Young organists ROCK!

Sophia will be playing the postlude.

Raphael will play during communion.

This Sunday, two of my young organists will be playing during the 8:00 am service at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. Both of them are younger than when I started the organ—I started at age thirteen, so these kids and a bunch more of my students really have a leg up on me.

Dominic Pang

But just this week, when I sat down to read The American Organist magazine, I read about Dominic Pang, one of the youngest winners of the West Region American Guild of Organists AGO/Quimby Regional Competition for Young Organists. Here’s his bio as printed in the magazine:

Dominic Pang is a home-schooled ninth grader from San Jose, California. He studies piano with William Wellborn in San Francisco. He has studied organ and composition since 2015 with Angela Kraft Cross. Dominic performed the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Auburn Symphony when he was eleven. On Organ, Dominic received his Service Playing Certificate and substitutes at local churches. He also attended the Pipe Organ Encounter at Stanford University in 2016. Dominic received a scholarship to travel to France for organ study organized by the San Francisco Peninsula Organ Academy. Dominic is a Davidson Youth Scholar.

A few years ago, I sat with the judges panel at the Regional Competition so I know what fine playing Dominic probably competed against.

Photo of Dominic Fiacco in the Catholic Sun

I also read with interest about another Dominic, 11-year-old Dominic Fiacco, a remarkable organ student of Stephen Best, who was interviewed by Tom Maguire in The Catholic Sun, How can a kid do this?”

“He’s a well-kept secret,” his grandfather Joe Fiacco said, but, oh, how that is changing. Already, Dominic is known as the assistant organist who plays for as many as three Masses on weekends at St. Joseph-St. Patrick, where the chiseled depictions of saints come right out of the walls as if drawn to the music. Next year, Dominic will be the youngest organist to perform at Manhattan’s famed Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine since the renovation of the Great Organ in 2008.

Dominic was eight when he started taking lessons from Best. “I was a little hesitant since I had never taught anyone that young and he wasn’t able to reach the pedals,” Best said, “but I agreed to give it a try, and the rest is history.

   “In 40+ years of teaching, I have worked with hundreds of students, many of whom have gone on to be conservatory-trained full-time musicians. But when it comes to sheer talent at so young an age, Dominic is clearly the most astounding.”

   Best said he keeps asking himself: “How can a kid do this?”

Here is a video of Dominic from YouTube:

These young organists ROCK!

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The most powerful organ sounds

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City

One of the most thrilling emotions an organist can experience is playing on full organ — that is, playing with the loud stops drawn. You can be a very small person and can make a big sound with little effort, simply by pulling out the stops, playing a chord and holding on for dear life. There is a tremendous sense of power that you can feel which is unlike the playing of any other instrument—the “WOW” factor.

When the late Carl Crosier and I were in New York City in 1996 for the Centennial of the American Guild of Organists, one thing we experienced was standing underneath the horizontal trumpets (en chamade) at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine during a performance of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. You can hear this piece in the video below with Bill Randolph, the assistant organist at the cathedral, showing off this amazing instrument’s big reed stops. including the world-famous State Trumpet. (Unfortunately, the sound is rather distorted as played on my computer speakers, but I guess that’s what you get when try to record such a loud sound). In fact, this recording was made from the choir area, 600 feet away!

Can you imagine how loud it was standing underneath these trumpet pipes! Yes, it was painfully loud. We tried to escape by ducking into the gift shop, and my ears were never the same again!

The Cathedral itself is the fifth largest Christian church in the world, with a length of 601 feet and height of 201 feet. It was designed in 1888 and construction began in 1892. It is sometimes called “St. John the Unfinished” because of the ongoing construction and restoration. There are altogether six pipe organs in the cathedral, the largest of which was built by Ernest M. Skinner in 1910, rebuilt and added to in 1954 by G. Donald Harrison.

On December 18, 2001 there was a massive five-alarm fire which destroyed the Cathedral gift shop and forced the removal and cleaning of the large pipe organ. It was then painstakingly restored by the firm of Quimby Pipe Organs.

On the church’s website you can read:

The Great Organ is widely considered to be the masterpiece of American pipe organ building and is an acclaimed national treasure. It is a four manual and pedal, seven division, electro-pneumatic action instrument of 151 ranks and 8,514 pipes. The Great Organ has several extraordinary features, including the world famous State Trumpet above the Cathedral’s West End, one of the most powerful organ stops in the world.

So, it is to no one’s surprise that former student, Joey Fala, is there playing a recital this weekend—Sunday, October 15 at 5:00 pm! Here is the description from the website:

Joey Fala’s concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is Sunday, October 15 at 5:00 pm.

They still list him as from New Haven, CT, but he is now in Durham, NC as the Organ Scholar of Duke University.

Go, Joey! Wonder if he’ll play on the State Trumpets?!


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A sister organ

Felix Schoenstein organ at Hawai’i Baptist Academy chapel.

A couple of days ago, I met a new organ student at a location I had never been before: the chapel of Hawai‘i Baptist Academy’s elementary school. It turns out the organ was built by Felix Schoenstein, the same builder as the organ at Sacred Hearts Academy. What was amazing was that I was not only totally aware of the building itself, but also the pipe organ—especially since it is located only 5 minutes from where I live—and on the same street no less!

You may remember that when I visited Sacred Hearts Academy chapel a year ago last May, I was stunned to find such a beautiful building in Honolulu, and with a Felix Schoenstein organ. Go back and read my post “Baccalaureate time,” for history of the Schoenstein organ company.

Today it became clear. I found out from my student Elizabeth Wong that the reason that the two organs were by the same builder, and of the same vintage, was that the nuns who founded Sacred Hearts Academy had once owned the buildings which were sold to Hawai’i Baptist Academy.

Here’s a picture of the Hawai’i Baptist Academy chapel. The organ is located in the rear gallery.

Hawai’i Baptist Academy chapel (Elementary School)

The Felix Schoenstein console.

Sadly, both Felix Schoenstein organs are in disrepair. At Hawai’i Baptist Academy we found many dead notes in the pedal which will make it difficult to be a satisfactory practice instrument. Also one of the stop tabs was broken and was stuck in the “on” position, resulting in always having the 4′ sound on the Great manual. I understand that it has been years since this organ was used, and no wonder it is in such poor shape.

Nameplate on the organ

Andrew Druckenbrod, Post-Gazette Classical Music Critic in Pittsburgh wrote: “The pipe organ may be the most faithful parishioner a church has — never missing a single service. But it’s often taken for granted, and without annual maintenance and costly repairs, many of these grand old instruments [in Pittsburgh] have fallen into disrepair.

Add to the fact that there is a shortage of organists to play these instruments compounds the problem. What a pity!



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How many organists does it take to …?

Last night was the first meeting of this season’s Hawaii Chapter of the American Guild of Organists—it was the debut of our Orgelkids pipe organ kit. To refresh your memory on what Orgelkids is, I refer you to my previous post: Orgelkids coming to Hawaii!

The members of the board decided that we should try to put it together first before trying to show kids how to do it! (Good idea!)

But first things first! We feasted on five different kinds of pizza plus a caesar salad. Our Chapter Dean, Karl Bachman, made two kinds of brownies for dessert, called North Korea and South Korea—one had nuts and the other did not. You can figure out which kind most people liked!

Everyone was directed to the nearby restrooms to wash their hands afterwards and Karl even threatened us with an app on his phone which could scan for any grease!

There were three long tables set out with the many parts: frame, toeboard, pipes, wind supply, etc. We were told to divide up into groups of four to stand around each pile.  Then we were instructed to read the directions which were on laminated sheets. “The frame should only take a few minutes,” he said. (Hah!)

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It was intended that everyone would watch each group try to assemble its defined section, but of course, people did not listen and jumped right in. When we came to assembling it, sometimes the next group ended up undoing the work of the previous group! Like when our one child visitor had carefully arranged the keys in the right order, the next group got them all out of order when inserting them into the frame. Someone said, “This is like buying an organ from IKEA!”

Yikes, how many organists does it take to assemble Orgelkids?! Especially those who do not listen to instructions!

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It had taken us all of 50 minutes, but in the end, we put it together!  SUCCESS, as you can hear from these video clips.

The first performance of the finished kit, as demonstrated by Karl Bachman.

Then Jieun Newland improvises.

What fun!


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The Lamb “warhorse”

Rejoice in the Lamb

Lately my Sunday morning routine is to do my usual 2 mile walk, and then return home to watch a livestream of Evensong from Duke University Chapel where former student Joey Fala is the Organ Scholar.Today’s anthem was Benjamin Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb,” considered one of the “warhorses” of the choral repertoire and one with which I am very familiar.

I used to think “warhorse” was one of those Carl Crosier idioms, along with “chestnut,” but then I found it on the Internet, defined as “a music, theatrical, or literary work that has been heard or performed repeatedly.”

In fact, I performed the work on June 10, 1984; May 19, 1991, June 11, 2000 and May 4, 2003 with the Lutheran Church of Honolulu Choir. (Aren’t we glad that Carl Crosier kept meticulous records about such things!)

St. Matthew’s Northhampton which commissioned Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb”

Benjamin Britten wrote this 17-minute work in 1942 on a commission by St. Matthew’s Church of Northampton in celebration of its fiftieth anniversary. The text is by English poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771) who was thought to be a lunatic because he was in an asylum. What happened is that his father-in-law had him locked away for his religious beliefs, and then because he incurred a lot of debts and couldn’t pay, Smart went to debtors prison. What a way to treat a son-in-law!

Christopher Smart’s text speaks of all the ways one can praise and worship God by all beings, each in his own way. Most memorable to me (for a person who doesn’t pay attention to lyrics) is the section about his cat Jeoffry, who apparently lived with him in the St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics (now occupied by Argos and The Co-operative.)

In fact, I found a whole blog post about Smart’s cat Jeoffry, which you can read here. Here is an excerpt:

Art by Paul Bommer

Whenever I walk along Old St, I always think of the brilliant eighteenth century poet Christopher Smart who once resided here in St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics, with only his cat Jeoffry for solace, on the spot where the Co-operative and Argos are today. So when artist Paul Bommer asked me to suggest a subject for an illustrated print, I had no hesitation in proposing Christopher Smart’s eulogy to his cat Jeoffry, the best description of the character of a cat that I know. And, to my amazement and delight, Paul has illustrated all eighty-nine lines, each one with an apposite feline image.

In an age when only aristocrats with private incomes were able to exist as poets, Christopher Smart was a superlative talent with small means who struggled to make his path through the world and his emotional behaviour became increasingly volatile as a result. He fell into debt whilst a student at Cambridge and, even though his literary talent was acknowledged with awards and scholarships, his delight in high jinks and theatrical performances did not find favour with the University. Once he married Anna Maria Canaan, Smart was unable to remain at Cambridge and came to London, seeking to make ends meet in the precarious realm of Grub St. His prolific literary career turned to pamphleteering and satire, publishing hundreds of works in a desperate attempt to keep his wife and two little daughters, Marianne and Elizabeth Ann.

… “For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry” was never printed in Smart’s day, it was first published in 1939 after being discovered in manuscript amongst Smart’s papers, and subsequently W.H. Auden gave a copy to Benjamin Britten who wrote a famous setting as part of a choral work entitled “Rejoice in the Lamb” in 1942.

Here’s the YouTube video of the Duke University’s performance of “Rejoice in the Lamb,” directed by Christopher Jacobson with Joey Fala playing the organ. (To watch a video of the entire service, click here). There are several camera shots of Joey at the organ console.

After watching the livestream, I texted Joey: “Absolutely LOVED Rejoice in the Lamb! That was a fantastic performance — really enjoyed the soprano who sang Jeffrey [sic] the cat.”

Even though it has been fourteen years (!) since I played “Rejoice in the Lamb,” I did remember that the organ part of “The Mouse” section was pretty challenging for me, to which Joey asked if I had played the piece on the Beckerath. (Of course!) He remarked, “I can’t imagine doing any of the stuff I’ve been playing on the Beckerath… The Aeolian is very forgiving and makes crescendoing very smooth.” On the other hand, when you play the Beckerath you are very exposed — like playing naked!

Esther Yoo conducts the Oahu Choral Society Chamber Choir.

By the way, last weekend I attended the Oahu Choral Society Chamber Choir’s fundraising concert at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu (a new venue for them). The program consisted of mostly solos and small ensembles from within the Chamber Choir, plus several large group numbers including the monumental motet, “Singet dem Herrn” by J. S. Bach. Their conductor is Esther Yoo.

Steven Severin

According to Carl Crosier’s list, the LCH Choir sang this motet on three separate occasions, on April 11, 1982; May 9, 1982; and September 10, 1995. I remember that when we first learned it in 1982, I thought it was the most difficult piece that the Carl had ever attempted to teach the choir. I am reminded of Carl’s oft-repeated remark, “Bach is not for amateurs!”

My organ student, Steven Severin, sang tenor in the choir and also played Dietrich Buxtehude’s “Prelude and Fugue in F Major, BuxWV145” on the organ. We worked out a colorful registration with many echo passages. He did a fantastic job!

With Esther Yoo.

After the concert, there was a catered reception in the courtyard, where this picture of Esther Yoo and myself was taken. I’ll be playing the organ for their Christmas concert at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in December.


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Behind the scenes

Echoes and Refrains program (Click to open)

It is only now that I feel like I am emerging from a cocoon—all weekend I have been at my computer working on the concert program for a series of concerts celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The Lutheran Church of Honolulu Choir is presenting two concerts, called “Echoes and Refrains” with the Canadian early brass ensemble ¡Sacabuche! on Saturday, October 21, 7:30 pm and Sunday, October 22, 5:30 pm.

Some time ago I was asked to be on the Concert Committee and was additionally asked to produce a full-color program booklet. Since I can practically do these things in my sleep, I said ‘okay.’ Well, it took me longer than I thought it would, but I am relieved to report that it is now just finished! You can click the icon at the left to see a sneak preview. (By the way, the cover graphic was designed by Scott Fikse.) As it turned out, I’m not performing in this concert, but Iʻm perfectly content to work behind the scenes.

On Saturday morning I came outside briefly to do my semi-yearly stint at Hawai‘i Public Radio—I have to admit that I really feel uncomfortable talking on the radio. I would much rather play the organ or write a blog post!

With Ian Capps at Hawaii Public Radio (Photo by Judy Anderson)

The idea of me talking in front of a radio audience is terrifying—All these years my husband Carl did the honors, but now the station calls on me—I guess because we were members from the beginning (1981) and I am a sustaining member. We had the nearly impossible goal of raising $3,000 in an hour on an early Saturday morning when most people can sleep in! Actually we came very close to the goal, thanks to some very generous matching gifts. Also thanks to Ian Capps and Judy Anderson who were co-hosting and asked me some interesting questions.

Last Saturday I also had six students audition for scholarships from the Hawai‘i Chapter American Guild of Organists. Because they were my students, of course I couldn’t be part of the process except to open the door and lock up afterwards, but I am happy to report that all of them were granted awards.

On Sunday night, though, after hearing about the horrific, mass shooting in Las Vegas, I was reminded of Leonard Bernstein’s quote regarding violence:

All of a sudden I was so grateful that I attended the Hawaii Symphony opening concert on Sunday afternoon, and was left with the delicious Largo movement of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” in my ear. I wish I could have recorded Sunday’s heartfelt performance, because when I heard the English horn solo, my heart just melted. Someone commented, “I just love this piece of music—to me it sounds like the most beautiful sunrise after the most devastating battle; war torn, but there’s a glimmer of hope at first light, it’s a new day.” Unfortunately, I don’t know who the orchestra is on this recording which I found on YouTube, but I offer it for you to enjoy.

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Organ duets

The Beckerath continuo organ (Photo by Jieun Newland)

When the late Carl Crosier programmed Bach’s monumental St. Matthew Passion in the year 2000, he wanted to present the work as it was originally conceived  for the Thomaskirche in Leipzig: for two separate orchestras, two choirs, and two sets of soloists. It meant we also needed two pipe organs, which meant purchasing a continuo organ for the other side of the room. That’s when the “little Beckerath organ” came to Honolulu on loan, and people so fell in love with it that we raised $28,000 to purchase it.

Before all this, you may remember that in the years 1974-1977, the Lutheran Church of Honolulu had a larger continuo organ, an 8-rank with pedal instrument also built by Beckerath which served as its interim organ while the larger 33-rank instrument was being built.

Carl Crosier with McNeil Robinson (1975)

Carl played the dedication recital of the Beckerath positiv organ when it was sold to Holy Innocents, Lahaina, Maui (1977)

It so happens that the 8-rank instrument, which had formerly been housed in a church in Sweden, was pitched at A=444. It seems that the higher pitch (concert pitch these days is considered A=440) helped the organ stay more in tune in the colder climate.

When the “big” organ came to Hawaii, Rudolf von Beckerath asked Carl how he should tune the organ. Since the plan was to keep both instruments for a time, Carl decided to have both organs tuned at A=444 so they could be played together.

Oh, we had great fun in those days alternating verses on the hymns, playing the Antonio Soler duets for two organs, and of course, playing both organs together on the church feast days! That organ was sold in 1977 to Holy Innocents Episcopal Church in Lahaina, Maui, where it remains to this day.

So in the year 2000, when the church again had two organs, that’s when I went on a hunt for organ duet music, and found several works to add to my library. However, Carl never had time to play the duets with me since he got involved in conducting the large choral and orchestral works of Bach, like the St. John Passion, Christmas Oratorio, and Mass in B-Minor. 

(L-R) Keith Thompson, Joseph Pettit and myself (Jan. 30, 2003)

One year we presented a concert called “Organists 1•2•3” with myself, Joseph Pettit and Keith Thompson playing solos, duets and trios.We had wanted to find a third organ, but couldn’t find one in our budget (which was peanuts!) so we settled for a piece for one organ, six hands (three players), and the rest of the works were for two organs.

Over the last couple of years, the Lutheran Church has hosted two organ duo concerts by visiting organists: Paul Tegels & Dana Robinson and Larry Schipull & Grant Moss, all of them solo organists in their own right, but both duos played on the same organ. You can’t imagine how difficult this is: because all these years you are taught to always sit in the same place on the bench. When you play a duet with someone, suddenly you’re no longer in the middle of the keyboard, you’re on one side or another! And then you lose your sense of where all the keys and pedals are!

Raymond and Elizabeth Chenault are called “America’s Premier Duo Organists”

The Hawaii Chapter of the American Guild of Organists also hosted Raymond and Elizabeth Chenault, who claim to be “America’s Premier Duo Organists,” as they have commissioned over 60 organ duets. Their concert was at Central Union Church. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what year that was.

So it was not until today, after all these years, that I again tried to play an organ duet—with Hawaii newcomer Jieun Kim Newland. We attempted to play Josef Blanco’s “First Concerto for Two Organs” and plan to perform it on November 18 at the Young Organist Recital (she’s young, but I’m not!) It is certainly challenging to stay together because of the great distance between the two instruments as you can see in the photo below. You can also see my view of Jieun in the mirror.

Look how far away Jieun is! (I took this photo from the “big” organ)

My view of Jieun in the mirror.

On her Facebook page, she wrote, “I am in love. Absolutely beautiful instrument,” referring to the Beckerath continuo instrument. Someone wrote in, “Poor Ben” (referring to her husband!)








Hopefully we can work up some more pieces to put on a full-length duo organ concert! In the meantime, we took selfies!

(By the way, my T-Shirt reads: “ORGANISTS GONE WILD!”)

Available from Click the photo for ordering info.


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More is more!

A photo of one of my former students playing the organ (He’s now in medical school!)

One of the most challenging aspect of teaching organ students is finding a place for them to practice. I wrote about this some time ago (See: “On my soapbox“) when some churches turned out to be very unfriendly places to seek organ practice time. And how do they expect anyone will learn how to play the organ? Not everyone has the space for an organ in their home, or the financial means to purchase an instrument.

Charlotte Woods, one of the people who travels with the Historic Organ Study Tours to Europe every year, is a Steinway piano dealer. I remember overhearing her say that Steinway’s least expensive instrument can be yours at a monthly cost of about $600! For most families, this is prohibitively exorbitant—but paying for an organ might be more or less, depending on the instrument.

Anyway, I think that I’ve figured out a semi-solution—and that is to give more organ lessons! Two of my students who do not have access to practice instruments are in fact coming twice a week to lessons, and are making steady progress this way. It does mean that it costs the parent more in terms of cash outlay, but I’m hoping they think it is worth it.

And hey, when my son was taking iceskating lessons (yes, in Hawaii we have an ice rink!) there was no way he could practice at home, and neither could anyone else practice iceskating without going to the one and only ice rink in Hawaii, located near the stadium.

Oh, those were the days! My son’s iceskating lesson was on Saturday morning at the ungodly hour of 5:20 am, which meant getting up at 4:20 am, to shower, get dressed and drive sleepily over the hill to the other side of the island. During opera season (when we had Friday night season tickets), it sure was tough getting up so early after coming home after midnight from the opera!

We went to the Ice Palace at least twice a week to practice, which was about a 45 minute drive from across the island, in the days before H-3, the highway through the Ko’olau mountains!

François Couperin and ‘The Perfection of Music.’

Back to practicing music, did you ever hear about François Couperin’s philosophy of teaching to children: From David Tunley’s François Couperin and the Perfection of Music, he writes:

(Couperin’s) L’Art de toucher le clavecin (1716) remains one of the most informative sources about French harpsichord performance. It also contains some interesting reflections about teaching the instrument to young children. So concerned was he about the dangers of unsupervised practice that he recommended locking the harpsichord between lessons so his young pupils ‘will not ruin in a moment all that I have been trying to instil over three-quarters of an hour.” To emphasize the point he mentions that he himself always pocketed the key of the instrument!  (bold print mine, for emphasis!)

So, I don’t feel badly that in a sense I am supervising these kids’ practice sessions. It saves a lot of wasted time and it might be preferable to a parent nagging a child to practice—with only unsatisfactory results.

By the way, this weekend are the auditions for the Hawaii Chapter American Guild of Organists’ scholarship program. Six of my students are applying for funds to keep them studying the organ—the AGO chapter pays for half of the lessons!

And most of them will be performing in a recital of young organists on Saturday, November 18 at 2:00 pm at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu.

More organ lessons? I love it!


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Wow! Small world!

I am now in Sacramento, California, where I have been with my siblings and nieces to celebrate the marriage of my niece, Nancy Au to Matthew LePage. It was an outdoor wedding where the weather could not have been more perfect. Not too hot and not too cool.

Father-daughter dance with Nancy and my brother Rick

So it was some excitement that during the reception, I received this photo from former organ student Joey Fala, now Organ Scholar of Duke University.

Joey Fala with Diane Rose Amidon at Duke University

You see, I would never have guessed that these two people would meet: the woman that Joey is pictured with is Diane Rose Amidon, my former classmate from the USC School of Music. After I graduated from the University of Southern California and then Westminster Choir College, I moved to Hawaii and reunited with Diane, who was by then the soprano soloist in the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. That was 40 years ago!

In fact, the year 1977 saw three weddings among the choir members within the space of a couple of months. Sandra Wagner, alto, married Joel Seavey in May. Then Diane Rose, soprano, married tenor David Amidon. I played the organ for Dave and Diane ‘s wedding. A few weeks later, I married LCH’s organist, who was Carl Crosier.

Joey played Evensong at Duke University tonight in which there was a reception afterwards. Joey texted me: There was a donation of a ton of organ music to the organ scholar by the wife of an organist who passed away: Witts. Today they had his family and friends come to evensong and she was among the guests.

Dave and Diane Amidon

When Joey was introduced as being from Hawaii, she came up to him and told him of her connection to the Crosiers and John McCreary!

My reaction to Joey was, “Wow! Small world!”

I wrote about Dave and Diane Amidon previously: “Called to ministry out of the choir”— they both went to seminary and became pastors. Now they have moved on to other careers, and are grandparents!










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Where to next?

By far the question that people ask me most is, “Where are you going next?”

Why, thank you for asking. Tomorrow I’ll be taking a quick trip to Sacramento, California, where I’ll be attending a niece’s wedding. Luckily I have no responsibilities except to show up and enjoy the festivities. But I’ll be home by Monday morning, meaning that I will be gone scarcely 30 hours, so that I can teach an organ lesson by early afternoon!

I also just booked my air ticket to Kona on the Big Island, where I will again play organ continuo for the Kona Choral Society’s annual Messiah the first weekend in December, my fourth year in a row of doing this. This year the chorus will also sing John Rutter’s Gloria. 

Last night, though, I booked tickets for two weeks in Querétaro, Mexico, where I’ll be spending Christmas and New Year’s.  In addition to experiencing how my daughter-in-law’s family celebrates these holidays, we’ll also celebrate the baptism of grandson Andrés, a huge deal in Mexican culture. My daughter-in-law Jessica says that the festivities will go on for many, many hours!

Of course we have been very concerned the last few days since the 7.1 Mexico City earthquake, and worried about Jessica’s family. We are told that they are shaken, but are okay, and have not suffered any property damage.

The organ at Iglesia de San Antonio, Querétaro

In doing a little research, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the historic downtown Querétaro is a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are several historic churches in Querétaro, and there are even historic pipe organs! In fact, my new friend Jieun Newland told me that she went on tour with the Yale Institute of Sacred Music to Mexico, and they were able to play numerous historic organs.

And in 2005, Minnesota Public Radio host, Michael Barone, led a tour group to Mexico. You can see some of the publicity materials here.

He writes: Were you aware that well into the 1800s, two historic pipe organs in the Cathedral of Mexico City were the largest musical instruments in the Americas and maintained that status for more than a century? And did you realize that the playing of pipe organs in the New World was documented as early as 1545?

Europe may be the traditional seat of historic organ culture, but the Spanish incursion to Mexico planted a positive artistic seed, the fruit of which we will savor during this exciting nine-day adventure. In Mexico’s past centuries, untold wealth made possible the construction of vividly decorated church buildings and the inclusion in them of intricate, vibrant musical instruments.

Looking forward to a Christmas adventure in Mexico!

Interior of the Cathedral in Querétaro

La congregacion de Guadalupe, Querétaro

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