How can music be so beautiful?

Perhaps you saw the recent 60 Minutes segment about Alma Deutscher, the 12-year old musical prodigy, who was just bursting with music in her head. Just this afternoon, I decided to take a break from folding 300 napkins for my condo’s upcoming Christmas party, and turned on my Apple TV. I’m used to watching 60 Minutes on Sundays anyway, and even though this episode was a re-run, I eagerly watched it again. Alma is a pianist, violinist, and a composer—she has even written an opera! And she is only 12 years old. Click here to view the 60 Minutes segment about Alma Deutscher.

Her moment of discovery about music was at age three, when she heard a melody by Johann Strauss, and said to her mother, “How can music be so beautiful?!”

Something jumped out at me, though, this time when I saw the interview, because Anna’s parents said that they had discovered a book by Robert Gjerdingen, a professor of music at Northwestern University’s School of Music.

The book is called Music in the Galant Style, a study of how composers learned a method of composition called partamenti, a tool used to train the greatest composers from Mozart to Debussy and Stravinsky. For a comprehensive article about Anna, including information about the book, read “The Inner Workings of Alma Deutscher’s Musical Genius.

The segment below shows Alma improvising a whole piece on four notes, picked at random out of a hat, by host Scott Pelley.

Gjerdingen… the name seemed awfully familiar to me. I once had an organ student named Bob Gjerdingen—but that was years and years ago. Could it be the same person? I remember Bob as a superb musician, and I even asked him to turn pages for me during concerts and festival services. I remember that when he took organ lessons with me, he cut “windows” into the sides of his leather shoes to more easily find the pedals!

Anyway, on a whim, I did a Google search on Robert Gjerdingen, and look what came up on the faculty page of Northwestern!

Robert Gjerdingen’s curriculum vitae.

Look at that—1980, University of Hawaii! So perhaps he is one and the same person to whom I taught organ lessons, 37 years ago! I haven’t actually confirmed this, but it is exciting to even think that it might be the same Bob Gjerdingen. [UPDATE: Yes, it’s the same Bob Gjerdingen! See the comments below.]

And talk about improvisation, this morning when I watched Evensong from Duke University Chapel where former student, Joey Fala, is the Organ Scholar, I thoroughly enjoyed his improvisation after the final hymn on “Have thine own way, Lord (Adelaide Pollard)”. See if you don’t agree that this is brilliant! I have it cued up to where Joey starts playing.

I am so looking forward to my visit with Joey in April 2018!

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The organ world is SO SMALL!

Orgelkids pipe organ kit. Photo taken at the October AGO meeting.

If you read my last post, “The kids did it!” you know that over the weekend, my younger students gave a concert, after which they assembled a two rank pipe organ kit, called Orgelkids.

If you read further back, when our local chapter of the American Guild of Organists was considering getting one of these kits as an outreach project, we contacted Erin Scheessele, the Executive Director of Orgelkids USA. I wrote this in my post, “Orgelkids coming to Hawaii“:

And my first thought was, we need an Orgelkids kit here in Hawaii! With the support of the Hawaii Chapter American Guild of Organists, the Executive Board signed a contract to purchase a kit. The cost is $6,000 plus shipping and the cost of a shipping storage crate. Just today, we received an email from Erin Scheessele, the Executive Director of Orgelkids USA, who sent us the first picture of the Hawaii instrument! It is being built by Terry Lambert and Christo Fralick, located in Eugene, OR. They both worked many years with John Brombaugh as members of his organbuilding firm. Chris was John’s workshop foreman for over 12 years.

Today I received this note from Erin Scheessele:

Hi, Katherine,

I shared one of your blog articles today on Orgelkids USA’s Facebook page, copied you on a long email I sent to Karl Bachman, then opened a publication from Duke University to find your name, yet again 🙂 I’ve attached a photo of the article about your student, Joseph Fala.

There’s a sweet little swallows nest organ in the Duke Memorial Chapel built by Brombaugh & his 2 associates who are now building Orgelkids USA.

My husband & I were undergrads at Duke. Evan sang in the choir for 6 years. I hope Joseph loves his time there as much as we did.


First off, there’s the fact that Erin and her husband are Duke University grads, and she happened to receive the alumni publication with my former student Joey Fala’s picture and bio in it.

Secondly, the swallows nest organ at Duke was built by John Brombaugh, whose firm is now building Orgelkids kits!

Here are the two photos Erin sent me:

It’s all too amazing for words!

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The kids did it!

Yesterday’s performers.

I am happy to report that yesterday’s Young Organist recital was a grand success in every possible way, and the students did themselves and their parents proud. Even one girl who repeatedly told me. “I quit the piano because I can’t play recitals—I always play BAAAAD and am going to mess up!” gave a fantastic performance, probably the best I’ve ever heard her play. And no—she did not mess up!

Each student kept it together and gave a fine performance. Whew! what a relief!

If you’d like to see the program, you can click here: YoungOrganist

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You’ll see that I was in several of the photos, either as a page turner, or playing duets. The last piece was an extended organ duet, with myself on the big organ and Jieun Newland on the continuo organ. Sometimes we played separately, and sometimes we played together—all great fun, and a chance for the students and parents to hear both organs. With the continuo organ in its usual place, the audience had great seats to hear the big organ in one ear, and the continuo organ in the other!

Our audience included family members, AGO members and LCH parishioners.

As promised, after the recital was over, the kids put the Orgelkids pipe organ kit in no time at all (I think it was about 35 minutes!) and got a chance to either play it or pump the bellows.

Here’s where we started.

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Lots of fun! In fact, I had so much fun yesterday, that I came home exhausted and was a couch potato for the rest of the night!


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Lutheran Night for UH Choirs

At tonight’s UH Choirs concert

If you hadn’t paid attention, you could have sworn you were at a Lutheran church tonight instead of being in St. Andrew’s Cathedral. As I overheard someone ask Karl Bachman, music director of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church whom I saw tonight at the concert, “Was that enough Luther for you, Karl?!”

You see, tonight I attended the University of Hawaii Choirs concert, titled “Old Becomes New: Music for Advent and the Reformation,” conducted by interim director, Jeremy M. Wong, with Emily Stanford, pianist, and my former student, Miki Yamamoto, organist. Jeremy is filling in this school year for Miguel Felipe, who is on sabbatical.

I was very happy to read in the program that Jeremy listed his experience with Early Music Hawaii and the Lutheran Church of Honolulu in his bio. For a time, he was the interim choir director before Scott Fikse.

Much of the music I had performed at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu with the choir, including the hymn, “A mighty fortress is our God,” (in an arrangement by John Rutter). In fact, the audience was requested to stand and sing verses one and four of this well-known Lutheran hymn. I took a short video of verse four.

Conductor Jeremy Wong

Not bad singing for a university audience, who knew the music in spite of not having the musical notation in the program, right?

The audience was also invited to sing the last verse of “Ein feste Burg” in German for a Telemann setting. I was sitting with a group of LCH parishioners who had no trouble with it!

Other very familiar music included “Es ist das Heil uns kommen her” by Brahms, “Es ist in Ros’ entsprungen” by Hieronymous Praetorius and Hugo Distler; “A spotless rose,” by Herbert Howells; “Ave maria” by Charles Gounod; “Magnificat” by Charles Villiers Stanford; “Ave maria” by Franz Biebl. It was a tad bit early for Advent music, but I enjoyed it anyway! The grand finale was the “Dona nobis pacem” from Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and of course, I couldn’t help but think of our two performances of it in 2011, Carl Crosier’s last concert.

In addition to these familiar pieces, there were also selections by Georg Philip Telemann, John Vergin (c. 1956), Robert Lucas de Pearsall (1795-1856), Felix Mendelssohn, and Kevin Memley (b. 1971). I especially enjoyed the pieces new to me: “Glow” by Eric Whitacre (b. 1970) and “Dormi Jesu” by Abbie Betinis (b. 1980).

Jeremy had the choir sing from different sections of the cathedral, both in the front, on the side aisles, and in the very back, as you can see by this photo—all to give the audience a real “surround sound” experience.

The choir sings near the back door of the cathedral.

Big smile from Miki Yamamoto after the concert.

It was a real family affair for the Wong family: Jeremy was on the podium, his mother Sharon Wong played flute, and Jeremy’s father, Anthony Wong, played timpani. What a talented family!

Good job, UH Choirs, and Jeremy! Good job, Miki Yamamoto! (She is now the organist at Kilohana United Methodist Church, and after graduating from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA is back at the University of Hawaii studying music education.)

P.S. I saw Miki’s parents at the concert, and also had a  nice conversation with Miki’s aunty, Diane Matsuura, whose daughter Cindy (Miki’s cousin), studied with me for seven years and is now the organist of Harris United Methodist Church.

Standing ovation for the UH Choirs.

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Things I tell my students

Poster for this weekend’s organ concert.

It’s concert week—the last week of organ lessons I give before my young students perform on Saturday, November 18 at 2:00 at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. For many of them, it’s the first time they have ever performed on organ in front of an audience. The youngest of these students is 9 years old, and the oldest is a couple of years out of college.

Most of the students have only taken organ lessons for two years or less. So these students are not only young in years but young in experience. Even my post-graduate student has only been playing the organ for a couple of years.

I realized that maybe, just maybe, some of the things I tell my students are things that no other organ teachers talk about. Some of these “Kathy-isms” have to do with living in Hawaii. Other statements are just what I consider “common sense!” For example:

You can’t play the organ in shorts. Here in Hawaii, where we have summer weather virtually the whole year round, it’s tempting to wear as little as possible, and shorts are an essential part of people’s wardrobes here. However, if you wear shorts, it’s nigh impossible to slide your legs on the bench because your skin exudes moisture, and makes you stick to the bench. You have to wear a long enough skirt or slacks which will allow you to slide. It’s as bad as having wet shoes (see next instruction).

Don’t wear your organ shoes away from the organ. They might pick up dirt from outside which can be tracked onto the organ pedals, making them dirty. Or, they might become wet from our frequent rain showers (how else can you explain how green Hawaii is?) Once your organ shoes get wet, it’s almost impossible to play the pedals, because then they’ll stick — they won’t be able to slide over the keys, and you won’t be able to play legato. I unfortunately learned this the hard way (ouch!)

As you approach the organ bench, make sure it’s at the right height. And for heavens’ sake, when you bend down to adjust the bench, make sure that your okole (otherwise known as “tush,” “rear end,” “buttock”) is facing the wallnot the audience! Please! we don’t need a show!

Before you start playing, make sure you are on the correct memory level and have pulled out the correct stops. Sit in the same place at the keyboard every time and ensure your hands and feet are on the correct starting notes. Take a big breath before playing, and don’t be in a rush. Take your time.

When your piece is finished, hit the general cancel button. This takes off all stops so you won’t have any unwanted “oopsies” when you get off the organ bench, or take your music away from the music rack. I’ll never forget the time(s) when my hymnal fell onto the keyboard and I had forgotten to cancel the stops, creating a massive and unpleasant tone cluster! Yes, it happened more than one time, and once it happened during the prayers! Yikes!

Well, since this weekend is a concert and not a service, there won’t be any prayers, except for those by the students to pray that their turn is over. At least, that’s what I pray for when I play in a concert of my peers!

The public is most welcome.


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Brava, Connie!

Concert Conversation with Joseph Swenson (left), Connie Uejio, and Iggy Jang.


That was the comment on Facebook yesterday by Glenn Uejio,  Constance Harding Uejio‘s husband,  after her exquisite rendition of Handel’s “Concerto in B-flat for Harp and Strings,” op. 4 no. 6, with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra.

Of course, I know the piece intimately, since I played a transcription of it in high school, and performed an organ version of it with the Bach Chamber Orchestra. Connie pointed out that Handel wrote the piece originally for a Welsh harpist, William Powell, then included it in his Opus 4 Organ Concerti. She said, “Sometimes organists ‘get confused’ and think it was originally for them. Not so! In the early 1900s, the great French-born harpist Marcel Grandjany rediscovered it and made a marvelous transcription, suitable for the modern pedal harp.”

Connie moved to Hawaii in 1978 with her husband, Glenn, whom she met at the Eastman School of Music. She was born and raised in Pennsylvania, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. Although she started on piano at age 7, she was always encouraged to think about the harp from the time she was a toddler. “Don’t you think harp is a beautiful instrument, Connie? Wouldn’t you like to study the harp?” (I didn’t know that harpists, like organists, were strongly recommended to study the piano first!) I found out these tidbits from the conversation with Iggy Jang, concertmaster, and Joseph Swenson, the guest conductor, before the concert. Connie started harp in the 7th grade when her parents cashed in a life insurance policy to buy her first harp.

Connie tunes her harp, “Elizabeth,” before the concert.

When she met Glenn decades ago, he already knew that moving the harp was part of the relationship, which is one reason she said they never owned a sports car!

We met Connie the year she moved to Hawaii in 1978, and my late husband, Carl Crosier, received a handwritten letter from her whom she apparently had sent to several churches. That very first Christmas, the women of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu choir performed Britten’s Ceremony of Carols with Connie Uejio playing the harp part.

Glenn Uejio, at the Slipper House closing (click to enlarge)

Since then, she collaborated with LCH on many occasions, most notably on Peter Hallock’s Phoenix, which he scored for choir, harp, cello and organ, and which was performed numerous times for celebrative occasions as well as funerals. The LCH women also recorded Ceremony of Carols on CD with Connie.

For a time, Glenn was also on the Board of Trustees at St. Andrew’s Priory School, where he saw Carl Crosier on a regular basis. Glenn took his music degree from Eastman to come back to Hawaii to work in the family business, The Slipper House, which was a mainstay store at Ala Moana Shopping Center for 50 years.

And I even dealt with Kirk Uejio, Connie’s son, at Iolani School, where he was Director of Student Activities during my tenure at the school. Kirk always introduced his mother as “The world’s greatest harpist!”

Here are some of the comments people wrote to Connie on Facebook:

Connie with her three granddaughters, who presented her with lei on stage

Dustin Ebesu  So proud to know Connie! Such a kind hearted musician. Top notch! 

Todd Yukumoto BRAVA to Constance Uejio and the Hawaii Symphony for a brilliant concert this evening!This is music making at its BEST! This is a LONG overdue spotlight for Connie and her wonderful harp playing! You are a ⭐️ STAR⭐️ Connie!! BRAVA Connie! You were SUPERB!!

Alan Hirota Enjoyed the performance. Bravo!

Charise Shigeta Wonderful concert! 

Brad Frix Connie, we were sooo blessed by your music and the symphony as well! A masterpiece by you! 

Glenn Uejio Saturday Concert went great! Our 3 granddaughters did super with on stage lei giving!!

Sally Walstrum Hi, Connie! I wanted to thank you for the exquisite performance of the Handel this afternoon. I had a huge smile on my face while listening to it. I wasn’t familiar with your encore but it was great fun. Not only are you the Queen of Scales with that Grandjany cadenza but you are a Glissando Goddess. Brava! [Ed. note: Connie played an encore, “Harpsicana” by Gene Bianco, “because the Handel didn’t have a single harp glissando in it, and ‘Harpsicana’ has a whole bunch of them!”]

Connie, after the concert

Joan Kellner Congratulations! Encore!??

Yoko Kokuni You are amazing!!!! Your music ? is magical? ??????

Tommy Yee So proud of you Connie!! What a stunning harp concerto and encore today! We are so lucky to have you here in Hawaii, and I’m SO lucky to have the privilege to sit next to this Eastman alumni whenever I have the honor of playing with the Hawaii symphony orchestra! My partner in crime, BTW she never messes up, keeps me in check so that I never goof up!!!! Lol Can’t wait to hear you in the Nutcracker soon! BRAVA!!!!!

Connie got her own dressing room!

Oh, and did I mention that Connie also plays the organ, and has been a member of the American Guild of Organists for years! Yup, she is the Assistant Director of Music Ministries at Central Union Church and does freelance solo/chamber music work on the harp, piano, and organ.

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It was a dark and stormy night…

The Peabody Consort in Honolulu

Brian Kay, oud

but thunder, lightning, and a driving rain could not keep a large and enthusiastic crowd away from last night’s “Music of Three Faiths” concert for Early Music Hawaii. In fact, as I was being picked up to go to the concert, my phone wailed with a civil defense siren, and I was thinking, OH NO, what if this happens during the concert! Well someone’s phone did just that, but luckily the siren didn’t happen during the music, only between pieces.

Ian Capps, president of Early Music Hawaii, introduced the group and although he hosts a local public radio program specializing in early music (“The Early Muse”), he was most excited to hear this type of music live, perhaps for the first time, here in Hawaii.

I had mentioned the unusual instruments in an earlier post. Here are photos by Yoko Kokuni of the real things. There was so much improvisation in the concert and although there were a couple of music stands, it looked like they never turned the pages! Yoko also took a picture of what was on the singer’s stand.

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For me, I was instantly transported by this mesmerizing music, and if I closed my eyes, I could have sworn I was in a Moroccan marketplace or some other exotic place. Yoko Kokuni wrote on her Facebook page that the concert brought back a “memory of a trip to Cordova, Granada, southern part of Spain. People with those three different faiths lived side by side and shared the music!”

Niccola Seligmann, vielle

Every single member of the Peabody Consort was an early music virtuoso, an absolute master of his or her own instrument, and we were all blinded by their stunning technique. Director Mark Cudek who founded the group in 1996, along with these Peabody alumni, was joined by Julie Bosworth, soprano; Brian Kay, oud and voice; Niccolo Seligmann, vielle and Daphna Mor, voice, ney and recorders.

I saw Scott Fikse at intermission and what he enjoyed so much was that everyone not only played their instruments brilliantly, but they also sang in a number of foreign languages, including Arabic! I especially liked that the group all stood rather than sat to perform the last number, it was almost like they were dancing—the rhythms were so infectious and intoxicating!

The Peabody Consort “danced” for the last number.

I bought one of their CDs which had on it all the music which was performed tonight.

The original concept was to have a Christian minister, Jewish rabbi and a Muslim imam read short selections throughout the concert, but unfortunately Rabbi Ken Aronowitz had a conflict and only the Muslim Imam Ismail Esshikh was in attendance. When the imam was recognized by Ian Capps during intermission, there was a hearty round of applause. From all accounts, the imam thoroughly enjoyed the concert and the warm reception he got.

I believe it was Brian Kay, who said that concerts are not a one-way street; the audience is a big part of the equation. Ian further reported that “The Peabody folks were absolutely delighted and energized by our audience, especially given the storm… We are indeed lucky to have such enthusiastic and loyal supporters.”

Aloha, Peabody Consort!




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Musica exotica

Brian Kay, oud

The Peabody Consort from Baltimore is in town and stopped by Hawaii Public Radio to chat with Gene Schiller before their “Music of Three Faiths” concerts for Early Music Hawaii this weekend: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 7:30 pm at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu; and Sunday, Nov. 12 at 3:30 on the Big Island at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity in Kailua-Kona.

Here’s the podcast of the interview with Ian Capps, president of Early Music Hawaii and Brian Kay, who plays the oud, a Middle Eastern version of the lute. They discuss the merging of musical styles from this unique period in history.

If you go back and read my post about how a chance meeting led to the Peabody Consort’s concert tour in Hawaii, you’ll remember that I mentioned a bunch of exotic instruments that the group will be playing, starting with:

The gittern

The gittern. a relatively small gut strung round-backed instrument that first appears in literature and pictorial representation during the 13th century in Western Europe (Iberian Peninsula, Italy, France, England). It is usually depicted played with a quill plectrum, as we can see clearly beginning in manuscript illuminations from the thirteenth century. It was also called the guitarra in Spain, guiterne or guiterre in France, the chitarra in Italy and quintern in Germany. (Wikipedia)

The vielle

The vielle is a European bowed stringed instrument used in the Medieval period, similar to a modern violin but with a somewhat longer and deeper body, three to five gut strings, and a leaf-shaped pegbox with frontal tuning pegs, sometimes with a figure-8 shaped body. (Wikipedia)

In the Arab origin, Oud is considered to be “the king of instruments”. It is assumed that the name al-oud is derived from the Arabic for “the wood” and came to Europe through North Africa. There will be nothing wrong to say that in Arab, the oud is considered to be the oldest musical instruments. In fact, it is the most central instrument in the Middle Eastern music tradition. Some others believe that it is the ancestor of the Pharaohnic Egyptian Nefer, whereas, some others say that this instrument is the forebear of the ancient Persian barbat. Beside this, oud is also known as the ancestor of the European lute.

Woman playing the tar

The tar is an Iranian long-necked, waisted instrument, shared by many cultures and countries like Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and other areas near the Caucasus region. The word tār  means “string” in Persian, though it might have the same meaning in languages influenced by Persian.

The doumbek  (goblet drum) is a single head membranophone with a goblet shaped body used mostly in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and Eastern Europe. The origin of the term darabukka probably lies in the Arabic word “darab” (“to strike”). The original use of goblet drums in Babylonia and Sumer dates from as early as 1100 BCE. On Celebes one large form serves as a temple instrument, set on the floor when performed, which could be a survival of the ancient use of the drum.

Here is a kid drummer on the doumbek:

The riq is a type of tambourine.

The riq is a type of tambourine used as a traditional instrument in Arabic music. It is an important instrument in both folk and classical music throughout the Arabic-speaking world. It traditionally has a wooden frame (although in the modern era it may also be made of metal), jingles, and a thin, translucent head made of fish or goat skin (or, more recently, a synthetic material).

Woman playing the ney in a painting from the Hasht Behesht Palace in Iran, 1669.

The ney is an end-blown flute that figures prominently in Middle Eastern music. In some of these musical traditions, it is the only wind instrument used. The ney has been played continuously for 4,500–5,000 years, making it one of the oldest musical instruments still in use.


All this makes for a most fascinating set of concerts. Tickets may be purchased at the door or at the Early Music Hawaii website.

You can be sure that I will be there!


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The life of Riley

The life of Riley: a luxurious or carefree existence

I thought that when I stopped playing Japanese weddings I would get my holidays back. (Japanese weddings are scheduled 7 days a week, and holidays such as Thanksgiving are not observed.)

I thought that when I retired from church music, I would get my weekends and holidays back.

I thought when I retired from Iolani School, I wouldn’t be seeing the students anymore.

I thought that when I retired from my parish administrator job, I would have seven days a week to do whatever I wanted.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!

Tomorrow is the observation of Veteran’s Day, and just today, I realized that I’m teaching six days a week to seventeen organ students, including teaching on tomorrow’s holiday in addition to several students taking multiple lessons a week. With our student recital just a week away, it’s crunch time. Everyone dares not miss their lessons!

With the task of being the webmaster/blog writer/lightning rod for my Class of 1968 of Burbank High School, (and next year is our class’s 50th Reunion, and I’m answering numerous emails every day and writing 3-4 blog posts per week!) plus the sole organizer/webmaster/publicist/shopper for my condo’s annual Christmas party at which we expect 300+ people, you can guess that my days are pretty filled up. And since I’m accompanying three Christmas concerts (Handel Messiah and Rutter Gloria for the Kona Choral Society, Christmas carols for the Oahu Choral Society and Iolani School’s Thanksgiving chapel and Christmas concert) you would think—that I am the furthest away from being retired!

Oh, my daily routine includes a 2-1/2 mile walk, plus I study Spanish an hour every day (using three online programs: Fluencia, Duolingo and Synergy Spanish) and always work the daily crossword and sudoku—those are on my everyday must do list.

After Thanksgiving (which I am hosting for 10 people this year) I will be going back to St. Elizabeth’s to help the new parish administrator. (The one I trained to replace me is now in graduate school.)

What a life of retirement, right?!

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A sad day

I only spent one year in Princeton, NJ, attending graduate school at Westminster Choir College where I obtained my Master of Music degree in Organ Performance, but I daresay it had more influence on me as a musician than did five years of organ lessons in high school, a summer studying with French virtuoso Marcel Dupré, and four years at the University of Southern California majoring in Organ Performance. My organ teacher at Westminster, Joan Lippincott, had a profound influence on my teaching style and I find myself quoting “Joan Lippincott-isms” every day!

I must admit my reasons for attending Westminster in 1972-73 were less than inspiring. I believe I was quoted in the school newspaper as saying “I could get my master’s degree here faster than anywhere else,” meaning a summer plus a full academic year. We were in the first graduate class since Westminster restarted the graduate program after being dormant for a time.

The music conservatory was founded in 1920 by John Finley Williamson in Dayton, OH at Westminster Presbyterian Church. According to Wikipedia, “graduates came to be known as Ministers of Music, a term coined by Williamson and still used today by many church music programs.”

Williamson Hall, Westminster Choir College


Conductor Robert Shaw (1916 – 1999) Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

In 1932 the school relocated to Princeton, NJ and was known for its many performances with the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra. One of the reasons I was attracted to the school was that at the time I enrolled, there were approximately 400 students, of which an astounding number—150 were organ students. There were 40 pipe organs on campus, many of them located in the basements of the residence halls.

William Steinberg, conductor

All undergraduate and graduate students, myself included, were required to enroll in choir, and it was at this time I was in the chorus under the late Robert Shaw where we performed Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and under the late William Steinberg, who conducted the Westminster Choir in New York (sorry, I don’t remember what work we sang—it’s been too many years!)

In 1991, the school merged with nearby Rider University but “Despite promises that Rider would maintain the Westminster Choir College campus in Princeton, two years later, Rider President J. Barton Luedeke began exploring a move which would relocate the choir college campus to Lawrenceville, New Jersey, to be with the rest of Rider University.” My first question was, does this mean they are going to move all those pipe organs?”

“On March 28, 2017, after months of speculation following an announcement by Rider that they were considering moving the Westminster students to the Lawrenceville campus and selling the Princeton campus due to huge financial problems, it was decided by the Board of Trustees that Rider would, instead, attempt to sell WCC to a new affiliate partner. A timeline of 12 months was established with hopes that a buyer would be found in the upcoming year. There is also hope that the new owner will keep the campus on the Princeton property though there is a possibility that the campus could be moved to the investor college.”

In June, a coalition of former WCC board members, students, parents and donors filed suit against Rider University, “Save Westminster Choir College,” to stop any move of the choir college from Princeton. Rider University had announced that Westminster no longer fit into its long-term strategic plan. The decision came as the university faced a potential $13 million shortfall by 2019.

On Tuesday, October 31, 2017, all full-time Westminster Faculty and Staff received layoff notices from the University. You can read the article in Inside Higher Ed, which reveals that “an international buyer intends to employ faculty and staff in the future, but Rider (the present owner of WCC) issued the layoff notices in case the deal falls through.” Even though all the professors that I had at Westminster have either died or retired, it still hit me with a jolt.

How incredibly sad. There are a number of Westminster Choir College alumni living in Hawaii, including myself, all contributing to the Hawaii music scene: Nyle Hallman, organist emerita of Central Union Church, still active in her 80s playing weddings on organ and harp (her late husband, Roy Hallman, was also a Westminster grad); Susan McCreary Duprey, director of the Kona Choral Society and Windward Choral Society; Karol Nowicki, director of Karol’s Karolers and director of the Honolulu Chorale and St. Clement’s Episcopal Church;  and Leon Williams, who enjoys a busy and successful career as a baritone. [UPDATE: A bunch more people have reminded me that they are also Westminster Choir College grads in Hawaii: Blythe Kelsey-Takemasa, Education Coordinator of Hawaii Opera Theater, as well as her husband; Maya Hoover, voice professor at the University of Hawaii and Martina Bingham and Blair Boone-Migura, both voice lecturers also at the University of Hawaii! Anyone else?’

The following picture was taken during the rehearsals of our 2004 performances of Bach’s St. John Passion, showing all four of the people in the photo as proud Westminster Choir College graduates. Leon Williams sang the role of Pilate; David Newman was brought in as the bass soloist; Susie McCreary Duprey sang in the chorus; and I played organ continuo.

L-R: Katherine Crosier, Leon Williams, Susan McCreary Duprey, and David Newman.

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