This afternoon I attended perhaps the most powerful presentation I ever seen or heard in my life. The artist was Ken Medema, a blind pianist who for four decades, has inspired people through storytelling and music. He said that we as church musicians have the task of connecting the stories with the music. He played a piano with an electronic keyboard (synthesizer) mounted on the music rack, so often when the music was slow and ballad-like, he played the piano to accompany his absolutely amazing singing. Other times he played the synthesizer, in contemporary rhythms. Apparently he had studied the organ, because his opening song was based on Bach’s “Passacaglia in C minor” theme, and included snatches of the D major fugue subject!
What was so powerful about his presentation was that he asked members of the audience to tell stories of how music had changed their lives, and then he would instantly sing/compose a song about that situation. For example, one person told of his father who was a pastor and always very eloquent in his sermons. But as he grew older, dementia set in so severely that he could hardly put a sentence together. Yet when he bowed his head to prayer, the words flowed out like a river in his talk with God. What Medema did with this was amazing, not only harmonically, but also with the lyrics to the song he instantly composed.
Another story was about an organist’s father who had died, and wove in the hymn tune “SINE NOMINE” (For all the saints).
That, and about five other stories which he turned into song, were so amazingly touching that many people were reduced to tears. He was able to capture people’s stories in such a poignant and beautiful way that definitely emotions came to the surface. I found many YouTube videos of Ken Medema, but perhaps this one is similar to what we heard this afternoon: http://youtu.be/xUYy2UieIFw and http://youtu.be/YRBjtnp4208
Tonight we also saw and heard the artistry and virtuosity of Hyunju Hwang, a young Korean organist who is now the Associate Director of Music and Principal Organist at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood, CA. What a powerhouse and what pyrotechnics! She performed works by Nicolas de Grigny (1672-1703), Georg Böhm (1661-1733) and the D minor Trio Sonata of Bach, BWV 527. She played three jazz preludes by Johannes Matthias Michel with percussionist Tsugumi Shikano and absolutely dazzled the crowd. But it was her performance of “Evocation II” by Thierry Escaich (b. 1965) which brought forth a roar from the crowd. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard anything so amazing.