Singing the winter blues

Winter 2013 – Treasures close to home: snow, local gigs, and (of course) organs.


Well hello again. It’s been a long midwestern winter here, filled with much more of this

kids in snow


than this


or at least it seems that way sometimes. However, when I sit down and think about it, I certainly can’t complain.


The winter started in Advent, I think it’s safe to say, and I was pleased to be back in Chicago to visit some old friends – both the musicians and the Flentrop at Holy Name Cathedral.  Thanks to Ricardo Ramirez and David Jonies!

Kzoo letourneau

(and thanks also go out to Dan Schwandt for the use of his luxurious guest sofa yet again…)

I enjoyed playing some great German music, both old and new, at Holy Name – Weckmann, Bach, and Distler, and loved hearing the choir sing a beautiful and inspiring evensong after my recital.


In the course of the winter, I’ve had the opportunity to take a few organ field trips. I was back in South Bend, IN to see Craig Cramer and the wonderful Fritts at University of Notre Dame. I didn’t take any new pictures on this trip, look at my old post for some shots of the Fritts.

I took a trip over to Kalamazoo, and saw a few instruments there.

Kzoo college

The Wolff at Kalamazoo College and the Letourneau at First Baptist.

Kzoo Letourneau

On the way to Kalamazoo, I also stopped to see another old friend, the Johnson organ from 1886 at the Episcopal church of the Good Shepherd in the small Michigan town of Allegan.

Allegan Church of Good Shepherd

Isn’t that a lovely church?

Allegan Johnson

(love those old keyboards!)


Speaking of early American instruments, I was bowled over when I stopped in at the Seventh Day Adventist church in Grand Rapids to see their Johnson organ.

Johnson in GR-fascade shot

This instrument is from 1894, in a breathtaking space, and in super shape.

Johnson GR closeup

I loved the mirror over the organ, so the organist can see what’s happening in the sanctuary behind his/her head, and tried to take a picture of that. I’m not sure it was totally successful, but you get the idea.  No subtle dozing during the sermon from this perch!

Johnson GR console


I was also over at Grace Episcopal in East Grand Rapids again. They have a gigantic Noak up at the front of the sanctuary, in this tony neighborhood of Grand Rapids, and it is quite a bit of fun to pull out my North German repertoire when I get the chance to play there.

Noak GR


Since the new year, confined mostly to Holland because of snow and that sense of lethargy that sets in around this time of year, I have spent some time on two of the mechanical action instruments in town.

(I don’t have any pictures of them yet, but I’ll have to work on that.)

While not quite as lovely as some others I know, they do help my fingers from getting too lazy. I now have a key for both instruments, since, as we all know, you can tell how important an organist is by how many keys to different instruments they have. Or something like that… (by the way, Prof. Harald Vogel has keys for ALL the best instruments!)


Besides organ field trips, during lulls in performance and traveling, it’s nice to fill in one’s time with some local gigs. In western Michigan, this is not a big money-making venture, but it is a good way to get to know local people and the local scene. And I like performing interesting music for interested audiences, so I’m looking forward to playing for some local organizations and churches in the next month. I’m playing piano for a violinist’s senior recital at Hope College (including the fascinating Sonata Dramatico by Clara Kathleen Rogers, which Katie Callam discovered during her musicology studies), the obligato organ part for Cantata 168 with the Grand Rapids Bach Chorale, a children’s concert including Peter and the Wolf, and a program of German music on the German/Dutch-inspired organ at Western Seminary in Holland.

Finally, it’s always exciting when good musicians come to town, even more so when they are friends I’m glad to see. Andy Kotylo performed a concert for the Grand Rapids AGO, and it was fun to see an old friend. He played a jaw-droppingly difficult program with lots of excitement, accuracy, and musicality, and it was a treat to see him again, gab over dinner together, and hear him play so well. 

 Andy and I

As an afterward, I just heard I’ll be featured on a program of Pipedreams on public radio during the week of March 4, playing a few pieces from the inaugural program of the Wahl organ in Chicago. This is a great organ, a good program, and Michael Barone picked some of the best selections from this program.  Thanks Michael!

Augustana dedication

After the dedication concert, with Dan Schwandt, cantor at Augustana, and Ron Wahl, organbuilder.