Jeannine: Your extensive performance career includes solo concerts as well as those with your wife, organist Amy Johansen. Together you have developed two specialties – the playing of organ duets, and the presentation of children’s ‘Introduction to the Organ’ programs.
What are the challenges/joy of performing duet concerts? What repertoire is included in these concerts?
Mr. Ampt: Duet playing is surprisingly different to solo playing. For a start many, particularly American, consoles are deliberately designed for the convenience of a single player on the middle of the bench. Any departure from this position makes the pedalboard, in particular, quite uncomfortable to play. For duet playing a flat/straight pedalboard is definitely the easiest. On the other hand, ample and convenient registration aids together with the presence of fanfare reeds make many American organs well suited to duet playing. Compared to solo playing registration for duets is significantly more complicated, particularly when playing transcriptions. And of course both players must agree on the choices. We find that preparation time on an unknown instrument is approximately doubled for duet programs. And there will be no point in being shy about occasional close physical contact.
We perform a mixture of original organ duets (eg Merkel, Beethoven, Hakim, Mozart, Bedard, Ampt), and transcriptions (eg William Tell Overture, Saint Saens III, 1812 Overture, Mid-Summer Night’s Dream overture).
Playing in time together raises an interesting issue. Playing metronomically accurately is the easiest was to stay together, but it also produces the most heartless and empty performances. So a definite challenge in duet playing is to be able to play together while still allowing rhythmic flexibility to colour and enliven the music, just as with the performance of chamber music.
Jeannine: Please describe your “Introduction to the Organ” programs.
Mr. Ampt: The aim of these presentations is to offer approximately 25 unbroken minutes of total fun and enjoyment in a situation where the organ is the centre-piece, followed by all children having a play. Those who have brought (usually piano) music can play their whole piece while non-players are encouraged to simply “improvise”.
The actual presentations give the impression that Amy (on the organ) and I (writer, arranger and narrator) are just having a good time imparting lots of information. But in reality the presentations are tightly organized and fully scripted, with most of the narrations delivered by memory to give the impression of spontaneity. We have often performed Daniel Burton’s Rex, The King of Instruments (with changes appropriate to the local instrument and culture), and frequently use 5 – 10 minute segments using TV, film and football club themes presented in appropriately varied ways, for which I have write narratives. There may also be an “I spy…” segment and a quiz Yell-a-thon.
Jeannine: I recently learned your delightful yet challenging organ composition, Concert Etude on an Australian Folk-Tune. Do you often use indigenous Australian melodies in your composition?
Mr. Ampt: My first published music – Australian Christmas Suite for Organ – treats, somewhat as chorale preludes, five of the Australian Christmas Carols (Wheeler/James) which were published in the 1940s. The texts of these delightful carols mention the heat, dust and fires of Christmas time and allude to Australian flora and fauna. Definitely no snow in the paddocks. In addition to the Concert Etude you mentioned (based on “Pub with no Beer”), there is also a set of concert variations for four feet on Waltzing Matilda. Audiences seem to find this piece quite entertaining, with several American organ duet teams having it in their repertoires.
Many seem to think that my most successful solo organ work is “Elijah on the Mountain”, inspired by the passage in Kings II where Elijah recognizes his god in the “still, small voice”. The first in a recently published set of Three Trumpet Pieces is also proving popular. Besides the organ music, there is also music for oboe/organ and piano/organ.
I have also arranged and written a considerable quantity of Christmas music for choir. Some of this is a capella, but most is with organ accompaniment. All of this music was originally prepared for the annual Christmas at the Sydney Town Hall concert – a very traditional Christmas celebration based on the Nine Lessons and Carols which always sells out. For this event I have also arranged several of the well-known carols with organ/brass fanfares and accompaniments which can be used with large choir and congregation. I would classify the style as traditional and harmonic. All of this music is published.
Although I have never had formal composition lessons, I do consider my learning in this area to have come from three sources. The first was the playing, in my early years, of countless high quality hymns harmonized by properly trained musicians. A natural feeling for good and correct harmonisations is now normal for me. The second was/is the music of the great composers; those whose music exhibits both form and passion. These composers extend from Bach to Hakim. The third will be mentioned below in regard to my church-playing requirements.
Jeannine: Where can one find your compositions, recordings, other publications?
Mr. Ampt: The website “Birralee Publishing” has a sadly incomplete list of my works. Best to email direct to firstname.lastname@example.org Most of the CD recordings can be found on the Move Records site, including “Joy to the World”, which contains much of the Christmas music already referred to, and “Organ at the Opera” which includes the Waltzing Matilda duet.
Excerpted from 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.