In which I am: interrupting people’s phone calls; banging on the keys; and becoming a radio star

September started wtih an international gig!  Ok, it was Canada, and I can drive to Toronto in about 6 hours, so not that exotic.  But I loved the chance to visit an exciting city that I hadn’t seen since I was about 10 years old, and of which I remembered only two things: the CN Tower, and cold.  The CN Tower didn’t seem to have changed much from where I was standing, but the weather was much improved on this visit!


Toronto feels interesting, in that it’s not foreign – close to home, easy to navigate, and you don’t have to worry about being understood.  It has a North American feel, while at the same time, a European vibe – public transportation is abounding, it’s clean, and unashamedly multi-cultural.

I was playing at a church right downtown in the financial district. Nested in between high-rises and a gargantuan mall, one finds an oasis of calm and tranqility here in this square – a church, a small park with grove of trees, a fountain, and even a labrynth for wandering and meditating.



The church where I was playing is open daily, with a kind of soup kitchen in another wing, and the sanctuary serves as a safe place for the homeless of the city to rest, stay warm, or socialize.  This meant many folks were milling about as I played, which is often the case.  However, in this church, rather unusually, they could walk right up to me and begin a conversation while I was practicing.  This lead to some interesting moments.  Some folks were very excited about my music – “Wow! That’s deep”, one man told me.  Some were surly, and seemed to think they owned the place – “When are you going to be done?  Cause I have to make a phone call”, another woman told me.   And there was the man who asked me about where the organ was made.  After I explained to him that this was built by a Canadian firm, he informed me that there were only a couple places that build organs in the world, and they are all in Europe.  Then he started telling me what materials the pipes were made out of. I quickly realized that he wasn’t interested in being set straight, and I let him “educate” someone else, while I got back to my practicing.


In addition to enjoying good international food and a world-class city, I had the chance to hang out with some family while in Toronto.  My Sider relatives are from Ontario, and a contingent drove up to the big city to hear my concert, as well as cousin Donna, who flew in from California for the event!   


Thanks to Donna, I had an excuse for a long lunch break on Friday, with a sunny walk through the city together to the funky Kensington Market neighborhood, where we enjoyed the sights and great food.  I also took an early morning run on Saturday (yes, I’ve started to run.  I’m really slow), when I glimpsed this:


I was interviewed for the local classical radio station in Toronto, my first radio interview.  It didn’t last long, but was kind of exciting, I have to admit.

Gordon Mansell, who has organized the ORGANIX organ festival for the last 12 years, is a pro, and has my admiration for all the energy and time he’s put into building a successful series.  There was a good crowd at my concert, and I enjoyed playing the 1970 Casavant.GordonAndI

Gordon and I after the concert.

The following day, I took advantage of the time to visit friends and family in the area.  A good friend of ours from our Germany days has settled outside of Toronto, and now has a family, so I enjoyed catching up with Moudjahid and meeting his family. 


Then I gathered with the Sider clan for a fun family get-together, before hopping in the car, and having a not-quite-as-fun get-together with the boarder patrol on my way back into the US.   However, the guard who was doing my case did seem to appreciate my skills.  When I told him I was an organist, he said, “You must know how to use your feet!” and regaled me with stories of a particular organ piece he knew and liked (Happy Feet, perhaps? Not currently in my repertoire.)

kalamazoo st-augustine nichols lg

Just a week later, I was performing a concert in another city here in Michigan.  Tom Fielding, who is a fellow Indiana University grad, invited me to perform at St. Augustine’s Cathedral in Kalamazoo, where he is director of music.  I choose 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen’s Les Corps Glorieux for the occasion, a piece written as meditations on the concept of the resurrection. 


(side note: while practicing for the concert one day, had lunch at a fun diner-type place in Kalamazoo, right beside this great local bookstore).

Tom had the idea of asking Sher Farrell, local dance teacher and choreographer, to be a part of the evening.  Sher choreographed an original, new work, and brought her Farrell Dance Theatre to perform it. This was a new experience for me, playing with dancers, and it was an amazing evening.  The majestic space of St. Augustine, the French-influenced sounds of the lovely Nichols and Simpson organ, and the etheral movement of the dancers all combined together with the evocative and other-wordly sounds of Messiaen’s music for an unforgettable event.


Tom and I with the dancers.  (it’s like Where’s Waldo.  Can you find us?)

Tom and I were interviewed for the Western Michigan University radio station, WMUK, by Cara Lieurance, with a very in depth interview about Messiaen and his music.  True story – being more used to playing organ concerts than speaking on the radio, when she asked me my name, as she was opening the segment, I said it wrong!  I think it got better from there on…

StA Cathedral

(St. Augustine Cathedral in Kalamazoo)

Dr. Huw Lewis, organ professor at Hope College, asked me to present a lecture/demonstration for his organ studio on this work, which I did later in the fall, and appreciated the opportunity to coalate my thoughts on this fascinating work into concrete ideas.  Also, no one fell asleep. 

October also contained another first for me – I performed with a percussion ensemble.  Calvin College’s Percussion Ensemble was going to play the last movement of Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Organ and Percussion as part of their fall concert.  Matt Beck, the director, called me in a frenzy, when the planned organist broke her wrist a month before the performance.  After listening to the You Tube clip, I knew I wanted to play this piece!  Harrison is an original voice, and this work is very fun – jazzy, with syncopated rhythms.  It also involves “playing” the keys with a long slab of wood, which Matt made for me for the piece.  Takes some getting used to, but then once you have the hang of it, it’s just like what my mom told me I couldn’t do all those years ago – bang on the keys! 


 Matt Beck and I, with the mighty Schlicker, and lots of gongs, drums, and mallet things.  Matt’s group sounded great, and now I want to play the entire piece! (but I’m not sure who I can find crazy enough to help me organize that…) 

In October, I also had a trip to the East Coast, with two different lectures, and two different recitals. 


My first stop was Lebanon, PA (home of Lebanon Balonga – yum! a childhood favorite of mine), where I played my Messiaen Les Corps Glorieux after Evensong at St. Luke’s Episcopal.  Springing music like this on unsuspecting audiences is always a bit of a risk, and I was worried what would happen without the dancers there to give people something to look at.  However, the crowd really stepped up to the challenge, reading my program notes, and listening with open ears and minds.  Afterwards, I enjoyed hearing the appreciative and perspective comments from folks.


 St. Luke’s is a beautiful space – not large, but classy.  The Austin, though not necessarily made with Messiaen in mind, worked surprisingly well, and I found some lovely colors for the piece.



While in PA, I also gave talks to two local American Guild of Organists chapters.

Victor Fields, Dean of the York AGO, was kind enough to host me presenting a just-written talk on the future of our profession, which I’ll be giving again this summer at a Regional Convention of the AGO, held in Indianapolis.  I enjoyed hearing people’s comments on my talk, as we commiserated about common struggles, and shared together common joys of this crazy profession of ours.  


My parents (aka Rhonda’s Number One Fans) were also there, which was great.

The following week, I spoke with the Lancaster AGO chapter, about my time in Germany and what I learned there.  The attendees (and the doughnuts) made the trip over to Lititz worthwhile!

I drove down to Richmon, Virginia, to play a concert at St. Michael’s Episcopal church in the Bon Air neighborhood.  St. Michael’s music director, Crystal Jonkerman, has a beautiful Taylor and Boody organ that was a joy to play, and a beauty to behold.  Check out those pipes!  Crystal was a great host, and the organ did not disappoint.  The Violonbass 16′ in the pedal is absolutely to die for. I’d like one of those, except on the Reuter it would be kind of pointless…


I was honored to have both T and B at my concert that evening (or George and John, as they are more often called),


when I played a program combining works of the 17th century German Baroque with modern works by living women composers -Canadian Rachel Laurin, British Cecilia McDowall, and Americans Margaret Sandresky and Patricia van Ness.  The program is a fascinating juxtaposition of sounds and styles, and worked very well on the organ.


Because I’m nutty like that, I also took the opportunity, while in town, to visit another organ I’d recently heard about – Martin Pasi has an instrument formerly in a residence, now recently moved in to a Catholic church.  It looks like it was made for the space.


And Scheidemann and Bach were a dream to play here.  The sun was streaming in the windows so beautifully that afternoon, when I took my picture.  It was also warm, and I wondered why it is that I don’t live in sunny Virginia…


My final out-of-town concert for the year was in Deerfield, MA.  The amazing Jean Turner runs The Brick Church Concert Series, at First Church in Deerfield, a historic (an historic?) village in Western Mass. 


I wonder why it’s called The Brick Church Series?

I get really excited about taking pictures in these amazing old church buildings, with all the cool architectural accents and touches.  Like box pews…


The pews weren’t the only thing cool to take pictures of in the church – Richards, Fowkes have a wonderful instrument that I had a blast playing the entire weekend, with amazing colors, and a clean, clear sound.


I played a similar program to the one in Richmond, with 17th century German works, and music by living women composers.  Sometimes I call it Dead German Men, and Living Women Composers.  The Zimbelstern on Sandresky’s Amazing Grace was a lovely touch, if I say so myself…


This is also a very cool touch.

Sunday morning, I took a blustery walk into town, and liked seeing all the historic old buildings.


I had another interview for this concert (something must be in the air…), and Joseph Marcello gave me some great press before the concert.  The published transcript of the interview is here (if this is for some reason unavailable, it’s also here).

One of my favorite organ pals, Christa Rakich, without whom Jean would have never looked at my name, came out to hear me, and it was nice to see her.


Then there was December, and all the crazy Christmas music, including this complete Messiah that lasts over two hours, and which is always exhausting (but is also always followed by homemade Christmas cookies and pigs-in-the-blanket in the church basement), and for which I have begun playing organ.  And then Christmas.


Anyway, that’s been the fall.  Now we have feet of snow, and much cold, and I am learning notes like crazy for February and March.  Hope all you gentle readers are also finding something to keep you busy during the cold, dark days of winter (except you people in warmer climates.  I have no cheerful greetings, or warm wishes for you.  Go back to the beach).