Jeannine: Please share anything else from your life story that would be of interest to our readers.
Mr. Ampt: Three things come to mind:
1. American organist and carillonist Amy Johansen (who in now my wife) came into my life around thirty years ago following our initial meeting in the bar of Kings College, Cambridge. Amy was, and still is, a startlingly brilliant organist who was soon to make her first CD – the music of Naji Hakim, with whom she had been studying, and who recommended her for the CD. Amy has an impeccable sense of rhythm and some splendid practice techniques which were passed on to her from Naji. I have benefited from both of these aspects.
2. For around three decades I have been the organist/choirmaster of Sydney’s German Lutheran Church.
The church is very small, has zero acoustic and houses a very fine seventeen-stop mechanical action organ from Schuke of what used to be West Berlin. All hymns are played and harmonized from just the melody, and each hymn is introduced by an improvised prelude. This process has been a marvelous and rigorous teacher. Before each prelude, decisions need to be made so that not only the music, but also the text, is introduced. Decisions to be made include volume (loud/soft), form (duo, melody in which voice, melody in pedal on 16′, 8′ or 4′, fugal, melody ornamented or unadorned, chorale prelude with interludes, melody in octaves, harmonic language (tradition/modern), one or more keyboards … An important aspect is that these preludes are always performed with a listening audience, so that every note played (even the surprises!) must be considered correct and part of the music.
Improvising these thousands of preludes has had a direct influence on the forms and styles of my composing. Some movements are quite short and could be considered similar to “chorale prelude” styles, including sets of variations. Overall I have learnt both fluency and consistency of style/language within pieces from my service playing.
3. Finally, it is impossible to be playing one of the world’s great organs without being influenced by it.
The magnificent Hill organ in the Sydney Town, the largest in the world at the time of its opening in 1890 (5 mans/ped, 126 speaking stops with no borrowing or extension and a true 64′ pedal stop), has taught me that great organs can convincingly play all music from all periods. At a “toccata” concert last year, for example, the music ranged from Frescobaldi (elevation toccata) to Messiaen (Dieu parmi nous) with Bach (T & F in F major) and Widor in between. If I fail to play this range of music, many, even if they attend a church regularly, will be totally unaware of its existence.
Although the organ dates from 1890 and is obviously ideally suited for the music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the splendid 16′ Principal Chorus on the Great, which includes almost a dozen ranks of mixtures, is the thrilling heart and soul of the instrument, and splendidly suitable for the great northern repertoire of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This organ has taught me about the spaciousness and majesty of this music – which, in its turn, is the heart and soul of our instrument’s repertoire.
This organ has also taught me how a great organ should look. Too many large organs, including in civic situations, have uninspiring facades often designed by architects. The case of the Sydney organ was designed by an organbuilder who was also the foremost authority on historic organ cases – Dr Arthur Hill. Based on some of the greatest organs of his time – St Bavo in Haarlem and St Jakobi in Stralsund – the Sydney case is simply breathtaking with its size, its perfect balance of towers and flats, and its beautiful detail.
Jeannine: Thank you for sharing the intriguing story of your life as an organist.
Excerpted from an interview published in the June 2017 Pro-Motion Music newsletter.
Dr. Jeannine Jordan, concert organist with her husband David, media artist, are the creators and performers of Bach and Sons, From Sea to Shining Sea, and Around the World in 80 Minutes — live organ concerts with multi-media.