Who would have guessed that when my sister invited me to a Major League Baseball game last night that I would hear a REAL organist?
After a delayed flight plus a layover of six hours in Boston, it took me 23 hours to get from Berlin, Germany to my sister Doris’ house in Fairfax, VA. Apparently she has season tickets to the Washington Nationals baseball games, but since her husband is away, I was invited to go in his place. I think the last time I went to a major league baseball game was when I was in high school, so it has been decades!
The game was delayed for over two hours as we waited for a massive thunder, lightning and rainstorm to pass. We had to stand in the concourse the entire two hour period of waiting, and along with the vendors peddling beer, the crowds of people and the sometimes frighteningly close thunder claps, it became unbearably loud.
My sister explained that the beginning rituals to a baseball game are almost a liturgy, because every game starts in the same way. There is the procession of the flags, and everyone takes off their caps. Someone sings the National Anthem, and a special person is chosen to throw out the first pitch. A child then calls out, “Come on, Nationals! Play ball!” And the game begins.
And of course there is the ritual of singing “Take me out to the ball game” at the seventh inning stretch.” (Even I can play this song by heart!”)
The tradition of an organist at a baseball game goes back to April 26, 1941 when one was hired in Chicago’s Wrigley Field, probably for entertainment. At that time organs were being placed in “movie theaters, town halls, pizza parlors and shopping malls” according to Matthew Mihalka, who wrote a doctoral dissertation on ballpark organists. The organist took the role similar to that of the silent movie performer.
The ballpark organist can sense the mood of the crowd, and plays snippets of melodies when players come up to bat, sometimes with a play on their last names. I read somewhere that the stadium organist needs to know 1,000 Pop songs by heart. But read this article about an organist who dared play “Three blind mice” in a comment to an umpire’s call, and he was ejected from the game! http://abcnews.go.com/US/blind-mice-florida-music-intern-ejected-baseball-game/story?id=16915607
Alas, many teams took the easy way out and use canned music these days.
But at the Nationals ball park, it is Dr. Matthew van Hoose who plays for a crowd of 30,000+ for 82 games per season, making him the most heard organist in the Washington DC area, if not in the whole world. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, he obtained his Bachelor’s degree at Oberlin and Master’s and doctorate degrees from Indiana University in organ, and in fact is a music professor at American University.
All in all, it was a fun night!