¡Feliz Navidad! Voy a ir a México

Here’s my last-minute “to do” list before I leave today for Mexico to spend the Christmas and New Year’s holidays in Querétaro—this is where my daughter-in-law’s family lives and where my grandson, Andrés, will be baptized on December 30th.

I am looking forward to taking in as much of the Mexican culture and Christmas traditions as I can and will hopefully be blogging as I go, barring unforeseen difficulties with Wi-Fi. You can read my previous post about Querétaro churches here.


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  1. Host party for residents of my condo floor, including preparing all the food and cleaning up the kitchen. (Go back and read my post on how this Christmas party tradition started: “It started with the St. John Passion“.) This year’s party was on Sunday, and was the first time I virtually did this singlehandedly! It distracted me sufficiently so that I forgot to take pictures of all the main courses and dessert. In addition to the pupus shown in the slideshow, I made apricot-glazed chicken (Martha Stewart’s recipe), rice pilaf, sugar snap peas and for dessert, blueberry clafoutis. While we didn’t have as many people as in previous years, we all had a wonderful time. Check!
  2. Write my annual Crosier Chronicle and mail out Christmas cards to those without email. Click Crosier Chronicle to view the PDF. Check!
  3. Do some last-minute “cramming” of my three online Spanish classes. It has been a year already that I decided that in order to stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia, I should 1) learn a new language 2) learn Spanish so that I can communicate with my baby grandson! I’ve even learned how to trill my Rs! (My daughter-in-law’s parents are learning English, so the learning is going both ways!) The hope is that Andrés will be bi-lingual.

Which reminds me last year’s Christmas commercial, as shown in the video below:

Feliz Navidad! See you in Mexico!

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‘Tis the season, part 2

In the last four days, I have attended three concerts and gotten my chance to be an audience member. I used to remember Carl Crosier saying that as performers it was our job to make it Christmas for everyone else—now I’ve had my chance to hear someone else’s hard work.

Concert Conversation with Jeff Peterson, Carl St. Clair and Iggy Jang.

On Sunday, I was at the Neil S. Blaisdell Concert Hall for the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Jeff Peterson’s Concerto for Slack Key Guitar and Orchestra, in addition to Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont, op. 84 and Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat. One of my favorite and most enlightening aspects of going to these concerts is the Concert Conversation with the conductor and soloist beforehand.

What I took away from this week’s program was that Iggy Jang, concertmaster, remarked that it was incredible to him that Maestro Carl St. Clair conducted the rehearsal without a score—he had it so thoroughly memorized that he could refer to rehearsal letters (“Let’s go back to two measures before letter C”) and so on. He asked the maestro how he did that, to which St. Clair recalled his time with the great Leonard Bernstein who told him, “Do your homework.” He said that for every minute of the performance, it took him one hour of preparation! For example, a forty-five minute piece like the Prokofiev took him 45-50 hours of preparation in order to conduct it. He conducted both the Beethoven and Prokofiev from memory during the concert.

Another thing that St. Clair told us was that he grew up in a tiny town in Texas with a population of only 36 people and didn’t even hear his first classical concerto until he was 17. Yet he was able to attend the University of Texas at Austin on a trumpet scholarship even though he had not ever had a private lesson before then. Well— he certainly fixed that! He said that outside of the bass clarinet, he has taken private lessons on every single instrument in the orchestra! And not just one or two lessons—he took years of private lessons so that he could really find out how each and every single instrument works. Isn’t that remarkable!

The Iolani School Chorus with John Alexander conducting.

Yesterday, I went to two concerts—the first one was at Iolani School where I was the chapel organist for twenty years. Every year they invite the retired faculty and staff to the Christmas concert in the gym with a nice luncheon following. I was interested in the choral part of the program, especially since I will be accompanying two of the pieces on organ for Friday’s concert that Joanne Watanabe played on the piano yesterday. Both the pieces are nearly impossible on the piano, particularly because of the wide range of the music (I use the pedals to play the bass line where Joanne had to cover all the notes with just her hands.)

Naomi Castro, after the concert

Then last night I was at St. Andrew’s Cathedral for the Priory Choirs and Orchestra concert with Naomi Castro and Chad Uyehara, conductors. You would have thought you were at a rock concert, with all the screaming and cheering after every single piece! I was hard pressed to find a seat, even though I arrived about twenty minutes early—the entire Cathedral was filled with adoring family and friends. I must say that both the choirs and orchestra have come a long, long way since I was the accompanist at the Priory over thirty years ago! The choir was just outstanding, with the girls singing in many parts, in perfect intonation and simply gorgeous tone.

I simply could not stop thinking that Carl Crosier would have been so pleased at both the turnout and the high level of performance from both the choirs and orchestra. If you remember, he was the accompanist for the choirs for a couple years—in addition to his many years of service as the chief financial officer and business manager.

At the concert I saw mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane and her husband, Jim Carr, who just arrived for their semi-annual visit to Hawaii. She posted these pictures of the concert on Facebook, which I hope she doesn’t mind me reposting. She and Jim will be taking me to the airport next week for my trip to Mexico.

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‘Tis the season

I shared this on Facebook recently.

I was telling someone recently that in the “old days,” my husband and I could count on one hand the number of nights we were home during the month of December. In fact, sometimes two whole weeks went by when we were out every single night, with either a concert, a rehearsal, a service or a meeting. Carl used to say that he felt sorry for our son who didn’t get much attention from us during this season.

And how many times did we open our Christmas presents well after December 25th? Sometimes it was not until almost New Year’s that we finally got around to it.

And our Christmas cards and newsletter—I always told people that as long as I postmarked them by December 24th, that was a miracle. I have yet to do my annual Crosier Chronicle this year, and you’ll soon find out why.

With all the heavy scheduling involved in music-making, I didn’t even mention all the parties we gave—the first year we moved into the condo, we hosted no less than fourteen individual Christmas parties—some at lunch, and some at dinner. Yes, this meant cooking and cleaning for each one—sometimes I had to wash the tablecloths right after a luncheon for a dinner party that night.

This year’s party.

So you may be surprised that this year I am involved in only two parties, one for the residents of my floor on Sunday, but the one tonight is a whopper! It is the annual Christmas party for my building which I have been involved with the last three years. The first year there was a real committee of 5-6 people, but I have to say, it was one of the most contentious committees on which I have ever served, with people arguing about the menu and other trivial matters.

Last year, every single one of those committee members quit, and the Association Board, of which I am a member, even questioned whether we should have a party. I bravely stepped up, and said I would do it, and soon after, a woman in the building volunteered to help. I have to say that it was one of the smoothest parties the building ever had, except for the fact that we planned on 250 people coming (the number as in previous years), and 300 showed up! We didn’t know how many people were coming, which caused a bottleneck in the lobby. It was not only at the registration table where we had people print out their name tags but also with the food line.We ran out of paper plates and tableware, and luckily the General Manager raided the employee lounge where we found enough paper goods to serve everyone. And our wonderful in-house chef Heidi, stretched out the food to feed the extra mouths—talk about the loaves and fishes!

This year, the other woman who helped me is in the process of moving out of the building, so I’m doing all this single-handedly (sigh!). It means that I have designed all the publicity materials, done the shopping for the raffle prizes and the children’s gifts, fielded all the RSVPs and coordinated the volunteers. In all these years, we’ve never made people RSVP, and I designed a simple online form to which people could respond from any computer or phone. With that information, I’ve made pre-printed name tags, volunteer lists, and envelope labels for the registration packets containing the name tags, raffle tickets and children’s tickets to visit Santa. Hey, I had some volunteer help, but I’ve even wrapped up about half of the 350 tableware packets containing napkins, forks and knives.

Of course, I posted a deadline, and wouldn’t you know that 30 people sent in their responses after I had made all the tags and registration envelopes! We have had 316 people respond so far, and tonight, we are prepared for walk-ons.

This is pure insanity!

I’m off to Costco now to pick up the pies, cakes and water!



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Juicy and luscious

If you were thinking I was describing something to eat, guess again—I’m actually describing the music tonight at the Oahu Choral Society concert! It was a program of all familiar carols, but in all contemporary and fresh versions that made you love every single seventh chord and lush harmony, the old made new again.

I have to admit that I hate hearing Christmas carols, especially the type that you are besieged with from the day after Thanksgiving whenever you step foot in a retail establishment. The arrangements seem trite and trashy—I guess I am looking for the word “trivialized.”

With the exception of John Rutter’s arrangement of “We wish you a Merry Christmas,” all of the carol arrangements were new to me—I had never heard them before. And that, along with the OCS’s exquisite performance of them, with such a gorgeous blend and light tone, made tonight so extraordinary and “delicious.”

My turn on this console.

I did my part by opening the concert with four carol settings by Wilbur Held and Paul Manz: The three Kings; Shepherds; What child is this; and God rest ye merry gentlemen. I always remember Carl Crosier saying is “what people come to hear are the Christmas carols,” so that is what I played. I made tons of stop changes so as to show off the many colors of the Aeolian-Skinner organ.

Guess whose arrangement I played?!

I also played interesting introductions to the four audience carols (Joy to the world, Hark the herald angels sing, Away in a manger, and Silent Night) as well as alternative harmonizations on the last verses. People were so surprised to hear me do this—Tommy Yee, the pianist, was so taken with this notion and admitted he just plays all verses with the same harmonizations. I even played a “bluesy” arrangement of Silent Night that I wouldn’t dare do in a church service, but it felt right in tonight’s concert.

By the way, I thought Tommy Yee’s piano accompaniment was absolutely beautiful and so sensitively played.

Thank you, Esther Yoo, and Oahu Choral Society, for asking me to play in this extraordinary concert!

My view of the concert!

The program can be found here.

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People send me news …

Karen Sender shared this article from the Oakland Tribune about our colleague and friend, John Renke, bringing Blue Christmas to Oakland. We surely do miss John!

Blue Christmas aims to soothe those hurting during the holidays

John Renke, Pastoral Associate for Divine Workshop & Operations for the Oakland Diocese, stands inside Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light, where on Dec. 21 he will oversee Blue Christmas, a program he is introducing to the cathedral aimed at people who are going through “painful passages” during what is a joyous season for most.

December 7, 2017 at 7:00 am
John Renke, Pastoral Associate for Divine Workshop & Operations for the Oakland Diocese, stands inside Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light, where on Dec. 21 he will oversee Blue Christmas, a program he is introducing to the cathedral aimed at people who are going through “painful passages” during what is a joyous season for most.
It’s difficult to believe, what with the perfectly appointed TV commercials — snow wafting gently over a McMansion in the woods — where the thing to do is give a family member a new luxury car; with Alvin and the Chipmunks checking in on the all-Christmas music radio channel; and with Amazon delivery vehicles deploying en masse over the landscape as if in a modern-day Oklahoma land rush, but:
Renke understands the dynamic. For a decade, he has been trying to soothe its effects.
Renke returned to his native Bay Area in March after 10 years in Honolulu. His title at the Oakland Diocese fills up a business card — Pastoral Associate for Divine Workshop [sic] & Operations. His first big project is simply titled Blue Christmas. He has planned and will oversee the service aimed at those trying to cope with holiday heartache.
Planned for 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 21 — the winter solstice — at Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, the event is subtitled: “A Service for the Longest Night.” Renke freely acknowledges this is not an original idea. However, he believes his lifelong love of the church and his 15 years at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, followed by his decade in Hawaii, make him uniquely qualified for such a sensitive and unique program.


Then I received an article from Gary Loughrey from the Duke Chronicle titled “Inside the organ music that fills Duke Chapel almost every weekday,” describing the typical work week of the Organ Scholars, namely Joey Fala and Jacob Montgomery. They share the duties of playing a daily organ recital from Monday to Thursdays, in addition to accompanying the weekly Sunday choral evensong, as well as weddings, funerals and choral vesper services.

From Duke University’s Duke Chronicle. Click to enlarge.

Diapason magazine, December 2017

I also just opened my Diapason magazine to see this article about musical events at Duke University. You can see that Joey will be playing a recital at Duke Chapel on January 21, 2018.

Unfortunately I’ll miss this concert but I am planning to visit Joey in North Carolina shortly after Easter in April 2018, and will be able to experience Duke Chapel and the organs in person!


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Standing for the “Hallelujah Chorus”?

When I got the program of the Oahu Choral Society concert two days ago, I noted that the “Hallelujah Chorus” by Georg Frideric Handel was scheduled, and I wondered why I wasn’t asked to accompany it. Well, guess what, yesterday I got an email from Dana Harrison, the Executive Director, that I am to play it after all. As I wrote back, “It’s a good thing I still have this in my fingers!” as it should be for every organist.

I looked back at my previous blog posts about this piece, and revisited “Hallelujah Chorus,” in which one of my former students proclaimed, “I hate this piece! It’s just so hard!” and indeed, if I were still in high school and had three days’ notice to prepare this piece, I would have been thrown into a panic.

Here is the Oahu Choral Society program’s description of this piece: When the Messiah premiered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1742, King George II was in attendance. When it came to the Hallelujah Chorus he stood up. Whenever the king stood up, everyone in his presence had to stand up, so the whole audience stood. No one is really sure whether the king stood up because he liked the music or for some other reason, but it has become tradition for the audience to stand up when the Hallelujah Chorus is sung.

[N.B. It’s not “The Messiah,” it’s “Messiah.” See my explanation here. And while you’re there, read my thoughts on mispronouncing Handel’s last name.]

A thorough explanation of the history of standing for the “Hallelujah Chorus” was explored in a two-part Boston Globe article by Matthew Guerrieri called “Rise and Say ‘Hallelujah’” He questions whether George II was even in the audience!

I think I liked this part of the article best: ”

But the monarchical overtones of standing for a king, no matter what his dominion, struck some as an odd fit in America, especially as 20th-century superpower status ratified the country’s democratic experiment. Conductor Robert Shaw, who hated the tradition, maintained that it was George II’s bladder, not his soul, that caused him to rise with such alacrity, the king having lost track of when intermission started. The historian Robert Manson Myers expressed incredulity that “thousands who can scarcely distinguish F sharp from middle C punctiliously observe a custom established by a stupid Hanoverian king and his worldly court two hundred years ago.’’

Perhaps the custom persists precisely because no one is sure why it exists, leaving every audience member to choose his or her own rationale. Royal example, religious devotion, reassuring ritual, rousing musicality – take your pick. Or don’t: Remaining seated during the “Hallelujah’’ chorus ranks as one of the more effortless demonstrations of anti-authoritarian dissent.

So stand if you want, but if you don’t, it’s okay.

The Oahu Choral Society’s concert, “Tidings of Comfort and Joy,” is Saturday night, December 9 at 7:30 pm at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. Tickets are available at the door or online.

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Tidings of Comfort & Joy

The Oahu Choral Society concert is this Saturday, December 9 at 7:30 pm.

Tidings of Comfort & Joy: Christmas with OCS is the title of the Oahu Choral Society’s annual Christmas concert this coming Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 7:30 pm at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. I was actually contracted for this concert way back in October and did not know until today (4 days before the concert) what I was going to be playing until I wrote an email to the Executive Director asking for program details.

Front cover of the program.

They emailed me a copy of the program and surprisingly I got front page billing even though I’m only playing a short opening medley plus four Christmas carols for the  singalong. If you’d like to take a look at the program, click here. The four carols are: Joy to the World (no problem, since I just played it from memory in Kona); Hark the herald angels sing; Away in a manger; and Silent Night… A Christmas “piece of cake,” although I will be playing several introductions and harmonizations I just learned today.

This is the second program in a row in which I have been listed as “Kathy” rather than “Katherine,” my preferred name when performing. I was also listed as “Kathy” in the Kona Choral Society program. Oh well, nobody asked me!

I went to practice today at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, and I had forgotten how good it feels and how much fun it is to play a big instrument, albeit one that has its failings. In several cases, I could not use the stops I wanted for a solo because critical notes were “dead.”

More problematic was that several times after I had played full organ and released the chord, the organ continued to sound on a loud honky stop that sounded like a trombone! Cancelling the organ (taking off the stops) was no help and the only way to “fix” it was to turn the organ off, which it did with a sorry whine. (Boo hoo!) I surely hope that won’t happen in the concert!

Conducting the concert will be Dr. Esther Yoo with Dr. Thomas Yee accompanying on the piano. Tickets are available at the door or at oahuchoral.org.

Besides this concert and the one with Iolani School’s Chorus next week, I have two big parties to get through—one on December 12th for my condo building in which I am the coordinator (we expect 300 people!) and the other on December 17th for residents of my floor, in which I will be doing all the cooking and hostessing.

It’s hard to believe that two weeks from now it will all be over and I’ll be on a plane to Querétaro, Mexico, to join my son, daughter-in-law and grandson for Christmas and New Year’s Day. My youngest brother and his wife, my cousin, and a niece and her husband will be joining us after Christmas to celebrate the baptism of my grandson, Andrés Crosier, on December 30th—along with 130 other people in my daughter-in-law’s hometown! (Baptisms are a BIG DEAL in Mexico!)

So, today it was with some surprise that I received a notice from TripIt, an application which I use to track my travel arrangements, that I traveled a lot more than I thought in the last five years!

Over 300,000 miles, 52 trips and 15 countries in five years! I had NO idea!



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They read the program! (mostly)

This past weekend I was on the Big Island of Hawai’i with the Kona Choral Society. In past years, I had complained that the audience clapped after every movement in the Handel Messiah, and I was wondering whether they would do the same this year. Lo and behold, I turned to this page in the program and found this:

Announcement about applause in the Kona Choral Society program.

Well, except for the arias, the audience must have sat on their hands, or else they read the program! Yes, they paid attention! The soloists were all excellent and deserved every bit of the applause which followed their arias. Soloists were Amy K. Mills, soprano; Wendy Buzby, alto; Bernaldo Randall Evangelista, tenor, and Daniel J. Garrett, bass.

On Saturday morning, after I finished teaching an organ lesson, I drove home where my neighbor took me to the airport. I was then picked up from the Kona airport by my homestay host, and driven right to the Kealakehe Intermediate School cafeteria for the dress rehearsal. Unfortunately we were not able to rehearse in the concert space, the Sheraton Kona, and a crew of strong men set up the risers, electronic organ, percussion and music stands in the cafeteria, only to have to break them all down and move and set up the next day at the hotel.

Look at the nameplate on the back of the organ! (Click to enlarge)

However, it was all good as director Susan McCreary Duprey wrote: Singers!  I have never heard an intermediate school cafeteria sound so lovely!!! We were great!

We had a short rehearsal before the Sunday concert, and I discovered the organ bench was really tippy on the carpeted but uneven floor. I felt like I would fall over at any moment! One of the crew told me he’d think of a way to fix the situation, and he came back with two large cookie sheets from the hotel kitchen to put underneath the legs of the bench. That did the trick!

See the cookie sheets under the organ bench?

The concert opened with the Rutter Gloria—the organist has a huge part in this, with a big solo in the second movement, and I may have told you I really had to work on this technically-challenging piece. Thankfully I think our performance went well which the audience rewarded with a standing ovation. The brass and percussion were playing so loudly, though, that if I were them, I would have had to wear earplugs! So glorious, though!

While the crew set up for the Handel Messiah, director Susie gave a few words of welcome, then the whole assembly sang Joy to the World. The decision to have a singalong was a spontaneous idea Susie came up with early that morning, and a flurry of emails transpired about getting the lyrics printed for the audience. Of course she had asked whether I could play it, and offered to get me the music. But then I reminded her that I could play any Christmas carol from memory — which I did during the concert!

I really enjoyed my homestay with two out-of-town string players and the soprano soloist who were all hosted by Susan Mangubat in her lovely home right on the ocean. There are actually three houses on the property which she runs as a bed-and-breakfast, so there was plenty of room for us. She said that she takes care of 2 full kitchens and 7 kitchenettes on the property! Susan cooked us a great breakfast as you can see by the following pictures. That fuzzy red fruit is called rambutan, and tastes very much like a lychee.

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It was a WHOLE LOTTA NOTES, but thank you, Kona Choral Society, for another successful concert!

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Upcoming weekend in Kona

The Kona Choral Society

Tomorrow I’m off to Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii for the Kona Choral Society’s annual performance of Handel MessiahThis will be my fifth year in a row that I’ve been in Kona for this annual event and I’m honored to be asked back year after year. For the last two years, during the performance someone leaned up against the light panel in the Sheraton Kona Ballroom and all the lights have gone out—I wonder if it will happen again this year?! I also wonder if the audience will clap between every movement in Messiah which they have done in the past?!

Someone at the Tacoma Symphony has already addressed this phenomenon as written in their blog: “Clapping between movements? The nerve.

“we just performed a sold-out concert of Handel’s Messiah at St. Charles Borromeo church and the enthusiastic audience not only clapped between every movement (a considerable accomplishment in the case of Messiah) but even made up a few extra movements where none before existed.

“During intermission I endured the wrath of one indignant, seasoned patron who complained that the applauders were ruining the performance and wanted to know why we hadn’t printed “do not applaud between movements” on the program page.  (I restrained myself from pointing out that the program page already enjoins “no photography” and “turn off cell phones” to only modest, occasional effect.)”

The post goes on to refer to New York Times critic Alex Ross’ article on applause, “The Rest is Noise,” in which he explains that the custom of not clapping between movements originated in 19th century Wagnerian opera, and “it didn’t hit the concert hall until Leopold Stokowski introduced it in the 1920s, and was adopted only gradually, attaining universality not before the late ‘50s or even early ‘60s.”

The Tacoma Symphony blogwriter ended with, “It’s a natural human reaction to want to respond with joy to the music.  To not applaud this music is itself anomalous – an example of the restrained, repressive attitude toward classical music that has made people avoid our art form like castor oil.

So I’m overjoyed that those people clapped at every turn on Friday night. First, it means we had a lot of new friends in the house, and we should welcome them.  Second, apparently there are people out there who don’t know about the prim and proper school of classical music, but still believe it is meant to be a joyful, participatory group experience.  Maybe we can learn something from them.

Maybe there’s hope for our art form after all.”

John Rutter (Photo Credit)

The other work on the program is Gloria by John Rutter. It was composed in 1974 and was commissioned by Mel Olson, conductor of choirs in Omaha, Nebraska. It was Rutter’s first commission from the United States, and according to Wikipedia, “Rutter composed it according to Olson’s specifications, noting his influence: ‘Much of the credit must go to Mel Olson … because, in telling me what he was looking for in a new choral work, he was telling me what thousands of other choral directors were looking for too.’ ” According to ClassicFM, “this turned out to be the first of many trips to the United States, where his music found a huge audience.” Apparently Gloria was the piece which brought Rutter international attention.

From David’s Review Corner: …The Gloria dates from 1974, when the composer was twenty-nine, and was the result of a commission from America, its three movements ending in a vivacious riot of choral joy in a fast running vivace. 

From Classics Today: It’s hard not to get caught up in the overall excitement—Rutter ideally captures the festive, celebratory nature of these texts while offering plenty of his signature melodies, catchy rhythmic structures, and vibrant orchestration, involving powerfully expressive brass, percussion, and organ in the Gloria and Te Deum.

From Gramophone: Although best known for his many carols and anthems, John Rutter is equally adept at handling music on a larger canvas. His reflective Requiem (now 25 years old) is an established classic. Much the same can be said of the evergreen 1974 setting of the Gloria, Rutter’s first major overseas commission. Its incisive, punchy, syncopated brass opening lingers memorably, setting the scene for some spectacular, polished and vibrant singing. The notoriously taxing finale is accomplished without a wobble, resulting in a deeply satisfying performance.

I confess that I don’t know very much music by John Rutter, and his compositions have been criticized for being overly approachable and saccharine. However,  I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed working on the Gloria, as it has been technically challenging in spots. I’m looking forward to the dress rehearsal and performance this weekend!

Here is a YouTube video of the work, with John Rutter himself conducting the choirs of St. Alban’s Cathedral and the Ensemble Dechorum.

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Organ connections

To follow up on the post I wrote about musical prodigy Alma Deutscher, the person in the 60 Minutes segment was indeed my former student, Robert (Bob) Gjerdingen, who is now a music professor at Northwestern University. It was only a matter of hours that he responded to my post with the comment, “Dear Katherine, Yes, that was indeed your old student talking about Alma Deutscher on CBS 60 Minutes. Best wishes and many, many thanks for teaching me. Bob Gjerdingen.” Since nearly 40 years has elapsed since I last saw Bob, this was again the miracle of the Internet bringing us closer together. It was also again another example of “the organist behind the scenes” as I like to think of myself and a topic of this blog.

Here is a video of Alma Deutscher and her teacher Tobias Cramm in a joint improvisation.

But the story continues. Vreni Griffith was curious to read about Alma Deutscher and found this about her teacher, Tobias Crammwhom you can see in the monitor above.

Cramm’s teacher was Rudolf Lutz, organist at St. Laurenzen church in St. Gallen, Switzerland, who is one of the foremost improvisers in the style of Bach. He is also the artistic director of the J.S. Bach-Stiftung (J.S. Bach Foundation), which is in the process of recording all of Bach’s vocal works.

Rudolf Lutz

Vreni reminded me that she and Carl Crosier and myself attended a concert by Rudolf Lutz at the Bachfest in 2012! And indeed I found the post “The period orchestra” in which I described Lutz’ “very evocative and expressive gestures” in his conducting.

Vreni further explained that she heard Lutz play the organ last summer in Zurich:

Rudy Lutz is the organist I mentioned to you on Thursday! I’m so glad I [went] to church with Alma on my last Sunday in Zurich. She goes quite often to the Fraumünster and fortunately mentioned that there was a substitute organist playing, a certain Rudolf Lutz. She didn’t remember that I had told her about him before. It was really fun, sort of like a puzzle, wondering “where is that from”, even though sometimes it was only a bar or two of “recycled” music. Two years ago I went to the Bach Festival in Ansbach more because of his introductions to the concerts than the music. He is absolutely fantastic and also has a fantastic sense of humor. We had quite a few talks, and we even had one thing in common: being interviewed by the same journalist (my second time in Ansbach). After that he sometimes used a few Swiss German words in his talks and grinned at me.

Church of the Nuns of the Visitation, where Chopin was organist

This reminded me of a topic that I’ve wanted to write about for some time — finding out that famous people who play the organ but were not known for doing so. For example, last summer when I was in Warsaw, Poland, I found out that pianist and composer Frederic Chopin had taken three years of organ lessons and even had a church job as a teenager: Fryderyk attended the church of the Nuns of the Visitation … in his secondary-school years on Sunday services for pupils and students, and also after the year 1825, when he often improvised on the organ there. Writing to Jan Białobłocki in November 1825, he expressed his contentment: ‘I’ve become the school organist. Thus my wife, as well as all my children, must respect me for two reasons. Ha, Good Sir, what a man am I! The first person in the whole school after the Revd parish priest! […] I play once a week, on Sundays, at the Visitandines’ on the organ, and the others sing.’ (Wikipedia)

Jonathan Dimmock with Kurt Masur

More recently, through my friend Jonathan Dimmock’s blog called “The Resonance Project,” I found out that the late conductor Kurt Masur played the organ during the war, and it was what saved and comforted him. “Yes. And we no sooner started fighting than I was captured and taken as a Prisoner of War. I was moved to the Netherlands, to a P.O.W. camp. But as soon as I arrived there, the Camp Chaplain discovered that I was a musician. He came up to me and said: ‘OK. I need someone to accompany me as I go from village to village preaching in small churches. You can play the organ for the services, and I’ll preach the sermons.” “So that is exactly what we did. We would arrive at a village church, I would familiarize myself with the organ there – often historic – and he would bring the townspeople in for a service. I can tell you that organ music was the only thing that saved my life during that very difficult period. I will always be grateful to that amazing instrument for giving me the courage to keep going.” “I’ve been back to many of those villages now. I wanted to see those organs again, touch them, play them. They seem to carry the weight of human expression. Did the builders of those instruments ever have an idea of how many people’s lives would be effected by their craft? I wonder.” Read the entire blog post here.

Carl got Suzuki's autograph.

Carl Crosier got Suzuki’s autograph.

I have previously written about children’s television’s  Mr. Rogers playing the organ, “An organist in the neighborhood,” and perhaps you didn’t know that Stephen Cleobury of Kings College and Masaaki Suzuki of Bach Collegium Japan, are organists but are known primarily for their choral conducting.

But did you know that Lady Gaga plays the organ?!

Lady Gaga plays the Sydney Town Hall organ.

And how about Arnold Schwartzenegger!

Arnold Schwartzenegger in the Passauer Dom

Someone commented, “Keep your day job!”


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