Trying to catch up with (online) life

 Hi, my name is Rhonda, and I’m not good with social media.  Yes, I understand, I should be updating my blog regularly, otherwise I lose my (already spotty) reader-base.  People expect content on a constant basis.  It’s 2016 – one should be uploading daily!  And where is that Facebook/ Twitter account anyway?  I know, I know…  Well, anyway, here is a start at catching my online life up to where the rest of me has traveled since I last posted. 

Last fall started with a flury of activity.  I was back at my alma mater, Indiana University, in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana, for an Indiana Organists United Reunion in September.  I remember every time I return, what a great town Bloomington is, and also such a picturesque campus.  It’s funny that I went to a big ten school, but my memories of campus are more about this,


than this (I never even set foot in the stadium!) 


Anyway, I went to the reunion to catch up with some old friends (none of whom I embarassingly took pictures of, hi Ric and Edie!!) but also to hear the keynote speaker, a big writer crush of mine, Barbara Brown Taylor. 

BBT     BBTquote

She is a rock star writer, but as real as they come (notice picture found online, of her posing with poultry!), and gave a great talk for our group about calling and vocation.  Of course, it goes without saying, I hope, it was fun to see old colleagues and friends (especially profs I remember fondly Drs. Keiser and Young!), and hear organ concerts, most notably the lovely Fisk in the student union, but gleaming wisdom and inspiration from a favored writer was also a big plus.


In October, I headed back to my hometown area of Central PA, to play a concert at Messiah College, in their new fine arts building and concert hall. My dad taught at Messiah for almost four decades and this is where he gave me my first organ lessons, as well as a place I spent many hours as a child, so it holds lots of memories for me. 

(my proud parents with the distinguished recitalist)


My former piano teacher, Richard Roberson, now dean of the School of the Arts, and current organ prof Shawn Gingrich, invited me back to play a recital on the new concert hall organ, and give an AGO masterclass. The organ was originally built by Reuter, was bought by Richard from nearby Millersville University for a song, and installed by SDG organ company in this gorgeous space.  My parents invited all their friends, there was a great crowd there, and I so enjoyed being back, playing for so many loyal friends and supporters, and trading stories with my old piano teacher (who I again forgot to photograph…)


 November found me traveling twice, for two very fun trips.  First, I was off to see classmate Edie Johnson once again, in her current hometown of Knoxville, TN, along with her husband Jason Overall and their delightful children. 

Edie and I

Edie and I started grad school the same year, and have shared many experiences along the way.  She now teaches with John  Brock at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where they have a very nice Richards, Fowkes organ, and the two of them invited me to perform a concert, and work with the organ students in a masterclass the next day.


It was fun to see Edie and Jason, meet their precocious children, enjoy their Southern hospitality, and play some beautiful instruments.  (I don’t see near enough of this kind of thing where I live…) 


I played a variation of my program that contrasts works of the 17th Century N German Baroque with contemporary organ works by living composers, which I think is very effective on such an instrument. An appreciative crowd at my concert seemed to agree.  The next day, Jason took me on an organ field trip (how to show an organ geek a good time – take her to visit a few churches when she comes to town)

KnoxvilleRF and I saw a few more instruments I only wish could replace a couple of the gigantic piles of mediocrity that pass for organbuilding in the region where I happen to currently live.  This Richards, Fowkes at Westminster Presbyterian church is TO DIE FOR. 


I also thoroughly enjoyed the Wilhelm at Ascension Episcopal Church


Later in November, I was back in the Chicagoland area, to play a recital and do a masterclass for the Fox Valley AGO chapter at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn.

This is an area I know well, having lived in Chicago for 5 years after grad school, working in the Westers suburbs, and also having attended Wheaton college in the western burbs.  I was lucky to have the opportunity to stay with my old piano teacher (it seems to be the fall of connecting with my old piano teachers!) from Wheaton, Bill Phemister and his wife Maryanne.  Having not seen them in many years, this was a wonderful chance to reconnect.  Neither of us has aged a bit in the few intervening years since my graduation, obviously…


The instrument I played was a Noak, built the year I was born, so we felt an instant connection.  Perhaps not quite, but it was a very successful instrument, despite being built quite early in the Baroque organ revival movement.  Many an instrument from this time period has not weathered the years as successfully! 

Noak facade

I played a program similar to the one in Knoxville, and also presented the next day for the AGO chapter, about accessible North Germany organ rep for service use.  In spite of the fact that it was only mid-November, a freak snowstorm hit the night before, and my workshop was attended by only the most brave and/or loyal attenders (including my parents!)  But we still enjoyed ourselves.  AGO dean Chris Orf and Faith Lutheran Music Director Todd Carrico were gracious hosts, and I enjoyed my time talking music with them both. 

Here is a little musical interlude, for your enjoyment… Why not sometime try playing songs on tuned wrentches and bolts? 

 I tried something crazy and new in December – because sometimes you just need a little something crazy, right?  Especially when it’s December and dark and depressing outside. 

We called it “Late Night Music and Lights” – I played crazy modern pieces, we decorated the sanctuary with tons of Christmas lights (and by we, I mean Andrew Spidhal and I), we invited Hope students for a study break, and Andrew showed up with coffee and doughnuts.  Oh, and Late Night was 11:30pm.  WAY past my bedtime. 

Music Lights sign

It was lots of fun, though in retrospect, 11:30pm ended up being a bit too late for most all of us!  Some faithful Hope Church friends who were up late grading (college profs) showed up, and some students, and we all had a fun time.  The sanctuary looked amazing, thanks to Kari Miller Fenwood’s amazing artistic advice.  And in the spring, we tried it agin, still called “Late Night’, but taking place at 9:30pm.  A much better attendance, and still lots of fun for everyone.  I even got an article in the local paper.  Here is a shot of the Christmas decorations. 

Music Lights interior

In January, again needing something to break up all the depressing darkness, I took a trip to fabulous Schenectady, NY!  One of my best friends, Paige,

was living there, and we hung out and did fun things like get lost in the woods, and have all the local emergency professionals come help us find our way out.  She and her fiancee also were very kind to drive me all the way over to Ithaca, where I was totally excited about seeing a very nerdy pipe organ at Cornell.


 I’ve heard about this organ for YEARS, and it didn’t disappoint at all.  Pure bliss to sit and play for hours here!!

Why not take a selfie with the console?

It was also very fun to meet organ prof Annette Richards and talk nerdy organ business and trade stories over lunch. 

So then it was back to the snow and drear in Holland, where I did have the chance for another fun local project.  My favorite French Horn player, Greg Bassett, and I had the opportunity to play a recital together at the local catholic church, St. Francis de Sales, three doors down the street from our house, where music director Phil Konczyk, lets me practice.  Greg invited another horn player, and we did a piece for two horns and organ, as well as some solo organ pieces that worked well on this tiny, especially by American standards!, sized pipe organ.

 Thanks for reading – and hopefully soon I’ll get the rest of the year updated here on my blog!