At yesterday’s All Saints Sunday service, my young student, Christopher L. played “Toccata in D minor (Dorian), BWV 538” for the postlude, and he and I, as well as members of the 10:30 congregation felt the thrill of victory! What a stunning performance Christopher gave — rock-steady rhythm, nearly 100% note accuracy, and complete with about six piston changes (to vary the stops) that happened “right on the money!” When he hit the last toe stud, which added the Great trumpet for the final cadenza I felt a great rush of relief — and vindicated.
You see, it’s been more than 40 years since I dared to hear the Dorian Toccata again — and that was because I learned it as a freshman in college. I was invited to play for a women’s organization who had given me a scholarship that spring — and the Dorian Toccata was what I chose to play. The trouble was, that I was playing on an electronic organ which was positioned at the edge of the stage. The only light I had was a spotlight which cast a giant shadow on the music. I couldn’t see the music and I had not memorized it! I played what I could remember, then ended it abruptly, ran off stage “with my head down and my tail between my legs.” What a nightmare! Nevertheless, I have always felt badly about this piece, and thought I could never listen to it again — until Christopher came along.
Christopher started organ lessons with me as a first-grader which meant that his first organ book was Wayne Leupold’s Discover the Basics. It is a series designed for children who begin on the organ as a first rather than a second instrument. After hearing Christopher perform yesterday, I can say with confidence that Leupold’s method works to give these children the basic skills and technique to master the instrument. It also helps that Christopher’s mom is a music teacher and has assisted his daily practice all these years. For a time I taught both mother and son, since she wanted to learn more about playing the organ, not only for her own benefit, but also to better help her son.
Christopher is now in seventh grade and has been working on Bach’s “Gigue” fugue, “Prelude, Fugue et Variation” by César Franck, “Rhosymedre” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the Dorian Toccata — all pieces which I learned much later in life. In fact, I didn’t even start playing the organ until I was thirteen and in eighth grade.
Thanks to all the people in the congregation who stayed to listen to Christopher’s postlude yesterday. Your ovation afterwards and the many who came up to congratulate Christopher on his performance was very much appreciated.