AGO's "Holiday Pipe Organ Showcase" - inspire your little musician!
The Ann Arbor Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO), in partnership with First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor (FUMC), presented the "Holiday Pipe Organ Showcase" on Friday evening, Dec. 3.
Soloists Dr. Shin-Ae Chun, Dr. Deborah Friauff and Joel Hastings lit up the big screen, as discreetly placed cameras projected the artistic movements of their hands and feet, greatly adding to the enjoyment of their audience. Their diverse stylings — Chun's delicate precision, Friauff's full-bodied exuberance and Hastings' inspired determination to take that organ through its full range of sound — gave a dynamic interpretation to old favorites and lesser-known works alike. (My personal favorite was Dr. Chun's beebop rendition of "Go Tell It on the Mountain.")
Ann Marie Koukios, director of music and liturgical arts of the United Methodist Church, and James Wagner, dean of the Ann Arbor chapter of AGO, described the guild's upcoming events, including "A Christmas Celebration" concert on Sunday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. at FUMC.
Do you have a piano student who is considering taking up the organ? In June the guild will be sponsoring "Pipe Organ Encounter" for aspiring organists ages 13-18. For more information, contact Wagner.
After the concert, I chatted with Wagner and with Michele Johns, professor of church music in the University of Michigan School of Music. Given that the "king of instruments" is, in many churches, being replaced with more "modern" instrumental ensembles including piano or keyboard, is pipe organ an impractical instrument to study?
Not at all, says Wagner. "Organ music is constantly evolving. Fabulous instruments are being built — the Bethlehem United Church of Christ and Our Lady of Good Council are two examples. Every major concert hall has a pipe organ, and the repertoire is also constantly expanding. Organ music has been around for 2,000 years," he chuckled. "It ain't going anywhere!"
Johns added that organists have a unique responsibility to nurture future organists right in their own parishes. "Parents should bring their children right up during the postlude, where their children can watch. I know of one organist who invites children right up on the bench with her! Not all organists are quite so accommodating, of course... But we do have a responsibility to pass on this love of music to the next generation."
What if your child is interested in learning, but you have no access to an instrument? Small organ keyboards are available through Craigslist.com and on Ebay. I recently found a beginner's electronic two-manual instrument with an octave of pedals, which the owner was willing to part with for less than $200.
For most families, however, the best place to introduce an aspiring organist to the instrument is through a local church. Johns said that the cost of private organ lessons is comparable to private piano lessons. For those who do not belong to a church, a list of private instructors is also posted online on the guild website.
How old should a child be, before beginning organ? Most instructors recommend several years of piano lessons — and yet, some students (myself included) began directly on the organ. "As long as they can reach the pedals!" says Johns.