“If you haven’t found something amazing in music you experience during the day, it hasn’t been much of a day.”
How did you play the piece for the hundredth time and still feel amazed by its power? For me, that piece is Johann Sebastian Bach’s Fugue in E-flat Major (The St. Anne). I am and always will be in awe of this profound and amazing music expressing so completely the mysterious and awesome power of the Holy Trinity.
The implication here is that we must pay attention to the everything in each piece of music being practiced, performed, listened to, or taught. We must actively engage in the work of making music as a participant, not as a spectator. We must bring all our senses into play in each encounter and every circumstance.
Jeannine Jordan, concert organist
Recently I had the opportunity to interview James Thomashower, Executive Director of the American Guild of Organists for our Pro-Motion Music newsletter. Mr. Thomashower and I shared ideas and views on the difference between being a forward-looking and a forward-thinking musician (organist).
Most musicians and organists in particular are primarily forward-looking people with prepared music required either Sunday after Sunday and season after season or concert after concert. With Mr. Thomashower’s role as a visionary for the AGO, I asked him to share some of his and the organization’s forward-thinking ideas that could help organists (and musicians) grow beyond being only a forward-looking group?
Mr. Thomashower: I think the best strategy organists can follow to ensure career stability and growth is for them to be
- less rigid,
- more flexible,
- and constantly willing to learn.
I am not suggesting at all that they should ever lower their standards, but the world is changing every day, and organists need to look ahead at the directions in which their employers are headed musically and liturgically.
Organists must be
- constantly attuned to what’s happening in their places of employment,
- be prepared for change,
- and learn to adapt to new kinds of services with different types of music than they are accustomed to playing.
The organists who will flourish are those who can most effectively adapt to the changing demands that they may face. That may mean
- learning new music
- accepting a new role, perhaps as a back-up musician in a blended service
- graciously accepting an opportunity to play a digital instrument if a job with a pipe organ is not readily available.
Organists know more about their instrument than anyone else. Regardless of the particular circumstances they may face in a given church, they have a responsibility to be the best advocates for the organ and organ music in our society. That role is thrust upon them by virtue of their extraordinary musical skills, competence, and professionalism. They should embrace it with pride and joy.
Interview by Dr. Jeannine Jordan, concert organist
You’re honest but modest. You let your actions speak louder than words.
I frequently talk about and write about the two “P” words—Practice and Performance. However, it is important that I do more than talk and write about this subject; I also practice, create and perform new programs hoping that my example will encourage my students to work toward their practice and performance goals.
Creating programs takes sometimes months of research. Programs with a theme are always audience pleasers. Discovering that theme can take many twists and turns: an article read, a new piece performed, a thought from a student, an idea found while walking the beach or walking through an art gallery all can lead to that “new” program. Sometimes the “discovery” phase can take weeks or even months. Once the theme is solidified though, the creation of the program can begin.
For a program such as my organ and media event, Bach and Sons, the idea came from a series of solo organ concerts I presented at the Abbey Bach Festival where I played on one night the secular organ music of Johann Sebastian, Carl Phillip Emmanuel, and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and on the second night the sacred organ music of those composers. These programs planted the seed for Bach and Sons.
Eighteen months later, after extensive research, practice, and preparation and with the help of an eight member focus group the concert was premiered in Anchorage, Alaska to an enthusiastic audience. Since then it has enjoyed many performances.
My students are well aware that I not only talk the talk about practice and performance, but spend hours a day in practice for those many performances throughout the year as a concert organist.