more lands to conquer, the show will be over. But I guarantee that Bach, Mendelssohn, and Widor will still be with us, uninjured.


Happy and gay?

Is there a preponderance of gay organists? [We may need to define “organist.” Many churchgoers remember the dear sweet little old lady who used to play the organ for church. The sweet little old lady was most assuredly not gay. But she may also not be quite the kind of organist we have come to expect from our schools and churches these days. Only in recent years has the memory of many a churchgoer’s organist been that of a gay man with training.] But anyway, is there a preponderance of gay organists? If so, why is that?

Any convention of the American Guild of Organists or the Organ Historical Society or the American Theatre Organ Society will be well attended by gay men (my statistic). Why is that?

The baseline statistic for the gay population is roughly 10% of the entire population. An additional 26% is otherwise not completely hetero. But in the typical organ studio, the gay population statistic is much higher, many times approaching 100% (my statistic). Why is that?

In many churches, gay is not welcome unless it is closeted. And when it is found out, the organist is dismissed. And so a sizeable musical demographic is working for an institution that seeks to reject their very person, sometimes even to destroy them or at least “cure” them. Why is that?

I have no answers for any of this representing actual research, and I doubt any meaningful research has been done. I have found no more than the most cursory attention paid to this subject, usually on listservs or other forums. And I have actually had the conversation only once or twice over the years, usually over drinks. But this would be a fascinating sociological study in many ways. I’ll just offer the following:

1. The preponderance of gay organists seems to have grown. But I don’t think there are more gay people than before. There are, however, many more organists, period. But I don’t think the demographics have changed much. I feel it’s a false statistic. What HAS changed is the freedom for gay people to make themselves known in all fields, not just music.

2. Why are gay young people attracted to the organ? I think it goes back to childhood. The organ is not the cool kids’ instrument. It is not treated at young ages as the kind of thing for straight guys, jocks, or the promiscuous. And so the introverts gravitate toward it, and the Type-Bs get to hide behind its loudness and enjoy the power it gives them. Now, this particular statistic (mine) is difficult to nail down anymore, since so many kids don’t go to church and are therefore not near an organ on a regular basis. There aren’t pipe organs (for the most part) in the public schools or the basketball gyms or the private schools. A kid still has to encounter the pipe organ in a church or a theatre. But there is also another statistic (mine) that says that once a kid encounters an organ, especially a pipe organ, if they are likely to get hooked, then they are likely to get hooked the very first time, for life. And that is encouraging. The organ still has what it takes.

3. The power given the introvert by the organ is also a very powerful force over people’s very souls. A congregation who appreciates organ music and the organ’s role in worship will certainly appreciate the organist with a heart for them. This is powerful. And we can only hope that a congregation who knows the organist for who s/he is will appreciate him/her that much more.

4. If a congregation is open and affirming, then gay really can be happy (my statistic).


Don't slobber

An organist is sometimes given too many notes to play. British composers, particularly of the Victorian persuasion, will write full chord progressions in each hand, octaves and all, and then put a slur above it, as if legato were possible. Modern composers, particularly those who have received bad advice when composing their first piece for organ, will do the same thing. And far too many accompaniment transcriptions will say "for piano (or organ)," but there is no way the organ nor organist could play the same notes that the piano score has in it. Case in point this week is the Persichetti tone poem for trumpet and strings, "The Hollow Men." Persichetti prepared the piano reduction and marked it "Piano (or Organ)." Fail. Could never work.

At the end of the outer movements of his first organ Sonata, Hindemith writes full chords in each hand, then marks it all pianissimo. Fail. The appearance of all those notes makes everything suddenly louder. On a large instrument, that's not such a big deal -- just hit (yet another) piston, close the box(es), and play away. But on the instruments we were building in this country when Hindemith was composing the Sonatas... [I shudder to go on].

These days, there is a more subtle form of too many notes going on in organ playing. Many organists will smear attacks and releases, as if they were playing the piano. There is no cleanliness to the end of one note and the beginning of another. Organists who do that are apparently trying to play expressively, slushing attacks and releases rather than manipulating rhythm (which is ultimately the organ's only means of expression). With unclear attacks and releases, each note eventually becomes TWO, and that makes everything suddenly louder. The sound goes in and out, loud and soft, lurch and brake. The piece lunges and lurches in sound intensity. Phrases are lost, and the listener is exhausted afterwards, even if subconsciously. I call that kind of playing 'slobbering.'

But it's an easy fix. Just listen to every note. And with all the notes we are given to play sometimes, that ought to keep us off the streets for a while.


Seven thousand in Israel

A dear friend of mine just announced that she and her other full-time music faculty colleagues are being dismissed. The reason given is that music faculty just don’t produce enough teaching credits for the university to continue to consider them viable. And that is true – we music teachers spend a lot of time one-on-one with students. We teach about 10-15 students per week, while classroom teachers all across campus teach upwards of 50-200 students per DAY. Therefore, it has become a regular occurrence for our administrations to have to defend to upper administration the art of music and its expenses. Yes, music is expensive. It requires instruments, instrument maintenance, huge spaces for rehearsal, many small spaces for practice, individual teaching offices, and a climate-controlled building that is exempt from any cost-cutting measures deemed necessary by the university to save on heating and air conditioning, not to mention what is required in the way of humidity control. Then add in full-time salaries and benefits for all this one-on-one instruction, and the numbers just don’t add up with the other departments across campus.

This has always been the case. And perhaps it was only a matter of time before questions began to be asked about it. And so here we are. The questions are being asked, mostly by accountants and university boards of governors. In the case of my friend mentioned above, it was asked by an outside consultant, who then convinced upper administration to take that big step toward balancing the music credits taught with those all across campus, to get rid of the full-timers and their benefits and have all the teaching done by adjuncts and part-timers. It’s all about the bottom line, and the bottom line here is that universities save lots of money when they don’t have to pay full-time salaries and benefits. They’ll blame the economy. They’ll blame a lack of philanthropy. They’ll blame the Department of Education for forcing their hand. But the real problem lies in a growing misconception that music is universal and therefore universally acceptable, no matter how amateurish it is. But this doesn’t start at the university level. It comes from the high school and primary school level, too, where arts and music are routinely gutted from shrinking budgets and curricula. But it doesn’t stop there. It also occurs at home, where children are encouraged to play soccer rather than practice the piano. It occurs at home, where children are told that the halftime show at the Super Bowl was one of the finest performances ever produced. It occurs at home, where children are told that arts and music can be enjoyed any time and don’t need to be studied by non-musicians and that science and accounting are much more important in today’s economic climate, before China overtakes us. What nonsense.

This has been only one story told by one blogger. There are plenty more horror stories that could be told about this. But what do we do? Honestly, I don’t know. But I know that there are still students out there wanting to come study with me, and so I’m going to keep showing up for work until work tells me not to. I’m not going to give my art and work away, and I’m going to train others to be the very best they can be. Meanwhile, I have removed my friend’s university from mention in my bio (I used to teach there), and I shall quietly rejoice if that university sees a firestorm of protest that purges either its donor base or its entire upper administration; I don’t care which. And I shall continue to hope that in the U.S., there may always be “7000 in Israel, knees which have not bowed to Ba’al,” people who miraculously believe that people are more important than money.


We do what we know

I can usually see myself doing anything for a career. That is always easier to envision while I’m actually doing it. Examples: during my flight training, I could see myself as a commercial pilot and still would, in fact, enjoy flying for, say, FedEx or any other company that does not involve neurotic passengers or their screaming children. During discussions with medical friends over the years, I could see myself as a surgeon. During funerals, I could easily see myself as a funeral director or grief counselor. And during the arduous work of cleaning out my mother’s house, I could see myself as a mover or crime scene cleanup agent. It’s not that I’m thinking of jumping ship on my current career. (But don’t push me, because teaching is no longer a picnic for anyone anymore, and the performing front has never had much room for more than a handful of recurring names.)

The ‘hey-I-could-do-this’ thinking works on several fronts. I have discovered many times that I might actually have something to say in other ways. Sometimes I feel I could write a fine novel, compose a fine musical, compose a fine opera, conduct an opera, or direct a film. But those senses are strongest when I’m actually reading a novel or listening to a musical or opera or watching a decent film or directing music for a production.

Most of the great composers came from musical families and had strict formal training at early ages. They tended to have family support or outside recognition of their abilities. All they needed after that was encouragement to pursue their careers. (Of course, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that most educated people in centuries past were educated in the arts as a matter of course. My, how times have changed.) Anyway, I see that in modern times, our kids still tend to do what they already know. The ones with parents who listen to pop or were potheads in college tend to gravitate toward starting their own garage bands. The ones with parents who took them to concerts and operas tend to stay in those spheres, even if avocationally. The ones who grew up in the church tend to sing, play, or compose church music or at least sing in a choir regularly. I wrote a couple Gospel songs in teenage years (they were what I grew up with), but I quickly moved on to hymn reharmonizations and a couple octavos (they were also what I grew up with). After many years’ saturation in classical and opera, I might actually have something to say in those spheres now, too. Better late than never, I suppose, but Mendelssohn, Mozart, Distler, and Schubert were long dead at my age...


Clyde Holloway's memorial service

I attended my last mentor's memorial service this past weekend in Houston. An event like that is more like a family reunion than a memorial service. The memories, the friends, (the foes), it's all so strong and vivid that it's worth preserving here in cyberspace.

The service was at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston, where Clyde served for many years. Organ music selections were most appropriate: BWV 547 (with which Clyde won the AGO national competition in 1964), the Franck Prelude, Fugue and Variation (which Clyde loved and which the Rice organ played beautifully), the Messiaen Joie et clarté (representative of Clyde's dissertation on Messiaen), and the Final from the Vierne 1st (which was always Clyde's swan song in a given church). In addition, Jason Roberts improvised a brief but stunningly clever prelude which had the basic form of the opening pages of the Reubke Sonata (which Clyde recorded twice and with which Clyde inaugurated the Rice organ), and which also contained brief allusions to the Liszt BACH (which Clyde recorded) and to the Messiaen Banquet céleste (which Clyde used as a teaching piece -- when Jason played those familiar first few chords, there was audible tittering in the nave. It was utterly brilliant and unifying for all of us gathered).

The Cathedral and choir offered their customarily high-quality liturgy. It was a pleasure to be back there. The choir sang the Malcolm Boyle "Thou art praised in Zion" and the Duruflé Ubi caritas. Hymns were sturdy tunes such as Vigiles et sancti and Cwm Rhondda. The eulogies were short and lovely. I was amazed to hear about a younger, healthier Clyde I did not know. Did you know that he once donned a pair of overalls to help paint a former student's barn? But everyone was in agreement about his teaching and his love for his students. The only flaw I found in the service was in the Dean's insistence that a congregation full of professional organists needed to be told to stand and sing the hymns or to sit and listen to the closing voluntary.

Just so I don't forget those I chatted with, in no particular order: Karen McFarlane (Clyde's manager), Daryl Robinson, Pieter Visser, Marty Wheeler Burnett, Marsha Seale, Bob Simpson (Clyde's sucessor at the Cathedral), Jian-Guang Shi, Melissa Givens (my dear friend plus hotel and taxi for this trip), John Marsh, Sandi Ward, Jan Salassi (Jouett, but she'll always be Salassi to me), Anna Marie Flusche (Clyde's first doctoral student to finish), Wick Rowland, Emily Borling, John Meier, Paul Meier, Suzanne Anderson, Jason Roberts, Ann Colbert Wade (Clyde's first graduate student), Ben Harris, Tom Crow, Lucinda Meredith, Glen Douglas, Carl & Pat Hand, Ann Frohbieter, and Linda Hazelip. I probably forgot a few.

Then a few folks I saw at a distance but didn't get a chance to visit with personally: Micki Simms, Cathy Hildreth, George Ritchie, Mary Bahn, Bruce Power, Robert Bates, Matthew Dirst, Chris Thomas.

And of course there were surely some folks there I didn't see at all, plus some who wanted to be there but couldn't, plus others who should have been there but weren't (shame on them).

Rest in peace, Clyde Barrington Holloway II, 1936-2013. Maker of careers, especially mine.


Occupational hazards

I have been working out some pain in my shoulder in physical therapy (which I highly recommend). So now I've been reflecting on the aches and pains I have had over the years, and as it turns out, I can blame most of them on the organ:

1. Shoulder pain: I spend hours each day folded forward into myself, arms extended. That makes the chest strong and the back weak. Solutions: stretch the chest and shoulders regularly, and buy (and use) a rowing machine. Problem solved.

2. I had a bout with tendonitis in my right hand in grad school. Can't imagine why. I was only practicing many hours a day and playing Sundays on a three-manual tracker. And to make financial ends meet, I was entering ten-key data in an office. That uses the right hand. Gee, imagine the potential for pain. Solutions: rest that hand! Carry everything in the other hand. Move things, push buttons, write, open doors, and brush teeth with the other hand. Rest. Aleve. And then take a close look at manual technique and quiet it down in a big way. Pain and suffering were the catalyst through which I honed a rather quiet yet effective manual technique. I'm proud of the result, even if the process was no fun.

3. Bach Trio Sonatas make the inner thighs sore. They'll get over it.

4. Widor makes everything sore.

5. When a foot rests lazily on its side on the pedalboard, it can start to fatigue.

6. Every now and then, I encounter expression shoes that are set too low, which when fully closed stretch the Achilles too much.

7. <insert your own here>

8. Finally, I myself can be an occupational hazard for a tyrannical clergyman or a clueless secretary. But that can make the tendonitis flare up again if I punch them too hard.


Another nunc dimittis

I just got word that my teacher and mentor Clyde Holloway died this week. As of this writing, details are unknown, but reflection on my long relationship with him is already heavy.

I met him at my Rice audition in the spring of 1990. The music building was not yet finished, and the School of Music was still scattered all over the campus. My audition was in the chapel, and Clyde's office was in the basement of a language building of some sort. I still remember standing outside Fondren Library, where there were more music offices, when I saw him walk out with another student in conversation. That was the first time I ever saw him in person, but I was too shy to speak up, and we didn't meet until later that day at our official rendezvous time. Fast-forward to just last week, to my final conversation with him. He was at First Presbyterian in Houston, helping a former classmate of mine get ready for her recital at "my house" next March. He called me several times to ask about specifications of the organ here, and he and she were working within those parameters where they were. He and I also briefly spoke of a draft I had just sent him of an interview a couple years ago, intended for The American Organist magazine. He never had a chance to review that and get back to me, and so I'll be sending it to the magazine as a memorial tribute rather than a retirement tribute.

Virtually everything I do as a professional is informed and infused by the mentoring of both my organ teachers. Thanks to H. Max Smith, I have the job I have. And thanks to Clyde Holloway, I know how to do that job. Max's example taught me how to behave, how to be there for students, how to network, and how to be diplomatic. Clyde taught me all the rest: the teaching, the practicing, the performing. And it's all working!

The four most important father figures in my life are now gone: my father Donald Bell, my first boss Richard Woods, and my two organ teachers H. Max Smith and Clyde Holloway. There is absolutely nothing I do in my life that does not remind me of at least one of these men. I am living proof that all of them lived! To meet me is to meet them on some level, and I say that proudly.

Rest in peace Clyde Holloway, 1936-2013.


Big Deal

It is my distinct pleasure to introduce to you tonight Big Deal Of The Month. Mr. Month won first prize in the local-national-but-really-regional competition and is a rising senior at Hotshot Conservatory, where he sort of studies with someone who is rarely around because they’re always traveling to play recitals.

Would you please make welcome Big Deal Of The Month!

[Applause.] Wait a minute, the janitor is walking out on stage. What could be wrong? Microphone? Air conditioner? Organ not turned on? Oh, wait, actually it is the organist, excuse me, the performer, excuse me, the artist. Nice shirt; perhaps you might iron it next time. And tuck it in this time. And where is your coat? Stand up straight. Walk straight. Don’t fall into your bow. Feet together when bowing, you stork. And oh no, no, NOOOOOO, please do not speak before you play. Oh, dang it, you spoke before you played. And you’re still talking. And I’m still sitting here, having been promised a recital. Oh, great, now I’m being recited aloud the program notes I have in my hands. And take your hands out of your pockets, for heaven’s sake.

Okay, we’re finally underway now. But your feet are hanging on the bench as if you were fishing off a pier. Don’t your feet have somewhere else to be? And lower your wrists. And sit up straight. And keep your elbows still. And slow down and hit the right notes. You're a Senior, you know. Have you not learned this stuff by now?

Thank goodness this is only entertainment. If it were important, our future would be in trouble.


Oh, wait. It is important. Well, I’m doing the best I can in my little corner of the world. I’m doing everything I can to remind my students that playing well is only about 40% of the battle. Beyond that, the personality eventually becomes a deal breaker, and gracious hosts won’t put up forever with only 40%. Organ recitals are still public events, and a knowledge of public behavior is still necessary for sustained success. When the day comes that I stop being a gentleman or lose command of spoken and written English or lose my interest in the audience's enjoyment or lose interest in thanking my gracious host or lose interest in looking and sounding good, then it will be time for retirement. Set your clocks, and hold me to it.