At last night’s Worship and Music committee meeting, we were reviewing last Sunday’s Children’s Sabbath, and the fact that one of my organ students played most of the liturgical music plus the postlude. “Another student from the Hawaii School for Organ Playing,” Miguel Felipe joked.
Even though I’ve been teaching organ since 1973, it’s only been in the last eleven years that I have taught so many children to play the organ. Up to that point, I had mostly adult students. And it’s all because I went to a workshop at the American Guild of Organists convention in Seattle in the year 2000. Wayne Leupold talked to us about teaching the organ to young children, as a first rather than as a second instrument. The conventional wisdom up to that point was that one needed to master the piano first before trying the organ. As Leupold pointed out, though, “the organ holds a tremendous fascination for children — the sounds, the multiple keyboards and the pedals are simply things not found on a piano.” And after all, Bach did not play the piano first! There is a very interesting interview with Wayne Leupold and his philosophy of teaching organ which you can find by clicking here.
The fact is that in the mid 1970s, organists found themselves in the peculiar position of being categorized with the dinosaurs, and were on the verge of extinction because of changing trends in church music. There seemed to be fewer and fewer people willing to make the commitment of the years of practice needed to learn to play the organ.
So in the year 2000, I started using Leupold’s Discover the Basics and Discover the Organ series and found a few children willing to give it a try. There are so many outstanding facets of this method which teach note-reading, rhythms, music theory, and even organ registration (which organ stops are used) that I feel that I have been moderately successful in bringing a number of children to a level of competency and skill. Check out my post on Joey Fala and his YouTube performances.
When I saw on the LCH Music List posted online that this week I was scheduled to play “Rhosymedre” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, I asked one of my young students if he would be willing to play it in my stead. You’ll be glad to hear that Christopher L. said ‘yes.’ He started organ lessons with me as a first-grader on “Discover the Basics” and is now playing the major preludes and fugues of Bach as a seventh-grader! Nearly two years ago, a YouTube video was posted of his performances at LCH and you’ll be gratified to learn that he has continued to make enormous progress since then.
Yes, there is hope for the organ!