Will’s back home from his first year at college. He had a wonderful year at Wheaton College Conservatory and made the Dean’s List. We are thrilled to have him home again, but he’s working hard this summer with a landscape company, so we’ll catch him when we can. Here’s Will playing Toccata Festiva by Purvis which expresses the feeling of having our son home again. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there.
Will is preparing for three organ auditions at three different schools in the next few weeks. He wrote some things for recently for school about why organ was such a passion in his life, and I thought I would share it.
I began piano and violin lessons at age five, percussion when I was twelve, and finally organ before my freshman year of high school. I have spent hours daily practicing one instrument or another for almost 10 years now. I didn’t particularly enjoy the piano, violin or percussion, but when I began playing the organ, I was instantly hooked. In fact, I was so enthralled with it that I quit both violin and percussion soon after, so I could give more time to my new favorite instrument. 3 ½ years later, my passion for the organ has only grown.
Thanks to my background in piano, the learning curve into the organ was not difficult. My teacher, Sister Mary Jane Wagner, is an excellent organist who studied in Europe with some of the world’s greatest organ names, including Flor Peeters and Jean Langlais. In my early days of playing, she provided me a solid technical foundation by demanding excellence in rhythm, articulation, and musical details. She never allowed sloppiness or shortcuts in fingering or pedaling—her attention to detail allowed me to progress very quickly into more difficult repertoire, and instilled in me a clean, exciting style of playing.
After only a year of lessons, I was presented with my first performing opportunities. Sister Mary Jane had me play several pieces at a weekly concert in October 2011. This performance taught me many lessons about mental preparation for playing—I learned (the hard way) that forgetting to change from dress shoes to organ shoes can lead to trouble in playing the pedals. In January 2012, I also played a joint concert with Mr. John Weissrock at Gesu Parish—performing on the 115 rank Schantz organ, one of the finest in the Midwest. It was a truly memorable experience.
In January of 2012, Sister Mary Jane told me about a position at a local Lutheran Church—I played about 36 Sunday morning services there throughout 2012, experience that truly transformed my playing. Suddenly, I was forced to have new preludes, postludes, offering pieces, liturgy and hymns ready every week. I became adept at mastering pieces quickly, accompanying a congregation, and acting in a professional manner throughout that year of habitual performance.
In March of 2013, I participated in the American Guild of Organists’ RCYO Competition. It was my first experience playing in competition, and it was incredibly good for me. I had to make appropriate registrations for my pieces on an unfamiliar organ in a limited amount of time, and be ready to perform after only a few hours of preparation on that organ. Although I finished 3rd of the 3 contestants, I got high scores from the 3 judges in the competition, and great insights from all of them.
To me, there is nothing quite as exhilarating, satisfying, or profoundly communicative as playing the pipe organ. From the moment I first played an organ, I knew it was the instrument my soul most resonated with—that it reflected who I am better than anything else.”
Here’s a little clip of Will at Gesu Parish this last week playing a movement of Louis Vierne’s First Symphony, a piece he is playing for auditions. The clip is only three minutes, but it expresses the full power and excitement of the instrument Will loves!
Late one night recently I came downstairs for some water and was surprised to see the basement door open and the light on.
Putting my (hearing impaired) ear down the stairway, I heard the soft strains of music. It was Will, keeping a lonely vigil at his organ in the night hours. Will’s love of organ has become a single focus in his young life. I find him in the family room listening, listening, listening to organ performances on YouTube and on CD’s and spending hours alone practicing in his basement hideout.
What does a 17-year-old young man find in music written so long ago? The answer is that he finds in it the same thing that the composers did, and perhaps only serious musicians who write or who play the music fully understand what that is. We who love to listen to music understand up to a point. Those who can look at a page of black squiggles and markings and translate that into glorious sound understand and love it at an even deeper level. At least that’s what I think.
You can’t give love of music to a child. You can create an appreciation and share what you know, but passion for making music is something inside a person. It’s either there or it’s not. Will has been surrounded by good music from before he was born. When I was expecting him, I used to lie next to my boombox and play classical music from Bach to Stravinsky. I thought it couldn’t hurt to give a preborn babe some music appreciation. Then he accompanied his father to trumpet performances at churches all over. He sat through a Skylight performance at age 6 in the orchestra pit and never moved an inch the whole time. He was taken to the Chicago Symphony and Milwaukee Symphony and many other concerts. He has heard musicals and operas and symphonies of all kinds. But ultimately, his own love and desire to make serious music has come from inside of him. And only God can give that. Nobody can take credit for the interests and gifts our children have, whatever they are. We can only try to be good stewards of them.
In a world where entertainment media dominate so much of our children’s lives, it was a glad moment to realize that Will could be satisfied late at night, with only God and himself, making music on his organ.
(I found this music on his desk today! I’m not sure what it is, but it looks a little challenging.)
Will’s feet were happy today practicing!
Will’s concert last Saturday evening went well. Sometimes as a parent you step back and just ask, “Where in the world did that come from?” My favorite pieces that he played were improvisations on several hymns, including, Savior of the Nations Come, Be Thou My Vision, Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word, and Alleluia, Sing to Jesus. Also, I enjoyed his playing Bach’s In Thee is Gladness, a joyful burst of sound in that dark church. Many times, I don’t get to hear what he is practicing in the basement, so to hear the final result is always interesting.
I have the recording of the Bach piece which I’d like to share, but non-techno Mom has to wait for son to turn it into an individual mp3 from the digital recording. At the end, he was asked if he had an encore in his pocket somewhere. When he whipped out with the opening measures of the Widor, it drew laughs from the organists in the crowd. (Pretty big pocket if you have the Widor in it!) He played it from memory and then told me in the car that he was glad he hadn’t forgotten it as he hadn’t played it in a while. (Well, yes, it is a good thing!)
I post a lot of music on here, because it is such a part of my life. Last night I realized how long it had been since I’d touched an organ. I play piano, but had not played the organ since I had a small one of my Grandma’s in my living room when the kids were much younger. I used to play hymns at night and found it very restful.
Last night, I sat down at Will’s digital Hauptwerk organ in the basement and decided to play a few hymns and songs. After enjoying myself thoroughly, I asked Will if he would give me lessons. He agreed good-naturedly with a grin. (It’s funny that roles are reversed as I used to help him when he began piano!)
It’s a very healing and joyful thing to make music of your own, no matter how humble. Taking music lessons as a child may not always produce a grand musician, but it can be a source of great personal enjoyment, and I think music in the home is a very lovely thing for children. Emmy sat on the bench next to me, amused that I was playing her “Bubba’s” organ. (Will’s nickname is “Bubba” to Em.) Then I asked if she would like to sing some of her Bible songs. She belted out her favorite, pleased to have my organ accompaniment.
Here is a lovely rendition of the first song I played on the organ in many years last night. The video features a harp and a voice singing the (Swedish) gospel song, Day by Day. The words are on the screen. I love it when they put up the words!
Luke 8:26-39, “And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils for a long time, and wore no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What I have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and with fetters; and he broke the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.)
And Jesus asked him, saying, What is your name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. And there was there a herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would permit them to enter into them. And he permitted them. Then went the devils out of the man and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked. When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.
They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed. Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again. Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and show how great things God has done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had one for him.”
We are living in dark times. So many places in our world right now we see only the triumph of brokenness, ugliness, sadness, grief and evil. It has been 2000 years since your Son, Jesus Christ, walked the earth bringing the joyful message of healing and reconciliation with God, breaking through the darkness with His Eternal light and the forgiveness of sins. Remember us today, Father, who long to see your power manifested among us, who need to see that you still heal broken lives today, that you still intervene in complex circumstances and that you can still bring reconciliation and true change to hearts.
Thank you that you are still on the throne of Heaven and that you still hear the prayer of those with humble and contrite hearts who ask, like the tax collector in the Temple so long ago, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” We ask this not because of any merits of our own, but because of the perfect, faultless merits of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Now in heaven after 104 years. George Beverly Shea, by all accounts, was just as kind as he seemed. His daughter said so at the NRB Covention birthday celebration for him years ago that I attended. His music blessed so many all over the world, and his music blessed me. It wasn’t a show, he wasn’t there to promote himself or be “relevant.” He sang about Jesus, straight out, no pretense or flash. And now he sees his Savior face to face.