Organists' News
by Susan Burkhalter

June 2018
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Posted by: Sue @ 4:33 pm


On Monday, March 10th, 2014 David Enlow, Organist-Choirmaster at Church of the Resurrection in New York and member of the organ faculty at Juilliard, played an organ recital for the Potomac and Northern Virginia chapters of the AGO. The recital took place on the 3-manual Berghaus at St. John’s Episcopal, Norwood Parish, in Bethesda, Maryland. It was a wonderful recital, including Grand Piéce Symphonique by César Franck, and the 2nd time I had heard him play

Around 9:30 p.m. the enthusiastic applause of the audience (most of us were organists) caused him to play an encore. After the 1st encore the clapping continued, and much to our surprise and merriment, Mr. Enlow ran out to the organ waving the white flag of “truce”! Well, the hour was late and he was confident that we organists would understand.


To read “Part 1”, go to my blog post of about 1 year ago, February 28, 2013. Here is Part 2: Before it starts, I heard recently from Frank Mento, community member whose organ restoration was featured in my last blog. Unlike me, he continues as a teacher, and has created a good online method book for harpsichord. The link for his method book is


I wasn’t good at dealing with the parents and didn’t know how to be authoritative about enforcing the studio policies. I got nervous when pushy parents tried to disobey a studio policy: for instance, they wanted an extra make-up lesson or were late paying. I always took it personally if a student quit or if a parent cancelled a commitment for their child to play in a recital. I didn’t know how to motivate students to practice enough for good progress. I was not good at impressing Asian parents (they often have the best potential piano students, since they make their children work). Those whose children studied with me never stayed more than 2 years.

I didn’t always know how to pick appropriate literature for students by the 2nd-4th year of study. This is partly because I had always easily learned almost all piano music when I was a child. Therefore I couldn’t judge how to choose music for others and would often pick something too difficult.


I expected that students would always be enthusiastic about their piano music assignments and would practice sufficiently each week to learn the music and scales, etc. and that they would complete and turn in their theory papers weekly. I expected that the parents would respect me as a teacher (and would not be rude or bossy and treat me like a servant) and would follow my suggestions for how the child should practice etc. I expected that people would value classical music and would listen to it on the radio and on recordings. I expected they would take their child to a live classical music concert at least once a year. I wanted the family to have their child play piano regularly for his/her friends and relatives.

I wanted the parent to provide a real acoustic piano and not a digital piano. I hoped that the child’s acquaintances would be impressed that he/she was learning to play the piano and would find it equally as “cool” as playing sports. Finally, I hoped that the child (if it were somebody with whom I had a good rapport) would continue piano studies with me for 8 years.

I expected that the child would take the minimum number of required summer lessons (almost half of the students seemed to drop out for the whole summer). I hoped that the students and parents would come to hear me play in a live concert (hardly anyone ever did through the years). Since fewer than about 20 students I ever had met with at least half of these expectations, I realized they were unrealistic expectations. Nevertheless, it always left me disheartened and I became disappointed. Finally I had to quit teaching because of these feelings.

Here are 3 examples of rude actions by students or parents (who will remain anonymous)which were upsetting to me and led to my decision to quit. This rudeness was painful to me at the time, although now I can see how the behaviors were a bit comical. They are labeled A, B, and C: A. I had one boy for 3 years, until he was 12. His parents were well-off financially and always paid me with $100 bills plus other cash. They made me sign a receipt. The boy and I had an excellent rapport. We would make up funny word games during the lesson. He was a good student and was always prepared. He was the only student I had ever had who would practice Bartok’s Mikrokosmos. Suddenly at the end of the 3rd year, his dad announced, “B. [not his name] is quitting lessons. I myself had 3 years of piano when I was young, and he will do the same. I’ll teach him to play jazz.”

B. I expected that the parents of my students would take their child to one concert of classical music per year. When I reminded the mother of one girl(who was enthusiastic about piano and music) whom I had taught for over 3 years about taking her daughter to a concert, she exclaimed, laughing, “Oh, I can’t do that, I HATE classical music!” The woman had a college degree as well as an advanced degree.

C. One lady enrolled her middle-school-aged daughter with me for piano lessons for a while. They were from a foreign country. Initially she told me, “C. [not her name] had started piano lessons with a man who was doing carpentry for us, but they didn’t work out.” The lessons with me continued for about 3 months until the woman was late with payment. When I called her and mentioned there was a 5% surcharge for a late payment, she became angry. Shortly after our phone conversation, she drove into the driveway in her big SUV and while I was out in the yard, she threw the cash out the car window and screeched off, gunning her engine!


I have always had pets ever since I was a child. I grew up with dogs and a few cats. When I was old enough, my parents gave me the job of training our dogs (although I didn’t know how to train dogs, and they did not become properly trained!) I love animals. Whenever I meet the dogs of friends or relatives, the dogs immediately go up to me in a friendly manner.
When I gave up piano teaching, pet sitting was an obvious choice for another way to earn money. I advertised as a pet sitter in my neighborhood and lined up a few clients. I don’t take dogs over 45 pounds, so that makes the job a bit safer, since there are no large dogs to knock me down or to become aggressive.

When I started as a pet sitter, I set up rules and fees. There is no pressure on me to be competitive, and the job is much easier than piano teaching: The animals don’t talk back and their requirements are simple. There are a few drawbacks, such as having to work on weekends and getting up early to take the dogs out (cats are easier). Also like any job in which you work for the public, you meet a few “not nice” people who are difficult. And occasionally an animal may pose a challenge, such as one cat in 2012 who didn’t trust me and her owners had never cut her claws. While playing with her with a toy, she would suddenly lash out and she clawed my hand badly. The solution to a situation such as that is either to turn down that client in the future or to explain that there are conditions, i.e. “I will not care for the cat again until you prove to me that she had her claws cut recently.”

On the whole, pet sitting has been a good replacement for piano teaching as a job for me. It pleases me to be able to serve people and their animals in a useful capacity.

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Posted by: Sue @ 2:56 pm


February 28, 2013 © by Susan Burkhalter


You may remember that in my blog of August 17th, 2009 Frank Mento, who is the organist at Saint Jean de Montmartre, wrote a letter saying that the two-manual 28-stop Cavaillé-Coll/Mutin/Gutschenritter organ at his church was to be restored and it would be financed by the City of Paris. There is an excellent two-page article written by Carolyn Shuster Fournier on the restoration in the September 2012 edition of THE DIAPASON magazine, which you may order by writing The Diapason, Attention: J. Butera, 3030 W. Salt Creek Lane, Suite 201, Arlington Heights, IL 60005-5025.

The article is well-written with 5 excellent photos and some diagrams. I will briefly summarize the article. However, there are numerous fascinating details which you should read for yourself in the article. One reason why renovation was required was that by 1986 the organ had begun to deteriorate due to the forced-air heating system and the fact that the front doors were left permanently open! Restoration took place from August 2009 through April 2011. The 2-manual 28 stop 1875 Cavaillé-Coll was first installed in 1910 at Saint-Jean’s by Charles Mutin. “In 1921 the G. Gutschenritter Fils firm renovated and enlarged this organ,” said Ms. Fournier (author of this article), adding that a Barker machine was added because of its stiff action. One exciting fact we learned was that the new organ was inaugurated by a concert on May 8th, 1921 with Louis Vierne (!), an orchestra, and four choirs. The organ was played by Jean Vadon, the titular organist since 1915.

Frank Mento,an American and community member, became titular organist in 1973 and has played there ever since then. Mento graduated from Cincinnati Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati in 1976 and studied further with teachers in Paris, including Daniel Roth.

The article also tells of the renovation of
the 1910 carillon of nine tower bells to which 2 more bells were subsequently added. Recently the Manias firm installed a small electric-action keyboard next to the organ so the organist can play the tower bells. Finally the article mentions that the wind pressures had to be re-established during the 2011 renovation according to Cavaille Coll-Mutin standards.

Frank Mento is fortunate to be able to play such a fine organ for so many years, and I encourage you to read this detailed article for yourself.


Before I begin complaining about my general experiences as a piano teacher for many years, I should express gratitude for one thing: On looking back, I feel fortunate that I was able to have a part-time career in a field for which I was qualified to become a “B plus piano teacher”. The big advantage of this job for me was that it allowed me to stay at home with my children, to more or less control my working hours (when they were young I did have to hire a sitter while teaching but I could also work fewer hours), and to earn a small living for years. I would have been sad if I had worked 9 to 5 in an office full-time and put my 2 children into day care.

When I took piano lessons as a child, from 1953 (age 7) until age 18, our society in the middle-class United States was different from what it had become by the early 1980’s and from our society in today’s world. Times were simpler and many women stayed home with their children. People were just beginning to have TV’s. Children could play outdoors more freely without constant adult supervision. Therefore mothers were there to see that children practiced for music lessons, and there weren’t nearly so many activities to take up one’s time as there are today.

Gradually times had changed. The result for me as a piano teacher from 1978-2006 was that I had to deal with people and children not living up to their responsibilities as music students: Many children weren’t made to practice since mothers were too busy juggling home and work responsibilities; children had too many activities and music generally wasn’t a priority; people who had not studied music themselves while young did not realize it takes 3 to 5 years of studies for the average piano student to get to the intermediate level; due to budget constraints, music and arts programs were drastically cut from public schools. Furthermore, since many middle-class people, including children, spent a great deal of time in front of screens (such as those of i-Phones), they were passively entertained and didn’t feel a need to learn to play a musical instrument: Why should they, when thousands of songs were there to listen to on all sorts of music-listening devices such as computers?

Sadly enough, for many people, music became something you consumed rather than a thrilling form of expression you produced by playing with your hands and\or mouth (and even feet, if you learned organ) on a physical instrument. Lately I’ve noticed that piano stores now feel compelled to offer digital pianos and player pianos for those who are too busy and lazy to take lessons on a real piano! I am certain that all of these conditions contributed to my dissatisfaction with piano teaching. Furthermore, I began to resent being a piano teacher (after 24 years of teaching) by the time my son was in high school


I have always had great respect for classroom teachers and their skill at keeping order among children in a room. Long before I ever considered becoming a piano teacher, when I was a college student at Cincinnati University in 1968, my friend Grant (an art student) and I on a whim volunteered to help teach arts and crafts to children one afternoon. When we arrived the children were sitting at tables waiting for adults to help them. Grant and I didn’t know how to begin. We walked around aimlessly observing while the children became more and more noisy and unruly. Finally Grant and I started laughing since we felt helpless, and we ran away, leaving them to whatever adults were there supervising them. When I look back at this memory, it seems that we were quite foolish. However, when I was a piano teacher, I realized that keeping order among a large group was not one of my strengths.

Ironically, while I was not an authoritative person to my piano students and their parents, I am comfortable conducting and accompanying a choir of singers (either children or adults) and they look to me as a leader. It’s because I love performing a piece which I have learned well enough to inspire others to master it. Also in my enthusiasm for the choral music I become “lost” in the experience of myself and the choir performing the music.

For an analogy to the moment at which I realized I should quit teaching, sometime in 2011 I was watching a male comedian whose name I have forgotten on TV on the Comedy Channel. He was telling the audience how when he began trying to make it as a comedian, one of his jobs was being a waiter. He felt that he was not too good in the role of a waiter, and he only waited tables for a while. He said something like “After a while I knew I would have to quit being a waiter one day when I arrived at the restaurant to begin my shift: I looked out the window to see many people outside waiting to come into the restaurant, and I said to myself, “NO! Don’t come in here to eat, PLEASE go eat somewhere else!”

His reaction was similar to feelings I had regularly (toward the end of my teaching career) for a couple of years while waiting by the piano for my first student of the day to arrive. Even if the student were one of my favorite kids (I always did like almost all of my students pretty well), I would have a feeling of dread and doom, I would almost gulp. I’d think, NO! I can’t go through with this for much longer. Gradually I realized that yes, it was definitely time for me to quit teaching for good.

When I finally gave notice to all the parents and teachers that I was quitting teaching, I knew it was the right decision. When the first day of fall 2008 came and I discovered I was FREE from being a teacher, I had a feeling of great relief. It’s funny, but now sometimes I volunteer to teach music to a friend, relative, or neighbor temporarily and I don’t mind, it is fun. That’s because I’m helping them and there is no pressure since they don’t pay me. We all know it’s an informal arrangement which we can both stop at any time.


The following is an analysis of what makes a good piano teacher, and an explanation of my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. The good teachers (I consider myself in a category beneath them) were able to retain their students for at least 3 to 5 years so that they could move them ahead to the intermediate level and beyond. They were authoritative women (only a few piano teachers were men) who seemed confident. They were able to stand up to pushy parents who tried to “bend” their studio rules regarding things such as payment and attendance. They were able to keep students engaged in the music they were learning and also could motivate them to practice enough to show progress week by week.


I was creative and thought of fun activities for the children to do at piano parties and lessons.
I was kind to the children and didn’t put anybody down. The children were mostly comfortable with me at lessons since I have a good rapport with children of all ages, even teenagers.

I had (and still have) a good piano technique after years of study with excellent piano teachers. I knew how to teach scales, chords, arpeggios etc. to beginners and intermediates so that they would have a good technique and produce good tone quality from the piano keys.

Because I’m also a church organist I studied improvisation for years and I know how to teach this skill, one with which many classically-trained piano teachers are unfamiliar and uncomfortable in demonstrating.
I am artistic and good at crafts, so I could make attractive theory papers, bulletin boards, recital programs, and other teaching aids.

I made the recitals fun; hardly anyone developed stage fright, partially since I always performed a piece and some duets in recitals. The children noticed how much I enjoyed performing in public.
I was well-organized at scheduling, choosing what music they would learn, and planning recitals. My studio policy was practical and well-written.


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Posted by: Sue @ 7:17 am

January 15, 2012
By Susan Burkhalter

My daughter studied piano for 14 years as a child, through high school. Recently she regretted that she cannot identify, when listening, to which historical period a piece of classical music belongs. I wrote a guide to remedy her situation and I hope it helps others as well. Here are the periods of music, and a little about the corresponding periods of art history. I left out those before the Renaissance Period: Renaissance, 400-1800 AD. Corresponding artists are Botticelli, Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo. Baroque – 1600-1700 AD, artists are Rembrandt, Rubens, Raphael, Brueghel. Rococo, 1700-1750 AD, artists are Vermeer, Christopher Wren, and ? Neo-Classical, 1750-1880, artists are Goya, Tiepolo, and Ingres. Impressionistic, 1870’s-1890’s, artists are Manet, Monet, Degas, Corrot. Romantic, 1800-1880 AD, with some artists Cezanne, Braque, Dali, Chagall. Post-Impressionistic 1880-1900 AD (includes Victorian art), artists are Matisse, Modigliani, Mondrian, Picasso.

Below is a further list of art history periods. I found all this art history information on

Post Impressionism 1880 - 1900 AD
Expressionism 1900 - 1920 AD
Fauvism 1900 - 1920 AD
Cubism 1907 - 1914 AD
Dada 1916 - 1922 AD
Bauhaus 1920s - 1940’s AD
Harlem Renaissance 1920s - 1940’s AD
Surrealism 1924 1920s - 1940’s AD
International Style 1920s - 1940’s AD
MODERN & POST-MODERN 1945 AD - Present (CE)
Abstract Expressionism 1945 - 1960 AD
Op Art 1960s AD
Pop Art 1960s AD
Minimal Art 1960s AD
New Realism 1970s - 1980s AD
Conceptual Art 1970s - 1980s AD
Performance Art 1970s - 1980s AD
Neo-Expressionism 1980s - 1990s AD
Computer Art 1980s - 1990s AD
Post-Modern Classicism 1980s - 1990s AD
Victorian Revival 1980s - 1990s AD

Now for the Periods of Music History. Here is a timeline for music history: 600-850 AD, early middle ages; 850-1150, Romanesque Period; 1450-1600, Renaissance Period; 1735, piano invented by Christofori; 1600-1750, Baroque Period; 1775-late 1700’s, Rococo Period; 1665-1825, Classical Period; 1820-1900, Romantic Period; 1890-1915, Post-Romantic and Impressionistic Period; 1910-the present, Contemporary Period. A good website to learn more about all the composers is; also You will also need a place to look up the musical terms given below. Here is one which came up in a search:, although I prefer looking up musical terms in a pocket music dictionary which you buy at a music store.

There is also a useful music appreciation course available online for free from Rice University, with brief examples of music to which one can listen. The link for it is The organization offering the courses is the Connexions Consortium, a group allowing open source educational content. It has many members including Rice University, where the music appreciation course originated. The course is called “Sound Reasonings” and its author is Anthony Brandt. You will need a username and password to hear the musical examples (I think).

I will give a brief description of the musical styles found in each period of music history along with names of some famous composers from each period. BAROQUE PERIOD, 1600-1750: Some famous composers were J.S. Bach (1685-1750), George Frederic Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, and Domenico Scarlatti. Characteristics of Baroque style: It followed instrumental style more than singing style. There was stepwise melodic movement and a narrow range of melody, within an octave. The rhythm had small motifs, with repetitions and no rubatos. There was a limited harmonic vocabulary, i.e., I-V chords, relative minors and near-related keys. The texture was transparent, with many notes arranged vertically for each note in the score, often a 1-, 2-, or 4-voice texture. Counterpoint was featured. Common forms were binary, ternary, fugue, and aria. Baroque music was often written with strings in mind (violins, cellos, etc.)

ROCOCO PERIOD: Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, Josef Haydn, Wilhelm Friedeman Bach. These composers were also classified with the classical composers. In “The World Book Encyclopedia of 1954″, it is stated that the Rococo Period was named for a kind of rockwork used in gardens. It ended with the French Revolution.

CLASSICAL PERIOD: Famous composers were the 3 mentioned under “Rococo” as well as Franz Schubert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Christoph Bach, Muzio Clementi, Carl Czerny, and Ludwig von Beethoven (who bridged into the Romantic Period). Style characteristics: Harmony was homophonic. Melody came first, before the harmony. Most of the notes were arranged into scale-like passages. The overall range was greater than that of the Baroque period, often up to 2 octaves. Notes were often articulated in the way winds (clarinets, flutes, etc.) would play them. Mozart loved the clarinet. Rhythm had regular subdivisions of the beat. Longer notes were mostly at cadences. Texture had two and three voices, with block chords and was not thick. Harmonic structure was similar to that of the Baroque period. Harmony often moved to near-related keys, through leading tones and V chords. Harmonic rhythm was sustained over a longer period of time by use of the Alberti bass. Usual forms were sonata, binary, ternary and rondo. The ideal was balance and symmetry like Greek architecture.

ROMANTIC: Famous composers were Ludwig von Beethoven, Guiseppe Verdi, Felix Mendelssohn, Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Frederick Chopin, Edvard Grieg, Gabriel Fauré, Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, and Peter I. Tchaikovsky. There have been women composers since music was first written, but little history was written about them until sometime in the 1970’s. Two women composers are Mrs. H.H.A. Beach (Romantic) and Ruth Crawford Seeger (Contemporary). Melody was singable but with large intervals. Articulation on the piano was often with a legato touch played deep into the keys. Rhythm included irregular subdivisions of the beat, and often there was a variety of rhythmic patterns and alternating rhythms. One found uneven phrase lengths in Romantic music. Texture was thick-sounding, though actually thin. Unusual intervals like 12ths were common, and broken chords were often used. The range was greater than an octave. The texture changed for certain forms, e.g., it became thin for nocturnes and mazurkas, but thick in sonatas and ballades. A new form was introduced, the prelude with eight phrases divided irregularly into two groups, three, then five.
IMPRESSIONISTIC: Some of the well-known composers were Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Melodic style was with almost no stepwise motion. Ravel had a very unique style of orchestration, and for piano, the range was all over the keyboard. Melodic lines were usually long. Rhythm was precisely notated and sounded free. No rubato was to be used that was not indicated in the score. Harmony: A chromatic harmony was used, with much modality, and the use of whole tones and pentatonic scales characterized this period. Key changes were organized by rhythmic and melodic modules. Other traits were frequent augmented dissonances and chord streams. Texture was extremely thick. There was a massed sound but not massed instruments, i.e., only a few played at once to achieve color. Form: Some of these were program music and used irregular “period” structure.

CONTEMPORARY: Contemporary composers have many influences and write in all the styles previously mentioned, with some new styles such as the use of electronic equipment to make tapes, nature sounds on tape, and aleatoric music, where the performer becomes the composer. Famous composers include Bela Bartok, Benjamin Britten, Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schoenberg, and Igor Stravinsky. Some women composers since the 1930’s were Eve Queler,
Antonio Brico, and especially Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979), who was the teacher of a number of the most important American and European composers, including Leonard Bernstein.
Later I hope to add a listening list of music which will include one or two selections of well-known music from each period of history, “oldies but goodies.”

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Posted by: Sue @ 2:42 pm

(1) The Thomas Circle Singers of Washington, DC — James Kreger, Music Director — Celebrates their 35th Anniversary (2) Request for an Organist to play an organ in Brooklyn, New York

July 14th, 2011 © by Susan Burkhalter

You may recall that in my blog of October 2009 called “My Methods as Organist/Choir Director Working with Choirs“, I mentioned that my first conducting teacher was James Kreger, who’s called “Jim.” When I saw him earlier this year I asked him, would he like for me to write about the Thomas Circle Singers (or “TCS”) in my weblog? He said “yes.”

Jim Kreger has been the Music Director of the TCS since 1989. While I was taking lessons with him, I regularly attended concerts of the TCS. I also got permission to sing in Jim’s choir at St. James Episcopal Church in Bethesda, where he was music director at the time. Then when I changed to David Erwin as a conducting teacher, since Jim had become too busy in his new job at Landon School, David was one of the accompanists of the TCS. I continued to attend their concerts. But somehow in the past 6 years I had stopped going regularly to TCS concerts, even though I was on their mailing and e-mail lists. When I learned it was their 35th anniversary, this compelled my husband and me to attend the May 14th concert at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in DC.

Because I believe that, for a chorus, the director is the major influence on the quality of their musical performance and on the atmosphere of rehearsals where they learn their music (in other words, THE DIRECTOR IS EVERYTHING!), I will tell more about myself and my impressions of Jim: I am a mezzo soprano with an average, light voice, not of solo quality. Since I was in college I have sung in one college choir and at least 4 church choirs. I directed 2 children’s choirs for one year in 1997. Jim Kreger is among the best choir directors I have ever known. He seems to look directly into the eyes of each choir member and makes each one feel, “You are important to me. I care about your singing. I want you to be part of the group.” This charisma he possess is unusual, but it is one reason he is mesmerizing and such a good director.

Also he seems to be totally confident about his work and really loves the music we are learning. Furthermore, he can be quite humorous, with some very funny lines and great timing in the delivery. He could no doubt succeed as a comedian, should he ever decide to pursue a second career!

Before I describe this concert, I will give you some facts about TCS which I found in the program notes and also on their website, The TCS, a 32-person choral ensemble, was founded in 1976. Steve Greene was their Founding Director and rehearsals were held at Luther Place Memorial Church in DC. As their website explains, “TCS is a chamber choral ensemble whose dual artistic and social service mission sets it apart from other choral ensembles and arts organizations in the region. TCS’ mission is to perform diverse chamber choral works of the highest artistic quality for the enjoyment of audiences in the Washington area and raise awareness and funds for social service organizations addressing some of the most pressing needs of underserved communities in the District.” In the past 6 years TCS concerts raised $100,000 for DC-based social service organizations, some of which include DC Habitat for Humanity, DC Rape Crisis Center, Life Pieces to Masterpieces and Samaritan Ministry of Washington, among others.

TCS performs a variety of repertoire, including chamber choral classics and newly commissioned works by living composers. The singers are usually accompanied by piano, sometimes by organ and occasionally by instrumental ensembles. TCS is a member of Chorus America. You may contact them on their website to arrange an audition.

Now for a description of their May 14th Concert at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in DC: I noticed that over half of the chorus were people younger than 45, and this is a credit to the personality and fine conducting skills of Jim Kreger. (As I mentioned above, I had sung in one of his church choirs for 1 year in the 1990’s and witnessed his abilities then.) One remarkable thing I noticed about the TCS singers was how they always looked at their conductor and how Jim Kreger made frequent eye contact with them. This makes the individuals in the choir feel important and makes them feel responsible for their music-making as individuals. Since I have conducted choirs, I realize it isn’t easy to make eye contact with the choir most of the time.

Because it was their 35th anniversary concert, they programmed several of their favorite pieces which I have heard at some of their past concerts: “My Spirit Sang All Day” by Gerald Finzi (a British composer, 1901-1956); “Choose Something Like a Star” (on a Robert Frost poem) by Randall Thompson; “Sure on This Shining Night” by Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943), and “Sing Me to Heaven” by Daniel Gawthrop (b. 1949), an American composer I have met several times and I am currently working on his organ piece, “Exultate.” Because TCS usually has one or two commissioned works at a concert, May 14th was true to form: “To the One of Fictive Music” by Robert Convery, b. 1954 (written for violin, viola, cello and piano), and a second commissioned work, a WORLD PREMIERE of “August Moonrise” by Blake R. Henson, b. 1983. Both composers were present that evening.

Robert Convery has written an extensive body of music including operas, cantatas, and song cycles. The program notes say, “. . .he is a masterful composer who writes effectively for the voice.” This piece, “To the One of Fictive Music”, a setting of a poem by Wallace Stevens, I felt did, indeed, fit very well with the words and continually surprised the listener with artful designs. I am not a music critic, but I noticed that the piano part was sometimes jazzy and the way the composer used each of the instruments, alone or together, seemed to mirror what the words were saying. TCS has a reputation for crystal-clear singing of words and yet they sound natural.

By coincidence Mr. Convery, the composer, arrived at the last minute and sat next to me. He went up front before the performance of his piece to explain it briefly to the audience, then returned to his seat. When they finished the performance and people were applauding, I turned to him to make some comments. However, I really should have kept my mouth shut! He did not want to hear me (he was probably thinking, Lady, what in the world are you talking about?!) He immediately moved to the end of the row to sit next to his friend, presumably so he could avoid any more of my remarks. Actually, I can see how people who are often in the public eye and must deal with all types of people would welcome the chance to be shielded from them, as he had demonstrated.

The second composer with a commissioned work on the program was Blake Henson, who currently teaches composition in Wisconsin. He is young and was very friendly when I asked him a question at the end of the concert. He is from Texas and was eager to talk to the audience about himself and his music, which he did before the performance of his piece, saying, “I want to be a composer so I can change the world!” He loves to read poetry and enjoys setting words to music. When he was a college student, he explained, one was required to sit in the audience during a public performance of his work.

The accompanist was the regular pianist for TCS, James Jenkins, in his 4th season with them. He is young and has a master’s in collaborative piano performance from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s in piano performance from Stetson University. He already has a long list of credits after his name, including accompanying at Westminster Choir College, Suitland High School, Catholic University, American University, and several opera studios. He is an outstanding pianist and played superbly. After the concert I bumped into him, he was very friendly and eager to talk to anybody. I complimented him and we talked briefly.


On April 20th, 2011, Anna Karvellas, Managing Editor of the William Steinway Diary Project, ph: 202-633-3605, requested that interested organists should contact her if they would like to play this organ. Respond to STEINWAY@SI-LISTSERV.SI.EDU or e-mail her at said, “The Steinway Reformed Church in Astoria, Queens (which is in the vicinity of Laguardia Airport) no longer has anyone who can play their organ periodically. It is the organ that was in Steinway Hall which was the major concert venue before Carnagie Hall was built.”

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Posted by: Sue @ 7:31 pm

(1) People Only Want to Listen to “their music”: Two Times when They Sent me Home; (2) Book Report on “Susquehanna, River of Dreams” by Susan Q. Stranahan
January 23, 2011, © by Susan Burkhalter

Before I relate the two times a person became irate about music I was playing, I’ll elaborate on the causes of people insisting, “I only want to hear MY music.” Many people have become too opinionated about the music to which they listen. In the 1970’s when you went out, you could take along a portable radio or boom box. In the 1980’s we had Walkmans on which you could listen to CDs. In the 1990’s people could use computers and MP3 players such as iPods and still can today.

When one looks back at the days before recorded music, people were more likely to appreciate hearing almost any kind of music that came to town, whether it be circus music, singing groups, a good classical music performer, or jazz and marching bands. [For a description of the development of popular music in American, read my blog of December 11, 2007, “A Talk on Different Styles of Music, E.g., Classical and Popular.” It is archived under “August 2008.”, which you click on and scroll down until you find December 11, 2007.]

In today’s times some people are adamant, “I will only listen to my playlist;” “I only like the following types of music (for example, reggae or rhythm and blues);” “I hate classical music, it’s boring!” Here is a list of genres of music which I found on my computer; I will only list about 20, since the list seems to include over 80 styles and I lost count! The partial list: Blues, Noise, Alternative, Rock, Bass, Soul, Meditative, Instrumental Pop, Instrumental Rock, Ethnic, Gothic, Darkwave, Electronic, Techno-Industrial, Sound Up? Gospel, Classical, Instrumental, Classic Rock, Country, Dance, Disco, Funk, Grunge, Hip hop, Jazz, Metal, New Age.

Now I will tell about the two times somebody disapproved of the music I was playing and actually sent me home. About 1994 I often volunteered at my children’s elementary school. Every spring the school had a carnival to raise money for various things. I have forgotten what the money was used for by now. They sold food such as ice cream and pizza and had many fun games where one could win cheap prizes. I agreed to run the cakewalk. It took place in a classroom and the prizes were cakes which mothers had baked or donated. Here’s how the game operated: Children walked around in a circle while music played, then when the music stopped, whoever stood nearest the number called won that particular cake.

I was thrilled to get the job. I remembered in my youth we played the same game while a lady played the piano as we walked around, and I thought, Oh goody! I love playing the piano! The week before the carnival I visited that classroom to discover, hmm, no piano. Oh well, I’ll just bring my electronic keyboard and speakers. So I did, and the kids were happily walking around while I played various styles of music from classical to popular to folk, songs with a beat such as “Pop Goes the Weasel.” However, the lady in charge dropped by and was horrified! Live music! This won’t do! She frowned and summoned a male volunteer for a discussion behind closed doors. Soon they emerged to declare, “This will not do. The children only like to hear their teen radio station WWDC. You must go home immediately! Don, bring in that boombox.” So I gathered my equipment and went home.

Another time when I was sent home occurred in the late 1980’s. I was practicing organ at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Silver Spring where I practiced twice a week on their 2-manual Reuter pipe organ. The painters were in the sanctuary that day and one man had brought along his radio. I could hear static-y rock music coming from the radio while I played the organ. After about 20 minutes the church secretary walked into the room and quite apologetically informed me that I would have to go home. “We must have the painter here to finish painting today and he insists that he only wants to hear his radio music, I’m sorry, no more organ music today.” I was rather annoyed and blurted out something irritable as I gathered my shoes and music and left for the day.


When I learned in 2003 that my classmate from the College of Wooster (located about 40 miles from Cleveland, Ohio), Susan Q. Stranahan, had written a book about the Susquehanna River, I was eager to read it. I have been curious about the Susquehanna River for many years, since when my family drives up to Pennsylvania to visit my husband’s relatives, we must drive over a large bridge which crosses the Susquehanna. It is a huge, vast river that seems as large as an ocean, and it empties into the Chesapeake Bay.

The author was a prize-winning journalist with the “Philadelphia Enquirer.” Although I never met her, I think her parents must have had a good sense of humor to name her “Susie Q.,” a phrase which probably came from an old movie, song or book. My dad sometimes used to call me “Susie Q” when I was a child!

I finally began reading the book in the summer of 2010. The book is 322 pages long and has 9 chapters. It tells the history of settlers beside the Susquehanna since the 1700’s and describes how people used the river for businesses such as lumber, coal production and fishing ever since then. The author was quite interested in environmental studies and as a good foundation for this, the first chapter is called “Geology.” Some of the further chapters are entitled Economic Developmemt, Logging, Floods, Pollution, and Nuclear Development.

There are fascinating facts on individuals in the towns along the Susquehanna, including descriptions of some players in local politics and a history of coal mining and its impact in the area.

I found the book to be extremely well-written and annotated. I was impressed with the footwork, time and trouble the author exerted to interview numerous people for the material in this book. Human interest stories abound! Some fascinating facts I learned were that Pennsylvania was the lumber capitol of the world in the 1800s, and also how men in the 1700’s and 1800’s would cut down trees to make lumber, then would transport the lumber down the river for hundreds of miles. They did this by building huge rafts and also arks from the wood and living on these boats until they reached their destination, the lumberyards. Then the boats would be dismantled and the lumber sold. The men would walk back home for over 100 miles and start the process again.

If you enjoy history, you will like this book!

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July 18th, 2010, © by Susan Burkhalter

In the “Washington Post” on June 27th, 2010, a new blog was announced: The Washington Post’s Classical Music Blog. Go to to learn more. I believe this new blog was instituted in response to some letters received by the Post complaining that classical music concerts were almost entirely left out of a schedule of “Summer Concerts” the Post published in their “Weekend” magazine early in June. Most of the concerts listed were of popular music and rock music. I will have to check out the new blog soon.

(2) I Attended the National American Guild of Organists Convention in Washington, DC July 5th-8th:

These are my impressions of the Convention and some happenings there. 2100 people from all over the U.S., Canada, and even Australia attended! Happily I noticed that many, up to about 1/10th of all attendees, were young people in their 20’s or early 30’s and even teens. I think many chapters made a special effort to reach out to young people, perhaps helping them financially. We local AGO members were encouraged to volunteer and I helped stuff the red totebags at the Marriott Wardman-Park Hotel on Friday, July 2nd with about 60 other people, followed by a beer and pizza party afterwards at a nearby Catholic church. Also occasionally at the Convention I gave directions to people from out of town. However, the AGO members in red shirts deserve praise, because they manned the hotel and venue walkways to guide people and mostly had to forego attending the events.

The Hotel at Connecticut Avenue and Woodley Road, NW is a historic place. It was glamorous and I found it pleasant to spend time there. The heat outside was excessive during that time, 102 degrees F, and people complained. Once when I was walking up the big, very steep hill to the Hotel after buying sandwiches at a market, I joked to the 60-ish man ahead of me, “They call this ‘Heart-Attack Hill” and he laughed!

This was the fourth AGO convention I have attended in my 30-some years as a member. It you have ever attended an AGO convention, you know how grueling the schedule can be. Typically you must be at the hotel by 7:30 or 8 a.m. to board buses or get transportation. Events such as organ recitals, church services and workshops are scheduled all day, with the evening concert or service often ending after 9 or 9:30 p.m. I was not staying at the hotel, so I would arise at 5:00 a.m., drive my car to a parking garage and take Metro (the subway train) each morning. Tuesday night after the David Higgs recital at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland after riding the bus back to the hotel, I arrived home by nearly 11 p.m. I only got 4 ½ hours of sleep that night and had to catch myself from dozing off several times the next day!

If you were unable to attend the Convention, visit their website: Ronald Stolk was the Convention Coordinator. On the website you can find convention details, destination and directions, tourist information, and details and photos of all the venue pipe organs, which include most of the prominent organs in the Washington, DC area.

Before I discuss some of my favorite concerts or events, allow me to give you tips I have learned from attending conventions. This is the 4th AGO convention at which I have been present. Ladies, it’s useful to wear a black skirt or pants. Since you wear your outfit all day, if you spill something or sit on a dirty park bench, it won’t show. Secondly, carry a plastic grocery bag in which to store half of your sandwich or fruit or snacks you buy. That way you can keep things dry in your backpack.

Part of the fun of Convention-going is meeting new people and talking with them. It really felt good to be around people who understood what I do and shared many of my experiences of playing in church. Usually when I tell “regular people”, “I’m an organist,” their face goes blank and they change the subject! This causes a downcast feeling, and it has happened often. My theory about many people today is that they have never gone to church, or if they ever did attend church (possibly as a child), they may have had an unpleasant experience with organized religion.

Everybody I talked to at the Convention understood what it’s like to play in church, what a relief, no explanation necessary! I was reminded of a funny joke—in the 1970’s, people used to page someone at the airport if they couldn’t find them. Once some friends and I paged “Bucky Polaris” for a joke. It was a silly name they thought of. This is now an obsolete practice, thanks to the technology of cellphones and IM’s. I will briefly mention some new acquaintances, only a few of the many people with whom I spoke: I talked to a number of friendly young people. Some were Josiah from Florida, and Matt, an organist and violist from Columbus, Ohio. I saw community member Lois Miller of Des Moines, Iowa (her name was in one of my 2004 blogposts) and her husband in person and we talked. Noriko was a Japanese lady from Manhattan in New York City. I talked to Linda Allebach (her name is easy to remember!) from Iowa at the Kimberly Marshall concert at St. Columba’s Episcopal (on a tracker action organ requiring a stoppuller person).

More people were Rodney from York, Pennsylvania, a young ecumenical choral director who was getting around on a broken leg; I helped Judy Hess of Wisconsin find her husband at a Metro stop; and finally, Renate (over 60) was a retired math professor from Flint, Michigan who was now getting a second college degree as an organ major. Lastly, a lady from Wisconsin, there with her sister, and I had an unfettered conversation on the bus for about 15 minutes complaining vociferously about the weeds and non-native species of plants we were trying to eradicate from our gardens! Since she is “out west,” I hadn’t heard of some of her weeds, and 2 of my invasive species were the Ailanthus, or Tree of Heaven; and wintercreeper. We could have gone on joyously for a lot longer, but the bus arrived at the stop.

EVENTS AND WORKSHOPS: I enjoyed every concert, service and workshop at which I was present. All of the organists I heard were world-class and first-rate. I will only comment on a few in chronological order: My favorite organists were Scott Dettra, Organist and Associate Director of Music at Washington National Cathedral (WNC); David Higgs, a concert organist and chair of the organ department at Eastman School of Music; and James David Christie, who has been organist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1978, is distinguished artist in residence at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts; and professor of organ at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music in Ohio.

Scott Dettra is a member of the DC Chapter of the AGO. I don’t know him personally but I’ve admired his playing for a while. He played at 3 events, two held at WNC: the opening convocation of the convention at 8:30 a.m., playing with Cathedral Voices and the Washington Symphonic Brass. Four commissioned works were played. Next he played at the Monday afternoon “Bach Vespers” service at St. Paul’s Lutheran with the Washington Bach Consort directed by J. Reilly Lewis. Many of the vocal works and readings were in German. Finally he played in the opening concert Monday evening at WNC at which he performed Toccata Festiva (1960) by Samuel Barber and in other portions of the concert. His friends and I marvelled at how he could keep that vast quantity of music going. “He must have practiced organ around the clock. When did he find time to eat or sleep?!” we asked ourselves.

David Higgs played the St. Cecelia recital at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. This recital was endowed by Marianne Webb, Professor of Music at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale [for my weblog about participating in Miss Webb’s Master Class in College Park, Maryland in 2007, click on August 2008 under Archives and scroll down to the blog of July 16, 2007, “I Played in a Master Class with . . .”] About the organ at the Naval Academy: [notes from Convention book] The first organ around 1909 was a Hutchins. A Moller was installed in 1940 and was recently renovated and expanded, it is now comprised of both pipe and digital sounds and is now V manuals/268 pipes. It has 522 drawknobs and includes percussion and traps. There are 796 total controls, with two consoles. It can be used as a theater organ. It has such features as Ethereal Solo and Gospel Choir, Trompette Militaire, Triangle, Snare Drum and Brush Cymbal!

Some works David Higgs played were Variations de Concert by Joseph Bonnet, Passacaglia in C Minor, BWV 582 by J.S. Bach, the commissioned work “Sanctuary” by Gwyneth Walker, and Symphony VI by Charles-Marie Widor. For the encore he played his hilarious version of “In a Persian Garden” to make use of all the theater organ effects on the organ.

One comical occurrence going to the Naval Academy concert: We took a 1-hour bus ride to get there. There were messages in large print in our convention book which said “IMPORTANT REMINDER Everyone attending the Annapolis concert MUST present a valid government-issued photo ID (driver’s license, student ID, or passport) at the security checkpoint to enter the Naval Academy grounds.” Our chaperones also held up large signs reminding us of this. However, we were never once asked to show our ID’s! So much for security.

Yet another favorite organist of mine was James David Christie. He played Thursday, July 8th at 9:30 on the Schudi Organ, Opus 38, 1987, in the Crypt Church of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The organ is “an historically based German Baroque instrument with two manuals, 23 stops, 25 ranks, 1,355 pipes, and a modified tonal design of the master organbuilder Gottfried Silbermann (1693-1753),” as the Convention Book describes it. I am enamored of this organ and hope to be able to try it out someday. His program consisted of 9 works, all from the 16th through 18th centuries. They included composers such as Heinrich Scheidemann (1596-1663), Giovanni de Macque (ca. 1548-1614), and 3 interesting works of J.S. Bach: one Neumeister Chorale Prelude, BWV 1093 written when he was a teenager, and the triple fugue from Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, written in his old age.

WORKSHOPS: Most of the workshops were in large, cool, comfortable meeting rooms at the Hotel. I participated in four different workshops, such as “Rediscovering Sigfrid Karg-Elert’s Organ Music” (it was fascinating) by Jee Yoon Choi. My most memorable workshop, held at St. Alban’s Episcopal on the WNC grounds, was “Anglican Psalmody: Making the Words Win” by Michael McCarthy, who is British and the Music Director at the Washington National Cathedral. Michael McCarthy is the aborigine of Anglican chant! He made us inject such a variety of emotion into words in the phrases we sang, just by his spontaneous imagery which had us change dynamics or change the shape of our faces, mouths or bodies. He was mesmerizing, and a magician. Even though the weather was very hot, a friend and I stayed on for the second session and missed the next workshop we had signed up for, because, as my friend Bill, said, “We didn’t want to take time to write down anything he said, we just soaked it up like a sponge!”

SERVICES I’LL REPORT ON: I really loved the Hymn Festival Tuesday morning at 9 at National City Christian Church. I got there too late to hear the handbell concert. The service was beautiful and spontaneous. Over 1,000 of us organists sang. The hymns were beautiful, mysterious, affecting, and awesome. I definitely felt Divine Inspiration there! All the hymns, e.g. “Divinum Mysterium”, introduction by Gerre Hancock, were led by Bruce Neswick, organist. He is a composer who arranged some hymns as well as playing all introductions and improvisations. His playing was always sensitive, accurate, and expressive.

Wednesday morning, July 7th, I attended 2 services: I was delighted to attend the Service With and For Children at 10:00 at Calvary Baptist Church where my young friend, Justus Parrotta, who just graduated from Catholic University, is organist. We both have studied organ with Dale Krider. The Children’s Chorus of Washington, directed by Joan Gregoryk, sang and Robert McCormick, Music Director of St. Paul’s, K Street, did a fabulous job of accompanying the hymns. My friend, who is called “Jay,” played his own composition as prelude, “Thaxted: A Pastorale.”

Then at 11:15 I went to “African-American Worship Service” in the same neighborhood, at Shiloh Baptist Church. This service was truly inspirational for me. Black people, or African-Americans, whichever you prefer, definitely have their own culture, and that is good! Their style of worship is more exuberant and joyful than the traditional Protestant services which have a majority of white people (although they contain people of other ethnicities, too). The prelude was “Partita on “Detroit” by David Hurd. The Shiloh choir has such a full, rich sound I just know if I tried to sing in it, my small voice would be drowned out. Thomas Dixon Tyler is music director and Evelyn Simpson-Curenton is organist. The concert organist Marvin Mills, a member of the DC and Potomac AGO chapters, also played organ in Evelyn Simpson-Curenton’s arrangement of “Organ Fantasia: Variations on ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’” For me one of the most fascinating things about this historic church was the numerous musicians who participated, all with playing of high quality: a young lady in white who was liturgical dancer (so graceful!), 2 flutes, violins (?I think), a keyboard, a grand piano, a tympani, and most remarkable, a drum-set player (snare drums, cymbals, other percussion). The young man who was drummer was amazing and highly talented!

In summary, THE IMPACT OF THE CONVENTION ON ME: Immediately before I arrived at the Convention, I had been feeling grouchy and burdened and I was in a rut. When the Convention ended, I felt refreshed! I was transformed by the experience of attending this magnificent Convention! I feel I have a different perspective on life after going to the Convention.

ADDENDUM, WHY MORE YOUNG PEOPLE ATTENDED AGO CONVENTION: “Our Steering Committee developed a program especially for student organists, called STOPList (which stand for “STudent Organist Participation List”. Students only had to pay $200 registration, rather than the usual $410! Also we were offering them reduced price housing at dorms at American U., but as it turned out, not a single one opted for that, so we cancelled our contract with A.U. for housing. We also offered them a special “track” with several workshops geared especially toward students. And as if all that weren’t enough, we were offering additional scholarships to anyone who applied. So we firmly believe that is the reason we had more young people attending this convention than any previous one!”
Ken Lowenberg, member of Steering Committee (in an e-mail on August 1st, 2010)

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(1)I Am Taking a Hip Hop Dance Class (2) “’Where’s Waldo?’” How I Keep Turning Up in Classes Taught by Renowned Young Concert Organists

April 30th, 2010, © by Susan Burkhalter

I have always enjoyed dancing, and since my daughter says, “Mom, you dance like a robot,” I decided to take classes in Hip Hop Dance, Level 1 with Amina Vohra, a young teacher who gives the dance classes in the Barlow Building, 5454 Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase. One wall is covered with a mirror so we can watch our moves and the teacher’s. The lessons are really fun and she is attentive to each student to be sure they are correctly doing the moves, and asks us “is the music too fast, too slow?” There are about 12 adults in our class. The students are mainly in their 20’s, with women and men in the class, although she does allow “older” students (I am over 50). She has teaching videos online and you can also see a video of the class when it was featured on Fox 5 News. If you’re an “older” person (if you’re under 42, the advice I’m about to give doesn’t apply to you), I’d say it’s OK to take the class if you’re physically fit, can walk up hills, can jog, can do sit-ups, toe touching, and jumping jacks. She even organizes “Club Night” regularly for the class, inviting all to attend. You go to one of the clubs where they play music for dancing. Those are mainly for young people, so when she invited us all in an e-mail, I said, to tease her, “You said the club has a minimum age, do they have a ‘maximum age’, ha ha? I could go if they have a ‘bring your grandmother’ night.”
She also gives a “Kids Hip Hop” dance class for Girls age 7 to 10. For more information, visit her website,

Some of the songs we have danced to in the class are “All the Right Moves” by One Republic,” “Break Your Heart” by Taio Cruz ft. Ludacris,” and “She Wolf” by Shakira.

I looked up Hip Hop Music on Wikipedia, and here is a little of what it said:
“Hip hop is a musical genre which developed alongside hip hop culture, defined by key stylistic elements such as rapping, DJing, [means “disc jockeying”] sampling, scratching and beatboxing. Hip hop began in the Bronx of New York City in the 1970s. The term rap is often used synonymously with hip hop, but hip hop denotes the practices of an entire subculture.”
Further, Wikipedia said, “Rapping, also referred to as MCing or emceeing, is a vocal style in which the artist speaks lyrically, in rhyme and verse, generally to an instrumental or synthesized beat. Beats, almost always in 4/4 time signature, can be created by looping portions of other songs, usually by a DJ, or sampled from portions of other songs by a producer. Modern beats incorporate synthesizers, drum machines, and live bands. Rappers may write, memorize, or improvise their lyrics and perform their works a cappella or to a beat.”

Wikipedia says Hip Hop has been popular since the late 1980s. It tells how the style and culture developed and lists instruments used: “The “Stylistic origins [are] Funk, disco, soul, jazz, dub, reggae, dancehall, toasting, performance poetry, spoken word, signifying, the dozens, scat singing, talking blues. The Cultural origins [are the] 1970s, the Bronx, [and] New York City.”
“Typical instruments [are] Turntable, synthesizer, rapping [reciting original poetry in a certain style], drum machine, sampler, guitar, piano, beatboxing, vocals.” I don’t know what beatboxing is, and “sampling” means using portions of other recorded songs and inserting them into your own song. According to Wikipedia, there are many genres and subgenres, such as “Gangsta rap” and a few derivative forms. Wikipedia said, “[It] was influenced by Disco and was a backlash against it.”

In the Washington, DC area, the radio stations which play Hip Hop music, although not exclusively, are WPGC 95.5 FM, Hot 99.5 FM, and WKYS 93.9 FM.

(2) “’Where’s Waldo?’” How I Keep Turning Up in Classes Taught by Renowned Young Concert Organists

Remember “Where’s Waldo?” by Martin Handford, the series of children’s books which were popular in the 1990’s, in which one must find, in each intricate, 2-page colorful scene, “Waldo,” a man in a striped red and white shirt with matching hat with a pom, wearing blue pants and various accessories he carries? For instance, in the book we have, he is taking a “world-wide hike” and he starts in a scene in Italy, I think, where there is a fountain, shops with awnings, and buildings. Next he is on a beach beside pale blue water with hundreds of people.

I was never good at spotting him!

Lately I, Yours Truly, have felt like him. First, on March 8th at a meeting of the Potomac Chapter, AGO, I was an improvisation student for 10 minutes with Robert McCormick, a brilliant young organist who is Director of Music at St. Paul’s Parish, K Street, Washington, DC. A graduate of Westminster Choir College, he was Music Director at the Church of St. Mary the Viirgin, New York City, an Anglo-Catholic parish. He was an improvisation student privately of McNeil Robinson. I enjoyed working with him and told him he had a great sense of humor. The organ I played for the class was the new 3-manual Casavant at Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland.

Next thing I knew, April 24th I was in a master class with 3 other students at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in College Park, Maryland with Ken Cowan, the noted concert organist and Assistant Professor of Organ at Westminster Choir College. The organ we played was a Lewis and Hitchcock III/39. I performed the “Cathedral” Prelude and Fugue in e minor by J.S. Bach, BWV 533. Ken Cowan is called “. . . one of the most outstanding young organists on the scene today.” By THE DIAPASON of Chicago, Illinois. Ken Cowan is one of the best concert organists I have ever heard. He’s spontaneous, with impressive scholarship and impeccable playing. He instantly brings out the emotions of any music he plays while honoring the style requirements of each period, e.g., Baroque.

Because Ken Cowan gave so many useful comments to the students about their playing and ways to better express that composer’s music, I can’t include all of them, but will mention a couple here for each student’s lesson I describe.

The organists playing in the class were 2 young men, Jay Parrotta and Mark Biales, as well as 2 women over 50, Susan Burkhalter and Emily Koons. All were students or former students of Dale Krider, Music Director at St. Andrews. There were about 40 observers in the audience. I began by playing the Cathedral Prelude and Fugue in e minor, BWV 733 by J.S. Bach. Some of the remarks Ken Cowan made about my playing of it, among at least 20 opinions, all of which were useful, were to keep my feet moving in a plane to play heel and toe so there wasn’t extra motion causing me to lose time. Also he suggested that with groups of notes in a pattern, such as two 16ths followed by an 8th note, keep the 16ths lighter.

Next Mark Biales (pronounced “Bayless”) played a c minor prelude and fugue of J.S. Bach, a massive work which I haven’t learned. Ken Cowan suggested that he bring out patterns of notes similarly whenever they occur; his idea for thick textures – use soft stops on the organ and practice it by leaving out 1 voice but use the same fingering you normally use. Also play the LH (left hand) over top of the RH to hear the LH’s part better. He called one section of the Bach piece “the most tortured crashing, slashing part”, ha ha.

Sing it vocally (a voice in the midst of a thick-textured section) so that you hear the notes horizontally rather than vertically. FUGUE: [Mark’s] short note was “short in a shocking way – make it sound severe.” Put a break before a strong beat – “embrace a dissonance.”

Next Jay Parrotta played Adagio in E Major by Frank Bridge. Ken Cowan said when using the swell box, have a destination for the beginning and end of the crescendo and decrescendo,”don’t just shut it to say, Hey, I’m using the swell box!” To shape phrases [dynamically], think like a viola player. Plan how to use the swell pedal when you’re arriving at a section using an unenclosed division, you don’t want to arrive at that section with a bump.

When bringing on mixtures or reeds, have the swell box closed at first. His trick for adding 4 foot stops: Add them when the melody goes down, subtract them when the melody goes up. The above are just some of the many suggestions Ken Cowan gave to the 4 organists, and I’m sure I speak for the organists who played as well as the audience when I say it was a privilege to gain his attention for an hour and a half and to learn from him.

I don’t mean to sound as if I am bragging by “turning up” in these classes, since any AGO member who plays on the intermediate level or above and has studied improvisation with a teacher could have participated in these classes. One merely has to volunteer to be a participant. Don’t worry about looking like a fool or making mistakes, both are conditions which have befallen me!

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© by Susan Burkhalter, February 6, 2010

I wrote the following newsletter in 1979 when I was a young woman to make fun of the bragging Christmas newsletters many of us have received that just make their recipients feel inferior. Before I begin, a little background on myself may explain why I wrote this newsletter: I grew up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Bethesda, Maryland and attended Walt Whitman High School, which is a competitive public high school where almost every student goes on to college, and “the Ivy League Colleges” have the most status. At Whitman one is always being ranked in relation to others.

You may have received some Christmas newsletters which list the achievements of all family members, for example, “My daughter and her fiancé each completed a Masters of Business at University of Pennsylvania” [one of the “Ivy League” colleges] implying that they will be successful and make big bucks. Or, similarly, “My daughter, X, now almost 13, (still going on 21) continues to look more gorgeous each day . . . it’s hard to take your eyes off her . . .”

At the top of my newsletter I pasted a photocopy of a photo of 5 distinguished-looking men holding awards; I believe they were sports coaches. It was supposed to be a photo of my family, which in reality consisted of only my husband and myself, since we had not yet had children. Here is my 1979 Christmas Newsletter. I have edited out some of it and changed some names.

“DEAR ALL OF YOU ON OUR ANNUAL CHRISTMAS CARD LIST: [this was to laugh at how some people send out hundreds of cards. I know my parents did, since my father was an attorney]

Guess it’s that time of year again – We apologize for sending this form letter to you, but I’m sure you understand how hard it is to write to each of our 500 friends personally. We hope that you’re all well, and that your ————— is as ——————as it was last year. Hope, too, that the business of ————–is bringing you plenty of —————–.

The past year found the [Our Name] family, as usual, actively involved in our education, hobbies, and work. Bernard, [not his name] the man of the house, was hard at work helping the electrical engineering industry keep its switch on and its wires live (excuse the puns) He created his 8,056th patented invention since he’s been in the business, which makes us quite proud of him. He really kept the Naugahyde Country Club’s golf course hole-y and still managed to keep his hand in downstairs in the woodworking shop, his favorite hobby. He turned out some quite adorable widgets that Grandmother is hard put to find room for, and all the neighbors want one. Then Randy, our oldest son, who’s a junior in high school, got his football letter this year – he’s a real chip off the old block and all boy. Mike, our 14-year-old, much to our chagrin decided he preferred wearing dresses, but luckily he shows an interest in clothes designing and has enjoyed rearranging the living room and thumbing through HOUSE BEAUTIFUL, so we try to encourage his inclinations there. [People were into gender-specific stereotypes then.] Sonia, our 10-year-old daughter, is horse-crazy as ever. She got a set of custom-made horse’s hooves and has taken to clomping around on all fours wearing them. . . we suppose it’s still better than being a pothead. We believe in self-actualization, after all, and carrots and sugar lumps are still relatively inexpensive (knock on wood to keep down this inflation we’re all bedeviled with). . . . Then Maybelline, our 7-year-old, has had such fun in Brownies this past year and enjoys taking apart and reassembling the family ’56 Dodge. Karen, the baby who’s 2, seems to be a real Einstein and is into EVERYTHING. We are hoping she will qualify for the Early Entrance Pre-Harvard Course at nursery school.

The family menagerie meows, barks, fins, and wiggles its respective hellos to all, Merry Christmas. Oh, as for Yours Truly, we are contemplating a return to our matriculation, but are having trouble deciding between a course in Women’s Studies or Business Administration. Even though I’m afraid my parquet floors would suffer (“That’s margarine!”)
P.s., still can’t decide where to hang that $2,500,799 painting of icebergs by that American artist. Any suggestions from the peanut gallery?

Affectionate endearments to All – Bernard and Mary and the gang”


This was an experiment in which I listened to a vinyl 33 1/3 rpm record which was recorded around 1970 while simultaneously listening to a CD compiled in 1991 of performances given between 1961 and 1972. E. Power Biggs was the organist. I believe Mr. Biggs is one of the finest organists I have ever heard, although I never heard his live performance. His playing seems perfect and completely expresses what is called for in Bach’s organ music.

The CD was a Christmas present from a friend. I played the vinyl record on our stereo player and the CD in a boom box. I listened to Passacaglia & Fugue in C Minor, BWV 682. The timing was 8’ 07” (Prelude) and 5’21” (Fugue). The vinyl record was called “Bach in the Thomaskirche” and recorded in Leipzig, Germany. The performance on the CD was played on the Flentrop organ in the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. I felt that the registrations Biggs used for each performance sounded quite similar and brought out the clarity needed for this music. The reeds also sounded similar on both instruments. I learned about the 2 organs Biggs played at Harvard from the website mentioned below. For the stoplist of the Flentrop organ, go to

Edward George Power Biggs (born Westcliff, Essex, 1906, died Boston, Mass. 1977) was an English concert organist who settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1937, becoming a U.S. citizen. Some of the information about Biggs is from “The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians,” Volume 2, which says, “He . . . [pursued] a career as a recitalist, broadcaster and recording artist . . . From 1942 to 1958 he broadcast weekly solo programmes over a nationwide radio network . . .” To paraphrase the afore-mentioned Harvard organ website, ”In 1937 he persuaded Charles Kuhn, a curator at the Busch-Reisinger Museum, to have the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company install a ‘classic-style’ electric action organ (a G. Donald Harrison) at the Museum. In 1954 Biggs toured Europe and became dissastified with the Aeolian Skinner, so he commissioned a Dutch builder, the Flentrop Company, to build a Baroque-style tracker action organ, which arrived in 1957.”
The stoplist for the organ at St. Thomas follows and was described thusly on the album jacket: (notes by Hans-Joachim Schulze (1970) were translated from German by Bodo Reichenbach) “The new Baroque organ in the north gallery of St. Thomas, built by the firm of Alexander Schuke of Potsdam in 1966-67 and consecrated on May 21, 1967, represents the realization of a plan, suggested by Karl Straube in 1927, that was energetically pursued under his successor, Günther Ramin, but which became reality only in our time, with the cooperation of the present organist of St. Thomas, Hannes Kästner.”
Mechanical action

: I. Rückpositiv
Principal 4’
Rohrflöte 8’
Quintadena 8’
Holzflöte 4’
Sesquialtera 2 f.
Principal 2’
Quinte 1 1/3
Septime 1 1/7
Oktave 1’
Mixtur 4-5 f.
Krummhorn 8’

II. Hauptwerk

Principal 8’
Bordun 16’
Spillpfeife 8’
Oktave 4’
Spitzflöte 4’
Quinte 2 2/3
Oktave 2’
Mixtur 6-7 f
Scharff 4 f
Trompete 16’
Trompete 8’

III. Unterwerk

Gedackt 8’
Principal 4’

Blockflöte 4’
Rohrnassat 2 2/3
Oktave 2’
Waldflöte 2’
Terz 1 3/5
Sifflöte 1 1/3
Mixtur 6 f
Cymbel 3 f
Spillregal 16’
Trichterregal 8’

IV. Pedal

Principal 16’
Subbass 16’
Quinte 10 2/3
Oktave 8’
Spitzflöte 8’
Oktave 4’
Rohrpommer 4’
Bauernpfeife 2’
Rauschpfeife 3 f
Mixtur 6 f
Posaune 16’
Trompete 8’
Clairon 4’

Pneumatic action for the Pedal; 5 General couplers, 2 free combinations? (didn’treally understand this, was in German)

THE EXPERIMENT: To get both Passacaglias to begin at the same time, I started the vinyl record after, for the CD, I had pushed “Play, Track 3,” then “Pause”. I immediately pushed “Play” for the CD as the vinyl record started up. RESULTS OF THE EXPERIMENT: Since both performances were not the same tempo but very close in tempo, it was like hearing two different organists playing in separate rooms. The CD recording seemed to be at a slightly faster tempo than the vinyl record. It finished about 20-30 seconds sooner than the vinyl record. During the fugue, the pedal reed came on later in the vinyl record’s recording than on the CD. The CD recording of the fugue finished about 20 seconds sooner than the vinyl record did.
INFORMATION ON THE TWO RECORDINGS: Vinyl record: “E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche,” Columbia Stereo
M 30648
CD: “Bach Toccata & Fugue, Preludes & Fugues: E. Power Biggs”, # SBK 89955

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Posted by: Sue @ 2:18 pm


© by Susan Burkhalter, December 10, 2009

Nathan Laube is a brilliant young organist around age 21 who studies at Curtis Institute. He can play perfectly from memory almost any classical music ever written, as do all Curtis students. In 2009 I heard his organ recital at Church of the Redeemer in Bethesda, played on a Hart di Genarro II. After the concert I went up to him to look at his hands. He said, “Yes, I have small hands.”

I have played from memory in numerous piano recitals. as a child, teenager, and adult, and sometimes one or two organ pieces at a service, although I’ve only played one organ piece from memory at a recital. My memorizing wasn’t always flawless. Sometimes I had memory slips. It was embarrassing. Off and on through the years I’ve been unconfident to trust my playing from memory in public, although occasionally I take a chance and play from memory anyway.

I had an extraordinary experience at the Nathan Laube recital: I was enthusiastic about his playing and decided to move to the front row of the church halfway through the program. I was now 8 feet away from him and could clearly see his feet and hands. While he was playing one fast piece from the French Romantic era I felt I could intercept his musical mind waves and I thought, “I could do that!” (meaning I could play an organ piece successfully and confidently from memory). It was a calming and thrilling impression. After observing Nathan Laube play, I thought, “You can do it, just like he does. He’s using tools musicians rely on.” Note that I’m not comparing myself to him as a musician, since he is much better than I.

After the recital, I decided to play the first half of Duruflé’s “Prelude sur le nom d’Alain” as a prelude from memory at the August 30th service at my church. Postscript: I did indeed carry out my plan to play the Duruflé piece. Here is how it went: My church is very small and typically only a few people sit down to listen to the prelude. As I began, two people were in there. One went out into the vestibule. The second man remained for about half of the prelude, then he left and closed the glass door, so that nobody was in there listening! It didn’t phase me. I continued to play. When I finished, I realized I had played the selection note-perfectly and with utter confidence! Mission accomplished!


My friend with an i-Pod says the only music you can play on the i-Pod is i-Tunes music. I don’t have an i-Pod, only an MP-3 player. If I buy i-Tunes songs, I can burn them to CD’s, or play them on the computer. I-Tunes music formerly cost 99 cents per song, but recently the cost went up to $1.29 per song.

People in my generation, “Baby Boomers” born between 1946 and 1964, grew up with some different products and services which people born after 1964 never experienced. For example, I remember when I was in elementary school, children wore white ankle socks which had no elastic to hold them up. They were always sliding down into your shoe and getting crumpelled, unless your parents put rubber bands around the tops, which only held them up for a while. Also in the 1950’s and possibly the early 1960’s, milkmen drove around in trucks to deliver bottled milk to your door. Each house in the suburbs had, on its porch, a metal box with a hinged lid on top in which to store the milk. Finally, even into the late 60’s, there were dress codes at the public high schools in Maryland and girls never wore long pants, only dresses and skirts.

I have wanted to buy songs from i-Tunes ever since 2007 but I have procrastinated about trying to order the songs. I never had any experience with computers until our family bought one in 1995 and learning to use technology hasn’t come naturally to me. I remember when we first got a computer, even learning how to turn it on and off seemed an enormous hurdle.

Some older people, such as some of the music teachers in an organization of which I’m a member, are afraid to join the “Yahoo Groups” we use to post messages. They fear their identity may get stolen or a thief will hack into their credit card information. I wasn’t worried that buying songs online would affect my privacy. I have bought many things online by now with no problem. One reason I put off ordering songs was anxiety that once I bought a song, I’d get daily e-mails offering other songs and Lord knows I already get too many e-mails! This fear originated when I overheard 2 young men who worked at the Wild Bird Center joking about e-mails which offered them many i-Tune songs every day.

The second worry which perhaps caused my hesitation to buy i-Tunes songs was “eek, now I’ll have to learn more new technology!”
Finally on Wednesday, December 2nd, I mustered the courage to visit the i-Tunes store and attempt to order some songs. I managed to create an account, but on the first try the session timed out and I had to return and retry it several hours later. The tutorials and video didn’t work on OS-10.28 of our G-3 MacIntosh computer. I wasn’t able to order a song or contact “support.” My husband, who knows computers, helped me in the evening with i-Tunes, but we had to give up. Eventually he learned that a version of i-Tunes called 8.2.1 only works for OS-10.4.10 or later. Budget limitations currently preclude our getting a new operating system for our Mac.

In the end we realized that if I want to buy songs on i-Tunes, I must use the laptop PC and we need to install i-Tunes on it first. This is somewhat inconvenient, since I would like to put the new music on the Mac where my songs currently reside
The 2 songs I tried to buy were “When I Fall in Love,” a duet of Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole, and K.T. Tunstall, “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree.”

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Posted by: Sue @ 1:24 pm

© by Susan Burkhalter
October 8, 2009

Sometimes an organist gets asked to play and direct a choir from the organ console. I played and directed at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC on August 16th. Here’s how I prepare: I decided to study conducting with a private teacher in 1990. I studied with James Kreger, 1990-1994 until he became busy with his job as a choral music teacher at a private school, and then I studied with his friend, David Erwin, 1994-2002. Both men were organist/directors and graduates of Westminster Choir College. Mr. Kreger had me doing exercises from a book by Paul Hindemith, “Elementary Training for Musicians” © 1949, published Schott & Co. Ltd., London. For example, from this book one had to conduct complex rhythmic patterns in various time signatures, sing intervals, and more.

While studying conducting I became adept with the conducting patterns in both hands simultaneously, learned hand signals for dynamic shadings, learned how to give hand cues to singers and worked through many anthems, Mendelssohn oratorios, and some selections from Handel’s “Messiah.” Since I had to sing all 4 parts while I watched myself conducting in the mirror, I became good at singing many intervals. I could ask my teachers any questions about singing that came up. I have sung in several choirs through the years. On Sunday, August 16th, I was substitute organist-director at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC, (visit their website at, a church where I’ve played several times in the past. It is a historic Presbyterian church with a Skinner pipe organ III/19? rebuilt in the 1970’s, a medium-sized lively church with active members, young and old. Rob Passow is the Music Director and organist there. He works very well with the choir, has good taste in music, both traditional and contemporary; and is also a composer.

Their choir is a lot of fun to sing with and direct. The anthem we sang that Sunday was “Let the Praise Go ‘Round” by William Boyce, arr. Hal Hopson. As the music at Pilgrims is described on their website, “On any given Sunday morning you are likely to be led in worship with organ, piano, guitar, flutes, or even unaccompanied voices. It will only take a short while for a visitor to realize that there are few musical limits for us at Pilgrims. Our music is chosen to reflect the inclusive and diverse nature of God’s creation. We sing music of many lands and times and peoples in our worship - music that faithfully reflects the lessons and the themes of our Sunday Liturgy: Praise songs, Taizé chants, Lutheran chorales, Gregorian chant, Gospel hymns, Genevan Psalter tunes, English hymns, spirituals, songs from Latin America and Asia. In other words: we sing everything from Gregorian Chant to Amy Grant.”

Going on with my learning process, here were the steps I took to learn this anthem on the organ, directing from the console: I don’t learn choir music very quickly, although I am a fairly good sight-reader of keyboard music. I like to have about 14 days minimum in which to learn an anthem. I only had 7 days to learn this one! I start off by learning an anthem on the piano, then I go to the organ. Usually when I learn most organ music, I mark lots of fingering on it, but for choral music, you simply don’t have time, so I just mark key fingering spots with finger numbers. If it’s a difficult piece, such as by Handel, I practice it with the metronome at a slower speed than the final tempo will be. When it’s secure at that speed, I set the metronome at the “final tempo”.

I sing all the parts. I write in certain vowel sounds I want, or final consonants. Usually you will need to mark some notes to leave out, such as double octaves, or to make it more easily playable. I’m ashamed to admit that I’m not good at playing a 4-part choral piece from an open score (unless I can leave out the tenor part), because it’s still challenging for me to transpose the tenor part down an octave from what it’s written while playing the other 3 parts with it. I’ve practiced this at length in the past, but usually can’t get it quite up to tempo.

Another thing you need to plan for and practice is all of the page turns. The last step for learning it is to mark all the spots where I will have to cue the choir, either with a hand motion (say a “cut-off” or hand cue: the conducting pattern of the previous upbeat to the downbeat of their entrance), or a nod of my head. When I’ve learned it up to this point, I find I have to practice playing and conducting the music many times until the piece is nearly memorized. You need to know it very well so you can watch them when needed.

I had about a half hour rehearsal with this choir before the Sunday service. It was slightly comical what transpired: The choir, which consisted that day of about 7 men and 3 women, came into the room one by one. I like to start right on time, so I did, with 2 people. Then 2 more came in and they said, “Can we start over?” “Sure.” By the time a few more trickled in one by one, I knew I couldn’t keep starting over!

The anthem, sung as an offertory, turned out good. I had been worried that I would stop and start, leave out cues, or play a wrong note. I discovered that a choir takes pride in its group effort and the members try to do their best. The director can’t control everything about them. I had marked diction on my music and reminded them of breaths and breaks in the music as we rehearsed. My final realization that Sunday about directing this particular choir: It seems obvious, but I don’t have to do it all. The choir will take care of most of the music-making themselves—we cooperate.

In September I also led a Thursday evening choir rehearsal with the choir at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal in Bethesda, Maryland as well as directing them at the Sunday service. They have a 1980? Wicks II/18 pipe organ. The anthems they sang that Sunday were “Teach Me, O Lord” by Thomas Attwood from “Anthems for Choirs I” published by Oxford University Press, and “All The Earth Doth Worship Thee” by G.F. Handel, arranged by Walter Ehret, published by Belwin Mills. Thursday evening we rehearsed several anthems besides these two and practiced chanting their Psalm.

The choir numbers about 15 people, 3 of them men. They are dedicated and well-trained by Sharon Ollison, their excellent music director, who is a fine organist. Sharon has extensive experience in choral directing and knowledge of liturgical music for worship. The previous organist/director for 11 years was Julie V. Evans, also an excellent organist and director with a vast knowledge of church music who did a lot to build the choir and their repertoire during her term.
I had been apprehensive about leading the Thursday night rehearsal. I wasn’t sure how many people would show up, since I wasn’t the “regular” director; the only male tenor couldn’t come. I never know if a choir will be fun or uncooperative until I’ve met them. But everything turned out fine. A funny thing happened: While we were having the final rehearsal of the Handel anthem for the evening, one of the men somewhat grumpily complained, “When are we ever going to get this anthem up to quarter note equals 94?” I replied, “Never. I can’t play it that fast.”

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Posted by: Sue @ 2:57 pm


August 14, 2009 © by Susan Burkhalter

(1) I recently received an e-mail from Frank Mento, a community member who is an organist playing a Cavaille-Coll in Paris, in which he said

Dear Susan,

(Sent July 20th). I have good news for you ! The organ at Saint-Jean de Montmartre Church in Paris, France, where I am organist is finally going to be restored. The City of Paris appointed the organbuilder Yves Fossaert to conduct this operation. This project is entirely financed by the City of Paris. Work begins on August 17, 2009, and will last approximately one year.

I hope that this information will interest the blog readers and Internauts.

Best regards,

Frank Mento

(2) This is Part IV of my series on Albert Schweitzer. It is a report on “Chapter 17: Music and the Music of Bach” from the book, “Albert Schweitzer, the Man and his Mind” by George Seaver, published by Harper & Brothers, NY, © 1947. Unless otherwise noted, all the quotes are from George Seaver’s book unless they are attributed to Albert Schweitzer.
Charles M. Widor, teacher and friend of Albert Schweitzer (whom I shall call “A.S.”) asked A.S. to write an essay in French on Bach’s music for the Paris Conservatoire. If you have read my previous 3 blogs on Albert Schweitzer which were posted in February 2009, January 2009, and November 2008, you may recall that Dr. Schweitzer’s native languages were French and German, but not English. While he was writing the essay, A.S. realized that an essay could not adequately cover this topic and decided instead to write a book. He completed the book in 1905. While writing it he was preaching and lecturing in German and found it challenging to write well in both German and French.

The 455-page book won acclaim in both France and Germany. People asked him to provide a German translation of the book. However, he decided it would be too difficult to translate his French into German. He started over to write a new Bach book in German. When completed, this book was 844 pages long! He finished the book in two years while lecturing, studying medicine, preaching, and going on concert tours [he must have been Superman!] The book was published in 1908 and translated into English in 1911 by Ernest Newman. Dr. Schweitzer favored Newman’s translations from German to English over those of other translators.
My intuition tells me, because I do speak German, that no matter how good the translation may be, it would probably be better to read Dr. Schweitzer’s book in the original German or French, as one probably loses something in the translation.
A.S.’s purpose for writing this Bach book was to provide “an explanation of the real nature of Bach’s music and a discussion of the correct method of rendering it,” said George Seaver.

I. Bach’s composing methods; descriptions of his music and comparisons to that of other composers. How his music should be played. The Chorale Preludes and church music, showing the influence of Pachelbel, Bohm, and Buxtehude:

On p. 257 George Seaver tells how Bach wrote his Chorale Preludes: “Schweitzer says that Bach alone, ‘almost before he had ceased to be their apprentice,’ realized that the true Chorale Prelude must bring out the poetry that gives the melody its name, and points out that Bach created no new forms, but that he took the three main formal types: the “motivistic” of Pachelbel; the “coloristic” of Bohm; the “melodic core” of Buxtehude’s free fantasias,–and did what none of them could do, by making something more of them than form, and by infusing them with a spirit that ‘had the secret of making tones speak.’ “

Dr. Schweitzer believed that Bach’s Chorales, Cantatas, and Passions were his greatest works.
George Seaver relates that A.S. marveled at Bach’s talent for reflecting the text in his music, “as in clear running water.” As an example of this, “Schweitzer cites, as one of the most remarkable examples of Bach’s power of declamation, the arioso-like opening recitative of the cantata to Isaiah lv, 10 and 11, “ [“J.S. Bach,” vol. ii, p. 26-28]
A.S. describes the origins of the chorale texts and chorale melodies. He explains how the organ was used for congregational singing after the Reformation. He tracks the “musical evolution” of the cantata, chorale prelude, and the Passion music “before Bach’s time.” He explains how Bach’s church music was influenced by Pachelbel, Bohm, and Buxtehude. Dr. Schweitzer connects the progress of the chorale prelude forms to the development of ideas through history: “The real history of progress in physics, philosophy, and religion, and more especially in psychology, is the history of incomprehensible cessations, of conceptions that were unattainable by a given epoch, in spite of all that happened to lead up to them,–of the thought it did not think, not because it could not, but because there was some mysterious command upon it not to . . .” and George Seaver states that “Bach himself stands in this respect as in others, at the end of an epoch . . .”

Dr. Schweitzer describes Bach’s method of working, saying his composing did not come easily but that his music was created “slowly and with difficulty.” As Dr. Schweitzer explains, “Bach thus worked like the mathematician, who sees the whole of a problem at once and has only to realize it in definite values.”
I must confess that Dr. Schweitzer’s analysis of Bach’s music goes over my head, as I am not an intellectual. However, one description I can understand: “Even to the best musician, at a first hearing a Bach fugue seems chaos. While even to the ordinary musician this chaos becomes clear after repeated hearing when the great lucid lines come out.” A.S. in “J.S. Bach, Vol. I, p. 211-213.

A few things of interest mentioned in Chapter 17 of this book were (1) an opinion on tempo: Dr. Schweitzer felt that Bach is often played too fast, and “organists who imagine that they play Bach ‘interestingly’ by playing it fast betray their incapacity to play him plastically, and so obscure detail and so sacrifice vitality.” G.S., p. 273 (2) As A.S. says on the proper method of playing Bach’s organ music, “within the legato, the separate tones must be grouped into living phrases. This intimate style of phrasing breaks up the stiffness of the organ tone.” [“J.S. Bach,” vol. ii, pp. 311-312] A.S. discusses whether cantatas should be rendered only in a church service, concluding that they may be performed either in a church or concert room.

II. How an epoch culminated in Bach; how his objective art contrasted with that of Wagner and Beethoven:

As A.S. said in “J.S.Bach,” Volume I, pp. 95-96, “He was in fact not the beginning of a new epoch, but the end of an old one, in which the knowledge and the errors of successive centuries found expression for the last time, as if seeking salvation together by genius.” Dr. Schweitzer believed that since Bach stuck to the Italian forms and formulas, this slowed down the progress of German religious music and a more modern art did not occur until the compositions of Richard Wagner. He also remarks on Bach’s musical talent inherited from his family, which “through 3 or 4 generations produced a galaxy of musicians unique in genealogy.”
George Seaver believes that Bach is significant because “his art is wholly objective; it represents ‘pure musical truth.’ “ He also feels that a work of art will be more perfect if the personality of the artist isn’t intruded into the composition and he mentions Shakespeare as an example of this, saying “The soul of Shakespeare remains an enigma.” Mr. Seaver recommends reading an article called “Bach and Shakespeare” in the “Quarterly Review, April 1923”.
Along these lines, A.S. felt that the spirit of his time lived in Bach, and Dr. Schweitzer said that “nothing comes from him; everything merely leads up to him.” When Schweitzer studied some portraits of Bach, he found that the way Bach looked seemed to have nothing to do with the artistic soul within him. He mentions how “Bach fought for his everyday life, but not for the recognition of his art.”

A.S. discusses a different category of artists whose art is not objective but rather subjective, e.g., Richard Wagner. He says “their work is almost independent of the epoch in which they live” and furthermore, “they are a law unto themselves . . . they originate new forms for the expression of their ideas.”
George Seaver says that Schweitzer often compared Bach’s music to that of Beethoven, since the two masters had such different ways of composing: “[Beethoven] experimented with his thoughts . . .With Beethoven the work is developed by means of ‘episodes’ that are independent of the theme. These do not occur in Bach; with him everything that “happens” is simply an emanation from the theme. . . “
A.S. did not believe that Bach’s music was entirely “objective” in that it could suggest pictures and feelings. He disagreed with the musical aestheticists (those same men whom he criticized for knowing little of Bach’s organ chorales) who revolted against the music of Wagner and defined the music of Bach and Mozart as “pure” or “absolute” music. But A.S. believed that Bach was a painter in sound: “. . .All that lies in the text, the emotional and the pictorial, he strives to reproduce in the language of music with the utmost vitality and clearness. . . . He is even more tone-painter than tone-poet. His art is nearer to that of Berlioz than to that of Wagner. If the text speaks of drifting mists, of boisterous winds, of roaring rivers, . . . of leaves falling from the tree, of bells that ring for the dying, of the confident faith that walks with firm steps, or the weak faith that falters insecure, . . . of Satan rising in rebellion, of angels poised on the clouds of heaven,–then one hears and sees all this in his music . . .” [My Life and Thought, p. 82, by Albert Schweitzer]

III. Bach was religious and pietism showed in his works; his feelings towards death:

George Seaver said that “Bach was a deeply and sincerely religious man. . . . sharply opposed both to the pietism on the one hand, and the orthodoxy on the other hand, of his day.” WEBSTER’S DICTIONARY, published in 1978, defines “piety” as “the quality or state of being pious.”, which is “(a) showing reverence for deity and devotion to divine worship; (b) marked by conspicuous display of religion.” However, A.S. declared that “[Bach’s] works exhibit visible traces of pietism; the texts of the cantatas and Passions are strongly influenced by it, as indeed the whole of the religious poetry of the early eighteenth century is. Thus the opponent of pietism invested with his music poetry filled with the breath of pietism, and so made it immortal.” But George Seaver thought that Bach was free from “the element of subjective sentimentalism that clings to pietism.”

Dr. Schweitzer felt that Bach had “a serene longing for death . . .[sometimes] “sorrowful and weary . . . at times a glad serene desire . . .” which was expressed in his music. George Seaver told how A.S. found this longing in Bach’s last composition, a Chorale Prelude from “Art of the Fugue” which he dictated from his death-bed, and G.S. quotes from “J.S. Bach, Vol. I”, p. 224, “the tumult of the world no longer penetrated through the curtained windows, the harmonies of the spheres were already echoing round the dying master.”

In conclusion, here you have an interpretation of the ideas of Dr. Schweitzer on the music of J.S. Bach, through my reading of George Seaver’s book. Mr. Seaver. suggests that we listen to Dr. Schweitzer’s two recordings of Bach’s music on the Columbia Record label. They were done at the Queen’s Hall at All Hallows, Barking, England; and at St. Aurélie, Strasburgh on a restored Silbermann organ. Both of these organs were demolished during World War II. Dr. Schweitzer inspires us with his directive, from his book, “My Life and Thought,” p. 84: “These are the external requirements for the rendering of Bach’s music. But above and beyond them, that music demands of us men and women that we attain a composure and an inwardness that will enable us to raise to life something of the deep spirit that lies hidden within it.”

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by Susan Burkhalter, © April 21, 2009

(1) Cynthia Cathcart is a charming and friendly member of our local music teachers association, the Montgomery County Music Teachers Association and also our newsletter editor. Most of our members are piano teachers and so is Cynthia. For a period of two years, Cynthia studied the pipe organ. She is “an award winning performer and instructor on the clarsach, the wire-strung harp of Ireland and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland,” as her website says. Its address is I found a description of a similar instrument in a book about music: “The Irish harp is a small instrument with a gracefully curved forepillar. It is played with the fingernails. Large orchestral harps are played with the fingertips.” P. 37, “The Young People’s Book of Music” by Keith Spence with Hugo Cole, consultant. Unlike the orchestral harp, the clarsach is lever-free.
By coincidence, Cynthia knows Diane Heath from her church, St. Columba’s Episcopal in Washington, DC. Diane was the organ teacher I interviewed in my BLOG of June 1, 2007. Cynthia is from Silver Spring, Maryland. She studied at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland and has a B.A. in Music, Piano. Her piano professor was Noel Lester. She performs at private functions on average 3 times a month, and teaches the clarsach and piano in her home studio. She is also available for workshops and lectures internationally, on topics such as “Ornaments and Figures for Nail Players.” Cynthia taught herself to play the clarsach. She won awards as a harper from 1998-2002 and has written 3 repertoire books and one instructional book for the clarsach. Information on her awards, two CD’s and books, published by Highland Circle Publishers, can be found on her website.
Cynthia represents Ardival Harps of Strathpeffer, Scotland. She was editor of “Kilt and Harp”, the journal of the Scottish Harp Society of America, for 5 years.
Cynthia’s husband, Eric Cathcart, is also a musician. As she told me, “He plays the saxophone, he’s a tenor man. He does have a sweet soprano sax that he plays, plus he plays flute. He also plays the penny whistle and the bodhran (Irish frame drum) with me sometimes. He’s got a wonderful alto-flute that he brings out sometimes as well. He’s officially retired from performing, but he comes out of retirement whenever I need him!”
Recently I interviewed Cynthia. and her answers follow: I am “SB” and she is “CC.”
SB: When did you start the harp, and have you ever played the orchestral harp?
CC: I began playing the wire-string harp in 1994, which was the year that I inherited one. I had never played the harp before then. I’ve never even touched an orchestral harp!
SB: At what age did you start piano lessons? Have you played other instruments?
CC: I began to play the piano when I was too young to remember. My father taught me at first. My formal piano lessons began when I was about 8 years old, we think. I don’t really remember, and neither does my father!
I have also played the pipe organ. I studied organ for two years at Hood College. I played classical guitar when I was in high school, and I currently have a harpsichord in addition to my piano here in my studio.
SB: I was interested to learn that you had studied pipe organ. What was your experience with it, and why did you quit? Was it difficult playing with your feet and reading 3 staves? Did you just not like the organ much? For instance, I know that I never liked playing the harpsichord the few times I tried it. It was too tinkly-sounding for me and didn’t have enough dynamic variation.
CC: I really enjoyed playing the organ. I loved the big sound, and actually got quite good at reading the three clefs, including the old tenor clef for the left hand! There were three things that led me to leave the organ behind. One was simply the time it took to practice both organ and piano while I was a college student. Secondly, my teacher was quite strict that I was only to play certain types of music on the organ, and only certain types of music on the piano even though he was not teaching me piano. It just turned me off that I was not allowed to play some of the music I liked on the organ, and it bothered me when he would get angry with me when he heard me playing Bach on the piano!
And finally, I began to feel as if the music was too far away. I later discovered the tracker organ, and wish I’d known of it back then! I think the problem was simply that the console of the organ I was playing in college was placed too far away from the pipes. At least they were too far away for my liking. I like the sound to be near me, not coming from the other side of the room. This may help explain why I like the harp so much. The instrument lays right against my heart.
SB: Do you also sing along with the harp while you play?
CC: I do sing, I love to sing! I rarely sing on stage, though it is fun. Most of the harp playing I do is solo.
SB: How do you carry around the clarsach? Is it as heavy as a cello, or heavier?
CC: The clarsachs that I play are very light weight. The smallest one I have is 19 strings and weighs just 3 and a half pounds. I think the case weighs more than the instrument. My larger harp, my “main harp” weighs about 11 pounds. I have a harp that weighs almost 35 pounds (30 strings), but I rarely take it out anymore precisely because it weighs so much. Both my light-weight harps have back-pack straps on their cases, so I can carry them both on my back, just not at the same time!
SB: How do you find music for the clarsach? Do you have to arrange music for it?
CC: There are a few books of arrangements on the market. Sometimes people will publish one-off arrangements in publications like the Folk Harp Journal (in which I have a regular column), or the Wire Journal of the Clarsach Society.
Most harpers reach a point where they write their own arrangements. The harp lends itself to this, in no small part because it comes in so many different sizes and ranges. The individual harper will usually want an arrangement that perfectly complements his or her unique instrument. All the same, there is a fair amount of standardization. Most 19 or 20 string harps, for example, will have a D as their highest string. So if I publish an arrangement with D as the highest note and stick to a range of 19 or fewer notes, the 20-string harper will be able to play it.
SB: Does it play any classical music, or just folk and hymns and dance music? Do you play it in church?
CC: Well, this depends on how one defines classical music! The wire-strung harp is native to the historically Gaelic speaking areas of Scotland and Ireland. In Gaelic, there is a term ceol mor, which means “big music.” Small or light music is ceol beag. Jigs and reels would be small music. Big music would be something along the lines of a Theme and Variation form (called a Port), or Laments. One of the biggest musics in the genre is the Brosnachadh, which is an incitement to battle. This is music that would have been played on the eve of battle, to which the bard would recite a poem to inspire the soldiers to do well in battle.
Classical music, in the sense of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms is difficult to play on the wire-strung harp because it is primarily a diatonic instrument. Some harpers will tune an accidental, or use scordatura tuning, but these techniques are fairly limited in the face of a Brahms rhapsodie!
I do play in church. Hymns typically fit on the wire string very well. I also have a very effective piece that my husband and I arranged a few years ago, where I play a port while he reads the poem “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” Which brings to mind the hymn by Charles Stanford and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Many of the organists reading Susan’s weblog here may be familiar with this hymn. Yes, that’s the poem that Eric and I use, though in a different translation. Also, the melody “Deirdre”, which was harmonized by Ralph Vaughan Williams, is a very old Irish melody and was possibly performed on the wire-strung harp many years ago.
SB: Can you tell about a humorous or embarrassing incident that happened when you were playing the harp at a wedding or wedding reception?
CC: Well, there was the wedding where the bride was 40 minutes late. It turns out that the limo driver forgot to pick her up, and there it was sitting at the church. I saw it, and thought, “well, she’s late, but she must be in the church here somewhere” so rather than get involved in a piece of music I just improvised on a standard melody. Had I known she would be so late, I’d have launched into more interesting repertoire.
Meanwhile, my husband Eric was setting up to play at the reception to follow, which was at a bed & breakfast not far from the church. While I was wondering about that limo sitting in front of the church, he was watching the bride pacing back and forth at the B&B, wondering where her limo was! If only there had been such a thing as cell phones and texting back then, we’d have been able to save the day!


If you haven’t already, read Dan’s “Rampage” of March 24, 2009, “Let’s Talk about Inclusion.” It contains some ideas worth discussing. Dan’s “Rampages” are always invigorating. He wears out a lot of shoe leather, both virtual and real, to make these reports for us. Ever the crusader, he digs up stories about “heroes” who replace a failing digital organ with a pipe organ!
MUSIC I’M STUDYING NOW: Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV 532, by J.S. Bach; Adagio from 2nd Sonata by Felix Mendelssohn, Les Anges from La Nativité du Seigneur by Olivier Messiaen, “Final” from Symphony No. 1 by Louis Vierne, and more. Here is my advice for playing the Widor Toccata, which I’m playing as a postlude next Sunday: How many of you play it with this articulation? The groups of 8 sixteenth notes are grouped by slurring the first and second notes and the remainder staccato. Slur the first note to the second in the groups of two eighth-note chords of the accompanying part (one hand plays the groups of 16th notes over the chord part). My teacher Dale told me about this. It keeps your hand from getting tired. Practice this on the piano first. The piece is pianistic and the legato and staccato will be more obvious. Also, if you’re not a young person, you might want to do leg warm-ups to prepare for the pedal octaves at the end, pliés and modified extensions, before playing it.

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February 24, 2009 © by Susan Burkhalter

NOTE: All the quotations, with page numbers, given in this blog are from the book, “Albert Schweitzer, the Man and His Mind” by George Seaver, pub. Harper & Brothers, NY, 1947, 1955.

Dr. Schweitzer liked to save old pipe organs, believing that the organ was a sacred instrument. He believed that the old organ-builders knew the best shapes and sizes for their pipes and “used only the best wood and the best tin . . .” He found factory organs to be somewhat inferior. He preferred the tone of the old wind-chest to that of the “new.” He thought the electrical windchests drove out the wind at “too high a pressure”. [p. 30] He liked the pneumatic system better than the “modern cheap electrical system” because it required less maintenance and was more reliable, in his opinion.

Dr. Schweitzer (A.S.) thought modern organs had too many string-sounding pipes. He would rather have more flutes. He was particular about the position of the organ in the church and believed “The best position, if the nave is not too long, is above the entrance opposite the chancel. . .” “Further, ‘an organ standing on the ground never produces the same effect as one which delivers its sound from a height, especially if the church is full.’”[p. 30, “Albert Schweitzer, the Man and His Mind” by George Seaver] Dr. Schweitzer regarded the peak period in organ building as that between 1850 and 1880 because at that time organ builders were still influenced by the ideals of Silbermann and others from the 18th century. [p. 31] On p. 34 he spoke about old English organs, “[they] are very fine indeed. They are not loud and they are mellow . . .” A.S. believed that organs in churches sounded better than those in concert halls, “ . . . partly because an essential requisite for organ music is ‘the material presence of stone.’”

A.S. considered the organ of St. Sulpice in Paris, completed in 1862, as the finest in the world and his next favorite was Notre Dame’s, both Cavaillé-Col’s. Cavaillé-Col, whom Dr. Schweitzer knew, had a “maxim: ‘An organ sounds best when there is so much space between the pipes that a man can get round each one.’” [p. 32] Dr. Schweitzer found the Netherlanders to be good caretakers of organs, since “they appreciated the value and beauty of old organs. {they} refrained from sacrificing magnificence of tone to securing the abolition of technical defects. . .” In 1909 at the International Musical Society’s congress in Vienna, A.S. “and members who shared his views joined him in drawing up a set of INTERNATIONAL REGULATIONS FOR ORGAN-BUILDING. [p. 32]

Dr. Schweitzer visited many organs between 1906 and 1927 and sometimes spent hours cleaning grime off the pipes. He wrote hundreds of letters to people saying “. . . they ought to restore their fine old organs instead of replacing them by new ones . . .” His efforts were often in vain, as “[they] decided finally for the factory organ . . .” Also the first organ that A.S. rescued was “Silbermann’s fine instrument at St. Thomas’s, Strasburg . . .” [p. 33]

Finally, a description of Dr. Schweitzer at the organ was given on p. 35: “As professor Kurth of Berne has written: ‘The impression of tremendous energy that he creates accords with his outward appearance: a tall, broad-shouldered, robust figure, to which it is easy to ascribe intellectual as well as physical heroism; it is an unforgettable sight to see this tall, powerful man approach the organ, put on his glasses, and bend lovingly over the keys of the instrument in devoted service to his great master Bach. To see him thus is to see him suddenly transformed into the simple earnest organist of bygone times.’ “ [a quote by the author George Seaver from Oskar Kraus in “Albert Schweitzer: His Work and Philosophy”, pp. 55-56]

In the next blog I hope to report on “The Music of J.S. Bach”, a chapter from George Seaver’s book about Albert Schweitzer. George Seaver’s book also included chapters on “The Gospel” and “Africa”, but I didn’t have time to read those portions.

While reading this chapter about Dr. Schweitzer’s experiences with pipe organs, I concluded that were he living today, he would be horrified with the proliferation of digital organs in our churches—talk about “factory-built organs”!

In addition, there was another interesting book which I did not read: “Albert Schweitzer: Out of my Life and Thought”, with a postcript by Ernest Skillings, published 1933 and 1949 by Henry Holt & Co.


You may recall that Frank Mento was mentioned in my May 16th, 2008 blog, about catching up with community members. He is also profiled on the website under “Our Stories.” Frank is originally from Campbell, Ohio and for years has been Titular Organist at Saint Jean de Montmartre Church in Paris, France.

The organ at Frank’s church is a Cavaillé-Coll. Frank reports that the organ is finally undergoing restoration, which has been needed for years. Frank says the French government pays for restoration when the organ is property of the city or State in a building that was built before the separation of Church and State in 1904. The organ is part of the inventory of the City of Paris. He says the funds are obtained after the pastor and organist contact City Hall and write a letter to the Assistant Mayor in charge of Cultural Affairs.

I asked Frank if he were allowed to choose the organ repair company that does the work. “No,” he said, “not when you receive government or municipal funding. After receiving the letter from the pastor and organist requesting funds for the organ restoration, the State or the city launches a ‘call for tender’, which is a call for companies to submit competitive bids for the job. The call for tender is published by the state agencies. Then a contract will be awarded to the winning company.” Frank said that once the procedure has begun, it may take years to finally accomplish the restoration.

I don’t believe that the federal or state governments in the United States would ever fund the renovation of a historic organ. Frank said that Catholicism is no longer a state religion in France and also informed me that churches in France pay taxes on their employees. Organists in France receive national health insurance, retirement, unemployment compensation, and transportation benefits.

In closing, I read in the WASHINGTON POST on January 8th that Betty Freeman, 87, a Los Angeles philanthropist for American composers and painters such as composers Harry Partch Elliot Carter, and John Cage, died. To read this most fascinating article, here is the link:

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Posted by: Sue @ 3:41 pm


January 4, 2009
© by Susan Burkhalter

Here is a recipe for a really good sandwich. You make it out of things you probably already have at home. Ingredients: white bread or any kind you like (I use Wonder Bread), bologna – I like that made from pork and chicken; gherkins, which are small sweet pickles; mayonnaise—Hellmann’s is the only kind I use; peanut butter, but not organic: Skippy’s or Peter Pan are good.
Spread peanut butter on one slice of bread and mayonnaise on the other. Slice the pickles in half lengthwise and lay on the bread. Put on one slice of bologna. Your sandwich is ready to eat!


This list of books by Albert Schweitzer was on the title page of the book on which I’m reporting: “Albert Schweitzer, the Man and His Mind” by George Seaver

The Philosophy of Civilization
I. The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization; II Civilization and Ethics

The Quest of the Historical Jesus
The Mystery of the Kingdom of God
Paul and His Interpreters
The Mysticism of Paul The Apostle
On the Edge of the Primeval Forest & More from the Primeval Forest
J.S. Bach
Memoirs of Childhood and Youth
Christianity and the Religions of the World
[I think all of the above are published by The Macmillan Company]

Out of my Life and Thought
From my African Notebook — both of these pub. by Henry Holt and Company

Indian Thought and Its Development
Goethe — both of these published by The Beacon Press

II. book, “Albert Schweitzer, the Man and His Mind” by George Seaver

pub. Harper & Brothers, NY, 1947, 1955.

NOTE: All the quotations, with page numbers, given in this blog are from the book mentioned directly above, by George Seaver.
“PART I Memories of Childhood and Youth” p. 3: he was born January 14th, 1875 in Günsbach, Alsace. Later he was a doctor of philosophy, theology, music and medicine. He earned the first 3 degrees while in his twenties, studying at the University of Strasburg in Paris and Berlin. His father was a pastor. Both of his grandfathers were organists: the maternal grandfather, Pastor Schillinger, had a gift for improvisation.

The young Albert Schweitzer was a sensitive child and witnessing misery in humans or animals saddened him. He even composed an evening prayer to say for all living creatures: “’O heavenly Father, protect and bless all things that have breath; guard them from all evil, and let them sleep in peace.’” [p. 10, “Albert Schweitzer, The Man and His Mind”] The author of the book describes the boy Albert Schweitzer’s temperament on p. 10, “He was so quick to laugh at the funny side of things that risibility was almost an affliction, and one which his schoolfellows mercilessly exploited during lessons, nicknaming him “the Laugher.” Yet on his own confession he was by no means a merry character, since he inherited from his a mother a temperamental shyness and reserve.” He was close to his parents. He called his father “my dearest friend” and said of his mother, “ . . . we understood each other without using words” p. 12. He regretted later that “down to my 20th year, and even later, I did not exert myself sufficiently to express the gratitude that was really in my heart.” Dr. Schweitzer reflected that people he barely knew influenced him and “became powers within me” to be awakened consciously years later, “just as the beauty of a piece of music or of a landscape often strikes us first in our recollection of it.” p. 12. The author, Robert Seaver, felt that Compassion and Gratitude were what shaped Dr. Schweitzer.

A.S. (Albert Schweitzer) was precocious in music. He began the organ at age 8 and substituted in church for the organist at age 13. He began studies with Charles Marie Widor when he was 18.

As a school child he had the habit of daydreaming. He had to walk 2 miles to and from school in Mühlhausen every day through woods and over hills until he finally bought a bicycle. His favorite subjects were History and Natural Science. He possessed a “sense of awe in face of the beauty and mystery of the natural world [which] impelled him to try his hand at poetry and sketching, but they were failures: ‘only in musical improvisations have I ever felt myself to have any creative ability.’ . . .” p. 7

He sadly missed the services in his father’s little church at Günsbach, and especially his father’s sermons. “He missed the feeling of solemnity which those village services gave him and ‘the need for quiet and self-recollection without which I cannot realize the meaning of my life.’ In his view it is not at all necessary that a child shall understand all that takes place in a church service for adults: the main thing is that they shall feel ‘the sense of something that is serious and solemn.’ “ The author mentions that some of the churches in Alsace are peculiar in that “they are Catholic-Protestant combined. The priest says mass in the choir, and the pastor says prayers and preaches in the nave, at different times by mutual arrangement every Sunday.” The author says this was introduced by Louis XIV.

His piano teacher was Marie-Jaell Trautmann, a Liszt pupil, p. 19 He was introduced to the Music of Bach when he was 15 years old by his piano teacher, Eugene Münch. Three years later at the University of Strasbourg, his piano teacher’s brother, Ernest Münch, asked him to play the organ at St. Wilhelm’s for Bach Cantatas. Albert Schweitzer (A.S) auditioned to study with Charles Marie Widor in 1893 and studied with him for 6 years for free, since they became friends.
On page 20 of this book, there is a two-paragraph quotation from Widor who explains how A.S. solved an enigma regarding contrapuntal motives in Bach’s chorales and chorale preludes. Widor says, “[Bach’s musical logic] becomes obscure as soon as he takes up a chorale melody. Why these sometimes almost excessively abrupt entitheses of feeling? Why does he add to a chorale melody contrapuntal motives that have often no relation to the mood of the melody? . . .” A.S. explained that these passages depended on the texts of the old Lutheran hymns, which were written in German. Widor didn’t know enough German and had read French translations of those texts. When A.S. translated the poems into French from memory for Widor and compared them to the German texts, going through all of the chorale preludes, this made everything clear to Widor.

A.S. studied at the University of Strasburg. In 1896 while home in Günsbach for the spring holidays, he made a decision: “He resolved that he was justified in devoting his life to science and music till he was thirty and from that time onward to the direct service of suffering humanity, in some form or other which circumstances would indicate, ‘as man to my fellow-men.’” p. 27. In 1899 when he was studying theology he joined the faculty at Strasburg. He became a preacher at St. Nicholas.

In the February blog I will report on Dr. Schweitzer’s opinions of organs and organ building. Does anyone in the community know any other books or recordings that they could recommend by or about Dr. Schweitzer? Do you have a favorite book from the list near the beginning of this blog?

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Posted by: Sue @ 11:53 am


Two factors caused me to write about Albert Schweitzer this month: I saw the ad for the “Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival” in The American Organist recently. It was held in September ‘08 at First Church of Christ in Wethersfield, Connecticut. The second reason I chose the topic was that ever since I began organ lessons, I have owned Volume V of organ music by J.S. Bach, published by G. Schirmer, the trio sonatas and concertos, and on the cover it says, “edited by Charles Marie Widor and Albert Schweitzer.” I always wondered, “Who is Albert Schweitzer?” I got some books out of the library about him.

There was an item in the Potomac Chapter AGO newsletter, the “Heel and Toe,” around June about an Organ Composition Competition, its deadline is January 14, 2009 (Dr. Schweitzer’s birthday). It involves writing the music for a 16-minute Tone Poem for Narrator and Organ entitled the “Albert Schweitzer Portrait.” The words for it were selected by Thurston Moore and approved by Dr. Schweitzer’s daughter. Visit the Tennesee Player’s web site for the words and for the competition entry form,

Here is the first installment of my report on Dr. Schweitzer:
Dr. Schweitzer (1875-1965) was a philosopher, theologian, physician, musicologist, and organist. He won the 1952 Nobel peace prize. In his photo in The World Book Encyclopedia (1957), he looks a little like Steve Martin, the comedian!

Albert Schweitzer was before my time–he died when I was a teenager. The book I used for this report, Albert Schweitzer’s Mission, Healing and Peace, published by W.W. Norton & Co., was by Norman Cousins, for many years a writer for the Saturday Evening Review Magazine, who in 1978 became a professor of medical humanities at UCLA in California. It is about Schweitzer’s years at Lambaréné, Africa. There was a film about his life which was playing when the Doctor was 82. During this period “Le Grand Docteur,” as the people there called him, was worried about the international accumulation of nuclear force and wrote letters, 45 between 1957 and 1963 which were received by Norman Cousins, to foreign leaders about his concerns: The leaders were Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy in the US, Krushchev in the U.S.S.R (formerly the Russian and nearby nations), and Nehru of India. On April 27th, 1957, his message about the nuclear threat was displayed electronically in Times Square, New York City. In 1957 and later his messages were broadcast over Radio Oslo, Norway.

This book is about his work at Lambaréné, where he built a hospital, and many of the aforementioned letters are printed in the book beginning on p. 244. Clara Urquhart worked in Africa with him as his interpreter, since he spoke fluent French and German but wasn’t comfortable speaking English. He provided health care to the natives in all areas of medicine and even treated tuberculosis and leprosy there. Dr. Schweitzer believed that “people are more respectful of advice, especially of a medical nature, if they have to pay for it,” Norman Cousins wrote. Many of the staff members at Lambaréné were from the Netherlands. The hospital was on the Ogowe River, and the Africans who took passengers upstream in canoes could paddle for hours!

The book gives general descriptions of his interactions with people there. The Doctor was kind and loving in his outlook toward the patients, but some people thought his manner toward the native Blacks was unfeeling and authoritarian. “He is a patriarch,” they said. The Doctor was married. Mrs. Schweitzer spoke English.

One of my favorite passages in this book was on page 17, a description of the piano the Doctor played there. Dr. Schweitzer was in the habit of playing one hymn for the staff of 15 to sing with him at the end of their evening meal. The author mentioned that humidity and native creatures could cause problems, and told how goats and ants had eaten some of the Doctor’s unpublished manuscripts. On page 17 the author, who reported that the Doctor had renounced a distinguished career as an organist and pianist for his medical work, describes the condition of the piano the Doctor had to endure: “It must have been at least fifty years old. The keyboard was badly stained; large double screws fastened the ivory to each note. I tried to play but drew back almost instantly. The volume pedal was stuck and the reverberations of the harsh sounds hung in the air. One or more strings were missing on at least a dozen keys. The felt covering the hammers was worn thin and produced pinging effects.” wrote Norman Cousins.


I was shopping at Border’s Bookstore recently, but I believe one would find the same situation at all of the chain bookstores. They had a good selection of classical music CD’s on the shelves. However, under the sections for César Franck, Ned Rorem, Olivier Messiaen, and Max Reger, there were NO recordings of organ music! I felt as though I had been socked in the stomach, that the door had been slammed in my face! Music lovers are missing out on the most beautiful and most heart-rending compositions by these four composers, since their compositions for organ are not represented here.


In the October/November 2008 “American Music Teacher,” the MTNA magazine, Jane Magrath, a well-known piano teacher from Norman, Oklahoma interviewed Bill Moore, a musical performance psychology consultant. Dr. Moore emphasizes that performers should realize that there is a difference between the psychological skills useful for practicing music and those useful for performing music. For practicing, he says, “three psychological practicing skills [are] (1) the ability to self-monitor correctness, (2) the ability to give self-instruction, and (3) the ability to analyze cause and effect with regard to mistakes,” but he says “these same mental skills get in the way of performing our best.” He says, in effect, you must practice the performance mindset.

He defines the mental performance skills required for a good performance: “Courage . . . the ability to direct your will to overcome internal and external forces” [such as] “fear, self-doubt, over-thinking, . . .and others’ expectations and/or environmental conditions.” He says the second performance skill is trust, “trust what you have trained . . . and accept the ability to see things as they are, without judgment as to right or
wrong . . .” He suggests that performers need to have “vivid and accessible memories or sensations of playing great.”

Furthermore, he defines trust as being separate from confidence. An example of confidence he gives is “I know I can play this passage.” Bill Moore defines trust as “the ability to free oneself from any conscious control over correctness at the moment of skill execution.” He explains that trust can be unstable and that it’s a challenge to maintain this feeling for a whole performance. Finally, he differentiates confidence from arrogance thusly: “When someone is confident, they have respect for the difficulty of the task they are getting ready to take on, but believe they can meet the challenge. Arrogance is not respecting the difficulty of the task.” [“American Music Teacher,” October/November 2008, pp. 61-65]

I found Dr. Moore’s analyses to be largely true. Some examples of times when I was unknowingly acting out his principles: (1) about 10 years ago when I was to perform, from memory, piano works such as Chopin waltzes and “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Rimsky-Korsakov at a very noisy shopping mall, I prepared by playing my pieces at home with a loud radio blasting away nearby, to help concentration. (2) last year I played Duruflé’s “Prelude sur le Nom d’Alain”, 1st half, from memory at a church service. At the service I didn’t trust my memory and had some slips but kept going. After the service, inspired by the Reader’s sermon about trusting the Lord, I played it perfectly! It was a good feeling.

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Posted by: Sue @ 1:44 pm

© by Susan Burkhalter
September 25, 2008

Now that many people use computers, most organizations of which I’m a member send their newsletters electronically. I don’t mind their saving paper by this action, but I hope that daily newspapers continue to be printed. Here’s why:

Our family has always subscribed to “The Washington Post” newspaper, which is delivered daily. I read that in a poll taken recently, only 20% of people under age 30 said they regularly read newspapers. I habitually read the paper and would feel strange if I couldn’t. I don’t like to look for a long time at things on an electronic screen, it causes eyestrain.

Before going into the many uses of newspapers other than for reading, I will tell how the special paper used for newspapers, called “newsprint,” is made:

I found this information on “Wikipedia” online: “Newsprint is low-cost, non-archival paper most commonly used to print newspapers, plus other publications and advertising material. It usually has an off-white cast and distinctive feel. It is designed for use on printing presses that employ a long web of paper (web offset, letterpress and flexographic) rather than individual sheets of paper. [How it is made]: “newsprint is generally made by a mechanical milling process, without the chemical processes that are often used to remove lignin from the pulp. (The lignin causes the paper to rapidly become brittle and yellow when exposed to air and or sunlight.) (1) Traditionally, newsprint was made from fibers extracted from various softwood species of trees (most commonly, spruce, fir, balsam or pine). However, an increasing percentage of the world’s newsprint is made with recycled fibers. “ “Wikipedia” then notes, regarding recycling, that “some of the fiber that enters any recycled pulp mill is lost in pulping, due to inefficiencies inherent in the process . . . [Also] The American Forest & Paper Association estimates that more than 72% of newsprint produced in North America in 2006 was recovered for re-use or export, with about 58% of that going back to a paper or paperboard mill for re-use . . .” Wikipedia says that since recycled newspapers have other uses, too, “AFPA estimates that about a third goes back into newsprint manufacture . . .” [demand for newsprint] Among the biggest factors depressing demand for newsprint in North America have been the decline in newspaper readership among many sectors of the population – particularly young adults – along with increasing competition for advertising business from the Internet and other media . . .”

To show how much things have changed, “The World Book Encyclopedia”, © 1957, tells how newspapers were printed then. I paraphrase from World Book: “Linotypers were men who set stories in type. Another set of men took the metal type, called slugs,
and set it in frames the size of the newspaper page. In those days, the circulation of newspapers for the entire world was 240 million copies daily, and Great Britain led the world with ‘615 copies sold daiy for every one thousand population.’ “

Now that I’ve explained how newsprint is made and provided some facts about newspapers, I will tell why I hope the production of newspapers will be preserved. We recycle most of our newspapers every week—they are picked up at the curb. We always keep a stack handy for uses such as these:
1. as packing material in boxes you mail
2. to lay on the floor for messy work, such as gluing an art project or applying nailpolish
3. to make newspaper hats in the shape of a boat, which I learned to do as a child
4. for washing windows: Use an ammonia and water mixture in which you dip a sheet of newspaper to scrub the glass, then dry the glass with a dry piece of newspaper. The lead in the newsprint makes them sparkle!
5. to lay on your garden on the dirt where you have just pulled up weeds. Held down with a few rocks, it keeps weeds from coming up and biodegrades later.
6. to make inexpensive patterns for sewing costumes.
7. as a liner for the bottom of a birdcage, if you have a bird (we don’t).
8. something in which to wrap “Fish ‘n’ Chips”
9. for clean-up if you own a dog or cat, or for paper-training a puppy
10. to cover up an area you don’t want painted when spray-painting.

Can anyone in BACHorgan-land think of additional uses for newspapers?

Without newspapers, you would not be able to chirp merrily, “See you in the funny papers!” as my father used to say. Also you wouldn’t be able to save clippings to mail to your adult children or to hang on the refrigerator with magnets.

Recently I ordered the book, “The Life of J.S. Bach,” which Our Leader Dan Long recommended that we read. I’ll report on it later. Sometime soon I also hope to read about Albert Schweitzer and tell you about him!

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Posted by: Sue @ 1:34 pm

I’ve been a member of the AGO since 1975 when I was out of college 5 years. I was a serious organ student then, apprenticed to Ronald Stalford for the study of organ and church music. He was Organist/Choirmaster at Christ Episcopal Church in Georgetown (DC). They had a 4-manual Moller on which I practiced before and after work at an office.

I could not have advanced professionally had I not joined the AGO. There are so many opportunities, at chapter meetings, workshops, and conventions to meet or hear in concert accomplished organists, world-famous choirs, famous virtuosos such as Catherine Crozier and Gerre Hancock, and other people important in the field of church music. Most of these events are not publicized outside of the AGO, that is, in the print and electronic media. I learned about a world of beautiful organ and choral music through being a member, essential classical music I never would have known otherwise.

Some people I met through AGO meetings or members include David McKay Williams at Christ Church. Where else could the opportunity arise for you to turn pages for Frances Jackson (British organist and composer from Yorkminster Cathedral), or to meet in person at a symposium at Catholic University, Jean Langlais and his wife? I still have the nametag I took from his chair after he left! I chatted with the young genius Felix Hell near the refreshments after an AGO concert 2 years ago, he was polite, friendly and natural.

Membership in the AGO entitles one to their excellent magazine, “The American Organist,” and offers many resources such as CD’s, DVD’s, and books and printed material. You can prepare to take one of their certification exams. I passed the Colleague exam in 2003, and it has proven invaluable to list it on my resume. Members can obtain sample contracts for church musicians and advice on weddings and funerals. There are salary schedules in the directory of your local chapter, so that you know what fair compensation to ask for in a job search.

I realize that some younger people born after1970 say, “I don’t need the Guild.” My daughter, who’s in her 20’s, remarked, “People our age don’t join unions.” However, the AGO is not a union, rather a guild. “Webster’s Dictionary” defines a guild as, “in medieval times, a union of men in the same craft or trade to uphold standards and protect the members, 2. any association for mutual aid and the promotion of common interests.” Many people under 40 rely on the Internet, their cell phones, “Facebook” and “My Space”, and other technology sources as their network. They believe they don’t need to join an organization such as the American Guild of Organists. In “Job Hunting for Dummies” the author, Max Messmer, disagrees, saying that people should join trade associations. He says, “keeping current on key issues and new developments in your profession or industry and in the business world at large is key if you want to advance in your job,” and he recommends that you read regularly “Trade publications that cover your particular field . . .”, of which TAO is a good example. On another note, one fact of life is that in the world of work you may have to talk to “older people”. Although I am an “older person” now, I was young when I first joined the AGO and I remember even back then, the majority of people at the meetings were middle-aged and older, although there were usually at least 8-10 of us “younger people.” Instead of avoiding people outside your age group, why not go forth with an open mind, realizing that perhaps there is something to be learned from your elders who are more experienced than you. And the elders would definitely benefit by having young people of a different generation with new ideas join our organization, We older people realize it is essential to attract younger people as members of the AGO and we are thrilled when you join, since it assures the future of quality church music and that the AGO will not perish!

Although I agree that technological devices such as cell phones and computers are useful, for TRUE networking, you can’t beat the AGO. Meeting your colleagues face to face is superior to interacting with them online. You’ve probably had the experience of someone telling you a funny story which you don’t quite “get.” They say, “You had to be there!” Again, you have to BE at an AGO meeting, participating in anthem readings or singing, for the first time, a newly-commissioned hymn by an exciting young composer together to experience valuable human and spiritual connections. Through asking members you can discover which churches have good pipe organs on which you could practice. In today’s society, many people are ignorant about churches and may never have heard an organ played; you may feel isolated being a professional musician at a church, sometimes feeling misunderstood by people who are not musicians. Belonging to the Guild can help to remedy this situation and perhaps you will find a support group at your local chapter.

Also if you are serious about your profession as a church musician, potential employers are more impressed with your dedication when you can list membership in the AGO on your resume. Finally, I found all my excellent teachers for the past 25 years through being an AGO member!

Why do some young musicians believe that joining professional organizations such as the AGO is valuable? In the August 2008 issue of The American Organist, Sarah Hawbecker, AGO Region IV Councillor, wrote an article “Where do I Fit into the Mission of the AGO?” I assume she is a young person, and she mentioned in her article that “We want others to share our excitement for the organ.” One of her good ideas to attract others to the AGO was to “give a free [organ] lesson.” She also believes it is important to attend each others’ concerts. I agree that we should go to others’ concerts, and when I have met young organists, I make an effort to attend their concerts, to be a one-person cheering section! Another young person, Clinton Pratt, a piano teacher and performer in Cincinnati, wrote an article in “The American Music Teacher” April/May 2008, called “Being Connected”, about why he is a member of the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA), an organization somewhat similar to the AGO. Some reasons he mentioned for belonging to MTNA were that “the local association is really what keeps me connected to other teachers. Not only do we have recitals and auditions for our students, we also have workshops, demonstrations and discussions for our own enrichment. . .”

When he met non-members who had excuses why they didn’t join, his opinion was that “we NEED it [the organization], and . . . if you are an independent piano teacher, you are doing a disservice to yourself, your students and other piano teachers by not being involved. Would you expect to go see a health professional who never talks to other doctors, has no access to new research and can’t recommend a specialist, therapist or pharmacist? NO WAY! We expect them to be a part of their community and to be continually learning. . “ From his reasoning, one could draw the same conclusion that organists ought to join the AGO.

Finally, my story about the most valuable treasure of all which I found through being an AGO member: You have the opportunity to meet some of the most talented, unique and well-educated musicians in the world, people who are successful in their fields and can become your mentors and teachers. I have been a member for 33 years, and people I’ve met through the AGO include my 5 teachers and friends (all but Dale are now former teachers): Three of my friends, two of them teachers–Dale Krider, Ted Gustin, and Kenneth Lowenberg–had the unique experience of being students at the College of Church Musicians at Washington National Cathedral in the late 1960’s, where professors included such people as the great American composer, Leo Sowerby.

Teachers and friends I have met through AGO membership include (1), (2) Jim Kreger and David Erwin, well-known organist/directors who were my 2 conducting teachers for years–each is a graduate of Westminster Choir College; (3) Ted Gustin, my good friend in whose choir I sing occasionally; Ted is a graduate of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and earned the FCCM (Fellow, College of Church Musicians) at the College of Church Musicians at Washington National Cathedral, DC. He is the Organist/Choirmaster at a Lutheran church and plays on a weekly basis at 3 other churches, also playing military funerals when called. Ted plays the organ with panache and is a wonderful accompanist. I immensely enjoy his interpretations of choral music from the British masters such as William H. Harrison, T. Tertius Noble, Eric Thiman, Sir John Stainer, and C.V. Stanford, to Renaissance composers such as Tomas Luis de Victoria, to name only a few, and we even sing in French and Latin. Ted has a vast knowledge of all good quality church music. He makes choir practice fun, yet expects rapt attention and the best singing from each choir member. He is always kind, sometimes humorous, and never seems dictatorial.

(4) Dale Krider, Organist/Choirmaster at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in College Park, Maryland, my current organ teacher since 2002 (and 1978-82): Dale is a graduate of Peabody Conservatory and earned the FCCM (Fellow, College of Church Musicians) at the College of Church Musicians at Washington National Cathedral, DC. He is an excellent teacher with some highly successful students. Dale passed the Fellow Exam of the AGO, the highest level certification test. He is an expert organist and tells you exactly what to do with each piece by Bach or any composer, he knows everything. He is tactful and practical with all levels of students and is always encouraging, he is almost saint-like! He knows how to bring out the best in each student.

(5) Kenneth Lowenberg, Minister of Music Emeritus of Chevy Chase
Presbyterian Church, thrilled me when I heard his organ playing at my family’s church, Chevy Chase Presbyterian, when I was 22. He was also organist at my wedding several years later. (hearing him was one of my “introductions to the organ”; another “introduction to the organ” was when I was “blown away” at age 18, hearing Dr. John Carruth, in recital at the College of Wooster in Ohio, play a prelude and fugue of J.S. Bach on the pipe organ there! I had never heard a pipe organ before.) I studied organ/improvisation/composition with Ken Lowenberg for about 8 years and was amazed at his creativity and immense talent as a composer and performer, on piano and organ. He has 28 published anthems by such well-known publishers as GIA Publications, Selah Publishing Co., Morning Star, Hope, Hinshaw, and AMSI. Many of his anthems are astonishingly beautiful! I have sung them in several choirs of which I’ve been a member.

Ken graduated from Northwestern University with a B.Mus.Ed., and earned a M.Mus. in Composition at the University of Southern California. He earned the FCCM (Fellow of the College of Church Musicians) at the College of Church Musicians at Washington National Cathedral in the late 1960’s. Ken passed the Fellow Exam of the AGO, the highest level certification test.

People under 45 (and everybody else, too), please consider becoming a member of the American Guild of Organists. There’s a whole world waiting for you there.

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Posted by: @ 8:51 pm

I contacted the following people who have visited the community since 2004. I have been writing my weblog since 2004. PEOPLE: Frank Mento, Marta Kumer (whose e-mail address had changed so I didn’t get her), Vic Kovacs, a young organ student who formerly had a very entertaining BLOG here; Don Heckenlively, Alan Weamer, Valerio Dal Molin of Italy, and Greg Scott from Texas. I thought of Lois Miller but didn’t have her e-mail. Christina Harmon is also a “member”, since she attended Oberlin at the same time as our editor, Dan Long, and I will mention her later. Victor Frost, the New York City composer, is a member and I have played his organ prelude in church. Thank you to Dan Long for his wonderful website that has enriched our lives.

I sent this message by e-mail (now slightly altered): “For my next weblog to come out in early May, I will tell news of people in the community, if I get any. What’s happening with you? So have any of you taken any exciting trips? What sports events or good concerts have you seen and heard? Exciting classes you’ve taken? Is anything interesting going on at your church (such as, did your church acquire a good pipe organ or do you already have one and is it regularly maintained), or have you visited a church that appealed to you and why?
Another idea that occurred to me is, what accomplishments do you remember achieving as children? For example, I was just remembering today the exciting moment that I learned to tie my shoes when I was about 5, 6, or 7 years old.

Also if you can think of anybody else in the community about whom I should report, tell that person to contact me with their news. Thanks - Susan Burkhalter”

The only person who responded was Frank Mento, of Paris, France. Frank and I each studied organ at CCM, but I was there several years before he was. I learnd about Frank through He reports, “Yes, I do have a Cavaillé-Coll and it still has ventils. They’re fun to use! This organ is going to be restored thanks to funding by the City of Paris. I played live on national French TV for the mass in my church on Sunday, April 20. It was shown in all the French-speaking countries. This was the third time I played for a live TV mass on nationwide and worldwide coverage.”

I asked Frank if he spoke fluent French and how he learned it. He said he does speak French fluently, and he first learned it while studying for his doctorate at Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. He went to the language lab daily and listened to conversational French tapes, he said. He wrote down expressions and spoke them out loud to himself. He spoke out loud to himself only in French, for practice, even with mistakes. He always
ate lunch at the French Table on Fridays. When he went to the Sorbonne in France in 1976, he continued French language studies there.

For more about Frank, look up “Our Stories” on

Other interesting people who have visited include Jack van Bakel from the Netherlands, who wrote me with a question about how to find the correct fingering for Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in d minor; and Dr. William Westney, concert pianist, professor at Texas Tech, and author of “The Perfect Wrong Note” (Dan Long mentioned his book in “Dan’s Book Club” in 2004), responding to my BLOG of February 2008 where I told how Dr. Westney’s talk at our music teachers’ convention in January gave me useful ideas in my performing. Regarding Jack’s question about the fingering for J.S. Bach’s music, does anyone know if there is a book available on that topic?

Finally, Christina Harmon has visited this website and Dan mentioned her in his February 2007 “Rampage.” She is the organist at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and also a concert organist. She had a letter published in the May 2008 issue of the magazine of the American Guild of Organists, which is called “The American Organist.” Her letter was in response to my letter published in the February 2008 issue of that magazine. Each of us had written on the topic, “traditional church music versus ‘contemporary’ church music,” a sore issue with many of us church musicians today, since there is a movement to allow the use of secular music in church services, which is played on rock guitars and drums. I don’t approve of the use of secular music in church, but favor traditional music. She had some interesting ideas, and I believe from her letter that she also favors traditional music. If you want to read our letters, back issues of the magazines are available for $5.00 plus shipping from AGO national headquarters in New York;, contact them at “”.

In closing, I had asked you if you remember reaching certain milestones as children, such as learning to tie your shoes? I remember learning to tie my shoes, and two others: When I was about 6, I was returning in an automobile with my siblings and other children from a visit to the circus. I was practicing my newly learned skill, how to blow bubbles with bubble gum! Also when I was about 10 years old, I remember finally learning how to whistle tunes by pursing my lips. I had learned how by observing my Dad and various other men whistling while they worked.

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Posted by: @ 8:51 pm

Getting ready for an organ recital gives me a great sense of purpose for several months at a time. Then when the recital is finally over, I feel lost and cut adrift; I feel sad, almost as though Christmas is over. I like giving a recital so much, it makes me feel special and important, because I have been studying and playing music ever since I was 7 years old and by now I am fairly advanced. I always pray before a recital, and this time I prayed that I would do well. Every time, a “voice” answered me, saying “You’ll do well, and you’ll learn from it.”

Preparing for a solo organ concert or recital is more pressure on you than is playing a church service, because you are conspicuous and your playing is expected to be mistake-free. I gave two 30-minute programs, performing the same music in a Lenten series at two different churches. One organ was a pipe organ, a 3-manual Moller rebuilt by Hart di Genarro, and the second organ was a 1995 3-manual Rodgers. I played music by Jean-Francois Dandrieu,Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, Sigfrid Karg-Elert, Joseph Jongen, and two by J.S. Bach. The most demanding piece was the
E Flat Major Prelude, the “St. Anne,” by Bach. I began learning it in 2004. It was thoroughly learned, but beginning in December, I began “perfecting” it so I could play it reliably without any mistakes.

Dr. William Westney, a concert pianist and professor at Texas Tech, gave a talk at our piano teachers convention at Maryland University in January about how to perform and practice without fear of mistakes. Dr. Westney has written a book, “The Perfect Wrong Note,” urging pianists and musicians to learn from their wrong notes. His handout given at the class says, “’Honest’ wrong notes . . . offer priceless, specific physical information–fast! . . .Can any breakthrough in life happen without obvious mistakes? . . .” He says dreading mistakes causes one to become tense. He could have been talking directly to me! Fear of making mistakes didn’t make me physically tense, but it caused me to doubt my intelligence and it interfered with concentration. Incidentally, to aid in your concentration, try to “stay in the place where you are” and not to mentally jump ahead to a passage that has proven challenging in the past. Dr. Westney believes that instead of becoming fearful, the musician should let a mistake guide her/him to the cause of the mistake.

I took his advice and went through the entire Bach prelude, page by page, on my digital organ at home and discovered where I made mistakes, then why. Sometimes the cause was technical, for instance, missing notes when playing leaps of a ninth, or needing to move a foot to the next pedal note in a new position before playing it. Gradually I eliminated all mistakes, as long as I was concentrating. It was helpful to practice the piece with the metronome at a slower tempo than performance tempo.

About three weeks before the performances, I began practicing on the organs at those churches, and I practiced making the registration changes. I found it helpful to make charts of the registration that I studied away from the organ.

The night before each recital, I studied the music, and in the morning before the recital I played through the whole Bach prelude with the metronome at a slower tempo without stopping.

I’m a little superstitious sometimes, and for good luck I wore a certain necklace to both recitals. Additionally, I had left my badge from the music teacher convention on the stereo ever since January 19th and also had saved a magazine article with a picture of Bette Midler in it for inspiration, because she is a performer I admire.


My daughter was a graduate of Northwestern University, and their recent newsletter informed us that the Music Library there “maintains a small collection of Beatles memorablia featuring handwritten lyrics of seven songs, including ‘Eleanor Rigby’” and others from the album, “Revolver.” The music of the Beatles influenced me when I was young. I wrote piano variations on one of their songs from about 1969, “Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl,” for an exam when I was a college senior, for which I remember getting a B+. I checked out the Beatles memorablia online and the items were originally purchased from a collection owned by the composer, John Cage, the newsletter said. To learn more and view a photo, visit


I believe Hillary Clinton has the experience, intelligence and capacity for leadership to be a good president. She has a vast experience in government, having been a public servant ever since she was a law student. At Wellesley she and her group advocated for abused children. When her husband was governor of Arkansas she worked on a task force to develop policies that set higher standards for the state’s public schools. During the 8 years her husband was our president, she saw first-hand what is required to be a good president. Also because she is a wife and mother, she can relate well to family life.

On her website she lists 14 issues and her ideas for governing in these areas. The issues include affordable health care, promoting energy independence and fighting global warming, fulfilling our promises to veterans, immigration reform, and restoring America’s standing in the world, including ensuring our security.

All her plans seem practical and carefully crafted. When I watch her in the debates she is articulate, confident and exhibits a formidable intelligence. It is obvious that she cares deeply for people and takes her work very seriously.
I have every confidence that she would be a strong, compassionate president and I am enthusiastic for her election!

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Posted by: @ 8:50 pm

I wrote this paper for a talk which I gave for my women’s club in April 2005. I also performed a piano program for them following the talk. The topic of my talk was suggested by our president, Kitty Cash. Perhaps some of you people in the BACHorgan community may find this paper useful as a reference when friends and acquaintances ask for distinctions among various styles of music:

4-12-05 by Susan Burkhalter

All definitions are from “The Harvard Dictionary of Music”, edited by Don Randel. This book is an excellent resource, it’s 942 pages and published by Harvard University Press. Another valuable resource on the composers is “The Grove Dictionary of Music”, a 20-volume collection now available online.

Classical: “In popular usage, art or “serious” music as opposed to “popular” music.” Classical is also the name of the period of musical composition from 1725-1825.

“Popular music: Mass-disseminated music of recent centuries. The 18th and 19th centuries saw the development, chiefly in Europe and America, of a genre distinct from both folk and classical or art music. It differed from the former in being composed and notated and in developing a musical style not distinctive of a certain region or ethnic group. . . early pieces of popular music shared general features with classical music of the day [but] they were briefer and simpler, making fewer demands on both performer and listener.

Factors contributing to the development of popular music include the emergence and growth of a middle class, literate and with the means and desire to be involved in newly composed music but without the cultural heritage to be fully involved in classical music; the mass production of chord-playing instruments such as the guitar, concertina, and piano; the development of new, less expensive methods of music printing; and the rise of a popular musical theater” (which could make use of the songs). For more description of the development of popular music in the 18th and 19th centuries, read pages 646-649. (for example, melodies from the Italian operas of Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti were simplified and printed as sheet music to use as “parlor songs.”) It also describes the growth of “minstrel songs” in the U.S. It has several paragraphs about the American, Stephen Collins Foster, as well as the influence of the Civil War on popular music.

Jazz: “An eclectic, expanding collection of 20th-century styles, principally instrumental and of black American creation. Swing and improvisation are essential to several styles, but only an emphasis on characteristic timbres spans all musics called jazz, whether functional or artistic, popular or esoteric, instrumental or vocal, improvised or composed, “hot” or “cool.” (from Webster’s Dictionary: “Timbre - the quality given to a sound by its overtones.”) Jazz intertwines with other genres. It has always been linked to blues through instrumental adaptions . . . of improvisatory story telling, call and response, and vocal inflections” (such as blue notes). The dictionary also mentions the influence on jazz of American marching bands, ragtime, piano composers such as Ravel and Debussy and the rhythms of Latin American dances. “Later it incorporated . . . electronic innovations in rock and soul . . . Jazz emerged in the 1890s through the 1910s.”

Rock ‘n’ roll: “A type of American popular music of the 1950s, based chiefly on elements of vernacular Afro-American music . . .” “[it] is essentially a form of rhythmicized blues.(p. 711, Harvard Dictionary).

Rock: “A genre of mass-disseminated music emerging in the 1960s, related to but distinct from “rock ‘n’ roll.” The musical and expressive features of rock were forged in California by the Byrds and a number of bands in the San Francisco area” (such as The Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service). “Rock is electrical, in its use of amplification, distortion, and eventual production of sound. The electric guitar is the most important melodic instrument . . .””The lyrics are usually intensely personal or political and are often obscure in poetical style. . .rock was the first popular genre to develop extended and often complex structures, made possible by its origins in live performance and . . . long-playing records.”


I was a piano teacher for 30 years. My class of piano students usually consisted of no more than 15 people and we had recitals, usually in my living room (where we had a two-manual digital church organ, a 100-year-old Mason and Hamlin reed organ, and two pianos) two or three times a year. Since I like to perform music, I played a piece or two at every student recital and always tried to make the recital or concert an enjoyable experience.

Often we would begin with a game of some kind and sometimes a short music appreciation lesson in which the students participated. Some music we have studied through the years includes Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and the choral movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

In 2003 at our 8 p.m. Halloween Party and Concert, I decided that as the closing number I would play “House of Shadows”, a boogie by Robert Vandall. I instructed the students and audience to begin marching and dancing into the kitchen where refreshments would be served while I played. At the last minute I decided to play “conga line music” on the piano as a prelude to my piece by Vandall. Everybody was having a grand and noisy time as the procession wove in and out of rooms on its way towards the kitchen.

Just then my husband was getting home from some errands. He barged into the living room, slightly perturbed, loudly exclaiming, “What’s this commotion? Can’t these parents control their kids?!” He genuinely thought things had gotten out of hand!

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Posted by: @ 8:50 pm

I, Susan Burkhalter, was playing the postlude recently at a church service on a pipe organ, a 2-manual Wicks located in the balcony. The music was the J.S. Bach C Major Fugue, BWV 537. I had practiced it a good deal and while playing it I could feel the connection with the ten people who stayed behind to listen. This is what I love about playing the music of Bach live for people; that is, they become actively involved in the music’s drama while listening. A Bach fugue is so well crafted that it is propelled forward and takes both the listener and the player along as though you were white-water rafting on a river. Its force is inevitable, much like the progress of a thunderstorm or similar act of nature.

The fugue ended and people applauded. I turned around to smile and acknowledge the applause. Then I noticed a small group of people sitting in the front row of the sanctuary. Just as the applause was barely ending, a young man in a suit stood and said loudly and somewhat impatiently and sarcastically, “Thank you!”, meaning “thank you for finishing those three minutes of noise on that musical instrument, finally, so that we can get on with our meeting.” (It was to be a meeting about fund-raising for a project.) The young man obviously isn’t a church-goer, or he would know that he was usurping the postlude, a part of the church service, and not merely enduring an inconvenient performance of music by some stranger in a room he had hoped to take charge of!


The following is a humorous letter submitted to The American Organist magazine back in the 1990’s sometime, I found it in my files: It was written by Kerry J. Beaumont of West Chester, Pa.: “(When you don’t know what to say!) A list of one-liners which can be taken as compliments
1. The way you executed those pieces is truly remarkable.
2. I particularly liked your pedal phrasing.
3. Your registration left me speechless.
4. My, what a concert! Something like that only comes by once in a lifetime.
5. This is a magnificent organ, isn’t it?
6. I have never heard playing like that before.
7. Tell me, who was your teacher? (Say this in a happy sort of way.)
8. Do you practice a lot?
9. At several moments in your performance, I was moved to the brink of tears.
10. I particularly liked the first page of the Bach.
11. I have not often heard an organ sound the way you made this one sound.
12. Your music! Your control! Your standard of perfection! Well . . . I just don’t know what to say.
13. How was your summer vacation? (This one doesn’t seem to work well in February or March).
14. You play like Bach!!!
15. (Try smiling genuinely and walk briskly past to get to the food.)
16. How long have you been studying? (This doesn’t work well if your performer is experiencing mid-life crisis).
17. You have a lot of healthy stamina to play that way.
18. That was one concert that I will never forget. (Say it pleasantly)– by Kerry Beaumont”

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Posted by: @ 8:49 pm

As long as I can remember, I have always liked animated cartoons. After I had children, I enjoyed watching some of their favorite ones with them, in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Today I will tell you about my current favorite cartoon show on TV, “The Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles.” It airs on Saturday mornings where we live. The heroes are 4 turtles, former housepets who were flushed into a sewer and accidentally drenched with a liquid which caused them to mutate into big, powerful animals who could fight, using martial arts skills. The now-teenagers continue to live in some attractive apartments located in the sewers of New York City. Their master is Master Splinter, a large rat with excellent Ninja (martial arts) fighting skills. He is a philosopher and acts as their pseudo father. The turtles are named for Renaissance painters: Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Donatello.

My son and I first discovered this TV show 18 years ago when he was 3. We collected the stuffed animals and action figures and toys that spun off from the show. Back in 1989, it was popular with preschool-age boys and older ones, too. Eventually the show was replaced with other cartoons, but it reappeared sometime since 2004 with the same characters and ideals, which have been freshened and updated.

I think this show may appeal to organists, because, since we work in the world of religion, we could relate to its ideals: The Turtles serve a greater purpose and do good by fighting monsters and evil guys. They observe a code of honor handed down by their Master Splinter, whom they respect and obey. Even though there is violence on the show, it appears to be a fantasy and the action is dance-like. I think boys or girls watching it would realize that real people would not behave like that, so they wouldn’t “try it at home.” Two likeable human characters appear on the show, too, a boy named Cody and a girl named April. Also organists are artistic and may appreciate the visual arts. The colors and graphics are appealing and the action is very well done. There is a variety in sounds. The characters themselves are appealing fellows and there are many humorous moments in the show. For instance, “Michelangelo is a party dude,” they have said in the show. If you like new technology, you would like some of their ideas. For example, on one show they had a gadget called a “signal dampener,” and there were “holigraphic walls.” Funny things they’ve said are, “Scope this out and meet you in 5!” and for a cuss-word, “What the shell!” Another humorous happening was when they fought against a 3-headed monster, and each head would take turns controlling the body.

Furthermore, organists would enjoy the weapons and clever devices on the show, since we have exotic gadgets and names of “stops” on our pipe organs. The Turtles use various exotic weapons such as “nun-chuks.”


In the summer I always read something frivolous. Lately I have been reading mysteries by these two authors: (I used to read the medical thrillers by Robin Cook, but I think I finished all of them) These are both series of books. (1) By Sue Grafton, a writer from California: “K is for Killer.” She has a book for almost every letter in the alphabet, I think. (2) By Lillian Jackson Braun: She writes books featuring a cat as a character, along with people. I’m now reading, “The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell.” A typical title from her novels is “The Cat who Smelled a Rat.”

In the category of serious books, I’m reading “Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science religion. That is because I play organ at a Science church and the Reader got this for me. Also “The American Classic Organ - A History in Letters” by Charles Callahan. It was published in 1990 by The Organ Historical Society. It’s fascinating, letters sent among the builders of Aeolian Skinner pipe organs between 1924 and 1958; it includes those of Ernest M. Skinner, Henry Willis III, Emerson Richardson, G. Donald Harrison, and others. Charles Callahan was my organ teacher for 5 years in the 1980’s.

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By Susan Burkhalter, © 2007

On June 2nd, 2007 I was one of four organists to play in a master class with Marianne Webb at St. Andrew’s Episcopal in College Park, Maryland on a Lewis and Hitchcock organ, III/39 ranks. Ms. Webb is a concert artist and organ professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale since 1965. She holds the Master of Music from the University of Michigan, where she was a scholarship student of Marilyn Mason. Ms. Webb went on to become a Fulbright Scholar. After being her “student” briefy and watching her work with the others, I feel that Marianne Webb must be one of the best teachers in the world! She is pretty, petite with strawberry blonde hair and delicate, yet strong, hands. She wore a pale green chiffon dress and sparkling jewelry. She had a charismatic personality. She reminds me of one of the princess heroines in a Walt Disney animated film, such as Cinderella or Belle.

Appropriately enough, although coincidentally, the Master Class was held on the birthday of my mother, Thelma Burkhalter, who passed away in 1970. My mother was a lover of music, Shakespeare and the fine arts, and perhaps she was there in spirit! In the program it explained that June 2, 2007 was the 70th anniversary of the death of Louis Vierne, who died right after playing a recital at Notre Dame cathedral. The Master Class was arranged by my teacher, Dale Krider. He knew Marianne Webb and her reputation as a fine teacher and concert artist. He told me later that Ms. Webb prepared for the class, studying each of the pieces to be played and even assembled handouts for the players and audience. I played the Fugue sur la nom d’ALAIN, Op. 7 by Maurice Duruflé. The three other pieces played in the class were Carillon, Op. 31 No. 21 by Louis Vierne, Piece Héroique by César Franck, and Carillon de Westminster, Op. 54 No. 6, played by a young man who was a student at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.

I had been in another master class in 1999 at Westminster Presbyterian in Alexandria, Virginia. The teacher of that class was Maurice Clerc, Titular Organist at St. Benigne’s Cathedral and a professor at National Conservatory in Dijon, France. I played La Nativité by Jean Langlais, learning it in only a few months specifically for the class.

I spent hundreds of hours working on the Duruflé Fugue. It is one of the most difficult organ pieces I’ve learned, but I love it so much! It is quite beautiful. The class got to play on the organ whre I take my organ lessons, a Lewis and Hitchcock III/39, and I asked for extra practice time on it to become comfortable with the registration changes.

To try out my piece before the Master Class, I played it as a postlude at St. Andrew’s Episcopal where my teacher is organist-choir director. This was useful to build confidence. Afterwards, I made note of page numbers where unexpected mistakes occurred, e.g. “be well-coordinated, 8 measures, p. 21.” Also the last page of the Fugue is so loud, complicated, and fast that I could only master it by memorizing it. I was slightly nervous that my memory might fail in performance, but it was fine when I played it for the postlude and I felt relieved.

Around the time of the Master Class, my husband and I attended a National Symphony Orchestra concert featuring the young Chinese pianist, Lang Lang, who played the Tchaikovsky B Flat Minor Concerto. It was my second time hearing him. He’s one of the best young pianists in the world, with such amazing feeling, technique, confidence, and musicality. Yet he’s very simple, with an engaging and humble personality, and seems to become the music he’s playing. His performance inspired me greatly for the Master Class. I thought, “I will try to communicate with the audience and to breathe with the music, as he did and to notice the drama in the music.”

Sometimes I’m a bit superstitious. For instance, I wore white pants to try out my piece for the Master Class at a church service, and I decided not to wash or iron the pants before the Master Class. Also I didn’t get a hair cut until the week after the Master Class, since it might be bad luck to get one before the Class.


The Master Class was on a Saturday. I decided to allow plenty of time to drive to the class, since one never knows how traffic will be on the Beltway, and under good conditions it takes me at least 35 minutes to drive to College Park. I took along snacks and water just in case. I got there almost an hour early, so I parked outside the church and walked around on the campus of Maryland U. for a while. That was really fun. I went into a used CD store, CD Game Exchange on Lehigh Road, and talked briefly to a few friendly young people. I actually got to see photos of groups my son likes on the covers of CD’s, so I learned something.

Finally it was time to go into the sanctuary of the church for the class. All the performers but one had arrived. My teacher Dale was there, of course. One of the young performers and his parents are my friends, so I greeted them and we chatted for a while. Then I excused myself; I said, “I better not yack too much, or I won’t be able to think well,” and the young organist’s mother agreed, saying “J_ feels the same way about a performance.” I sat in a pew and looked at a magazine I had brought for a while.
Finally it was time to begin. Luckily I was the second one on the program, a good spot, I feel. When it was my turn I went up to the organ, set up my music, and tested the bench, moving it back a little so I could clearly see all the toe pistons and swell pedals, etc. I wasn’t at all nervous to play in the class, but I was excited and elated. I had to be sure my emotions were under control. The teacher talked about my piece first and gave out some handouts about the musical alphabet letters used to spell the name “Alain.” (She also gave out pages showing errors (errata) in the works of Vierne and Franck, explaining that Vierne had notoriously poor eyesight.)

I played my Duruflé Fugue. It seemed to be going very well and I felt in control. Then I hit the wrong pedal piston, 4 instead of 5, which reduced the pedal. I had forgotten to remind my teacher to set up two identical pedal pistons, as this had happened once at a lesson (hitting the wrong piston) recently. What could I do? There wasn’t really anywhere with a break in the music, and I was on the last 2 pages. I stopped for a second and hit the toe stud “Pedal 5,’ which brought on the right sound.

I had been a little worried that I would have a memory slip on the last page of the piece, and out of fear I had a lapse for a microsecond, but mentally pushed myself ahead and no one noticed anything (it was OK). The next day I saw my teacher at an organ recital, and he said, enthusiastically, “I thought you played quite well! I was very pleased!” That made me feel good.

After I finished playing, Ms. Webb talked about my performance. She praised it, but she said, “You had a hesitation.” I said, “That’s because I pushed the wrong pedal piston.” As it turned out, each of the performers did extremely well, and each person made 1 or 2 minor mistakes. Maybe that happens in a Master Class. Then Ms. Webb got me to repeat my piece; she wanted me to feel it in 2 beats instead of 6 beats (it was in 6/8), and she felt I had to play it nearly twice as fast. So I DID, with her sitting beside me on my right side, conducting me energetically with both her arms and calling out commands loudly, much as one would drive a team of horses galloping and pulling a wagon! The tempo was too fast for me to play and I ended up leaving out some notes, but people said it was exciting. I don’t know how I did it. She used the same “conducting and harangueing” technique with each of us in the class!

There was an audience of about 40, and I think I got a standing ovation! It’s funny how you get caught up and emotional during moments like that and don’t notice things. One interesting thing that happened, though, was after the Class, Marta Kumer, of Virginia and Arizona, a member of the community with whom I had corresponded by e-mail, came up and introduced herself, saying how much she had enjoyed the class! I was surprised.

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Posted by: @ 8:48 pm

by Susan Burkhalter

Although I have taught piano for 30 years, I have never had an organ student. I have always wanted to have an organ student, but although the local MTNA directory lists after my name that I teach organ, no one has ever inquired. Therefore I decided to find and interview an organ teacher.

The organ teacher I interviewed is Diane Heath, the Music Associate at St. Columba’s Episcopal in Washington, D.C. She holds the Master of Music degree from Indiana University. She teaches piano and organ. She has played many organ recitals. Recently to make the recitals more “kid friendly,” Diane created “Kids Sheets” for children to read while they attend her organ recitals. “Adults like them even better than the kids,” said Diane. A sample of one is enclosed.

Here are some questions which I e-mailed to Diane, along with her answers. I also spoke with her on the phone:

(SB) 1. For how many years have you taught organ? Are the lessons every week and what length is each lesson?
(DH): I’ve had an organ student or two for about 15 years. Teenaged students typically take a 1-hour lesson weekly. Adult students often come for a lesson as they’re able, wedging them between work and family responsibilities - perhaps once every two or three weeks.

(SB): 2. How do you find students?
(DH): Mostly word of mouth, except for St. Albans/National Cathedral School students, where I’m on the music faculty.

(SB): 3. At what minimum age do you start the children? What knowledge or skill level in piano studies is required before they begin to study organ?
(DH): I used to do some work with young piano students at the organ, but time constraints limit that now. However, I make it a point to let young piano students spend a little time on the organ. Often they’re surprised to learn that the organ was invented before the piano. Sometimes we’ll improvise a musical story using the organ’s tonal palette. Rather than having a minimum age for starting lessons, I ask that students be able to play two Bach inventions before starting organ. The youngest organ student I have had is age 3, but typically my beginning organ students are about 11.

(SB): 4. Do you use any particular method book with the students, and if so, what?
(DH): The Gleason book is near and dear to my heart. I still think of my first organ teacher, David Almond, when I open it. Another useful book is Wayne Leupold’s “First Organ Book.”

(SB): 5. After a few years of lessons, do you allow your older child-age students or adults to participate in the service at your church by playing a prelude or a hymn?
(DH): As soon as a student has something performance-ready I’m delighted to have them play in church. Usually a first performance is a prelude
or postlude. Although hymns sound simple, it’s not so easy to play a bass line with your feet and carefully finger the voice parts for legato playing. (Remember, there is no sustaining pedal on the organ to get you from chord to chord.) And then there is the issue of never stopping while leading a congregation in a hymn. Once these skills are in place I sometimes have first or second year students work on a “hymn of the month” project and share the fruits of their effort with the congregation. The folks at St. Columba’s are wonderfully supportive of young musicians.

(SB): 6. Have any of your serious students continued with organ by becoming music majors in college?
(DH): A former student is now an organ major at Peabody, and I have another student - a rising high school senior - who will be auditioning for organ programs next year.

This concludes the interview. Does anybody out there in the community have any other questions for Diane? Or if you’re an organ teacher yourself, you can respond with your comments by clicking on “comments” below, or e-mailing me, and I will forward your question to Diane.

Here is a sample of Diane Heath’s Kids Sheet she wrote and has used at her concerts:


Music Title: Rubrics

Composed by Dan Locklair (U.S.A. born 1949)

This piece will knock your socks off. It’s in 5 different movements, so don’t clap until the very end , even though you may feel like it. Also, don’t throw tomatoes until the end. Better yet - don’t throw anything, except maybe roses.

Here are the titles of the 5 movements and some things to listen for:

1. “…Hallelujah’, has been restored…” Imagine sledding down a steep snowy hill. That’s what a glissando is, and this movement is full of them. The organist takes her thumb and slides it across all of the keys, making a very cool sound. The same thing will happen with the feet on the organ pedals - glissandi up and down all of the pedals.

2. “Silence may be kept.” What do you think music about silence should sound like? The bells that you will hear at the end of this movement are actual bells sounding from the tall tower outside, and they will ring both inside and outside. I wonder what the neighbors think about that.

3. “…and thanksgivings may follow.” Before I tell you what this movement reminds me of, you should listen to it and decide for yourself. Then, you can look at the bottom of this sheet to see my impression*. Disclaimer: I don’t know what image, if any, the composer, Dan Locklair, had in mind, so the item at the bottom it just my opinion. By the way, the tinkling sound that comes and goes is called a Zimblestern. This is an organ stop that causes little bells to go around and be struck by a mallet.

4. “The Peace may be exchanged.” What would world peace look like and sound like?

5. “The people respond - Amen!” Warning: this piece could cause dancing. The ushers probably wouldn’t like it if you did that during this concert though.

Music Title: Où S’en vont Ces gais bergers.

(French for, “Where are the gay shepherds going?”)

Composed by Claude Balbastre (France 1727 - 1799)

This piece was created by making variations on a French Christmas Carol. Some things to listen for:

Ornaments - similar to Christmas Tree Ornaments, they are pretty little trills that are stuck on notes. The player’s fingers go very fast back and forth on just 2 notes.
Registration - different kinds of sounds, coming from different groups of pipes, including flutes, cromhorns, and trumpets.

Strange but cool chords - that you can hear in the last variation, and a final chord that is a little bit goofy as well.

Music Title: Chorale in B Minor

Composed by César Franck (France 1822 - 1890)

I think this piece is like a very big house - a mansion, in fact - with tons of different rooms, lots of stairways, and a large and interesting yard. There are several different characters who sometimes are alone and sometimes together. Let your imagination tell the story of who they are and what they do. Hint: The second time the piece gets really slow and soft it’s time to end your story. If you like to draw, you could try to sketch out the plot.

Music Title: Toccata in F Major

Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (Germany 1685 - 1750)

A lot of chasing goes on in this piece because of all of the canons (rounds) that Bach put into his composition. First the left hand part chases the right hand part, then there is a virtuoso pedal solo (sort of like playing soccer - no hands allowed), then the right hand part chases the left hand part, then another pedal solo, and then everybody gets chased all up and down the keyboard and pedalboard until the end.

Music Title: Le Banquet Céleste
(French for “The Celestial Banquet”)

Composed by Olivier Messiaen (France 1908 - 1992)

Olivier Messiaen marked “Tres Lent”, which means “very slow” at the top of the music score. When Messiaen says slow, he means R-E-A-L-L-Y S-L-O-W. In this composition, Messiaen intentionally tried to alter the listener’s sense of time. Some people fall into a kind of hypnotic trance when they listen to this music, and that might happen to you. When the music ends you will come back to normal awareness, so don’t worry about becoming trapped in the trance.

Music Title: Final from Première Sonate Symphonie en Ré mineur

Composed by Félix-Alexandre Guilmant (France 1837 - 1911)

Have you heard the expression, “pulled out all the stops”? That saying comes from the organ. When organists pull out all the stops, they make as many pipes as possible play at the same time. This can get very loud. Toward the very end of this piece I will add a special stop called the Pontifical Trumpet. Occasionally audience members need to cover their ears because it is so loud that it hurts. I won’t be offended if you need to do this, but try leaving your ears uncovered and see how much sound you can take.

This KID’S SHEET CONCERT PROGRAM was written by today’s performer, Diane Lewis Heath, who lives in Washington, DC, where she teaches piano and organ to both young people and adults, has an 11-year old son and a husband who is a kid at heart. After finishing High School, Diane went to music school for about 8 years, which means that she completed 20th grade!
* a very fast moving carousel that has bumps built in.These program notes were included as part of “Encouraging Young Listeners” by Diane Heath in The American Organist, June 2005.

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Posted by: @ 8:47 pm

On February 17th I attended a National Symphony Orchestra concert. “Harmonielehre” by John Adams was a featured work. No, he is not the 2nd president of the United States, John Adams (1735-1826) who served from 1797-1801, for that would make him 272 years old! This concert occurred on the 60th birthday of the composer.

The work lasted 40 minutes. It is scored for 20 wind instruments, 13 brass instruments, a wide variety of percussion, including 2 marimbas, vibraphone, xylophone, tubular bells, piano, celesta, and strings, with 4 sections of violins, and 2 each of violas and cellos. The work is listed as Part 1, Part 2: The Anfortas Wound, Part 3: Meister Eckhardt and Quackie.

The composer is considered a minimalist and has been compared to Steve Reich and Philip Glass, also minimalists. He is “one of the outstanding composers of his generation. . . and [his music] has earned him not only recognition but an enthusiastic following on the part of a broad international audience.” as the writer of the NSO’s program notes described him. He has been associated for many years with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and was their composer-in-residence from 1979 to 1985.

Following is a brief explanation of this work which I condensed from the composer John Adams’ own words in the program. The title of the work came from a study of tonal harmony published in 1911 by the great composer Arnold Schoenberg. The composer Adams wrote a lengthy and profound explanation of this work which is a little too intellectual for a non-composer such as I (wrote S.B. - I have studied composition and composed some rather forgettable music). Adams explained that the Anfortas wound got its name from C.G. Jung’s discussion of the character of Anfortas, the king whose wounds could never be healed. Meister Eckhard was a Dominican monk, ca. 1260-1327, the father of German mysticism.

Before telling my reaction to this live performance, let me say that John Adams is obviously a brilliant composer and extremely learned and gifted, and I mean him no disrespect. Most of us musicians could come nowhere near him in our abilities and productions. These are merely my spontaneous feelings and impressions evoked from hearing this work, written the night I got home from the concert.
In today’s world of little appreciation by the masses for the fine arts such as classical music, it is extremely important for our major symphonies to encourage modern composers such as John Adams and to regularly perform their compositions. Otherwise classical music might eventually lose its appeal as a relevant art form.

MY RESPONSE to hearing the concert (apologies to Mr. Adams): Part 1: Pure torture, hammering, yammering. Every instrument was made to sound as ugly as possible in a most artistic, virtuoso way. Shrill, loud, clang rat a tat! Like watching someone have a tooth endlessly pulled. Like standing on a wooden floor in which nails are continuously hammered in; sounds should have beauty, no beauty here.

Part 2: Reminds me a little of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” gone “wrong.” [the picture that came to mind: You walk to a junkyard, looking for a long, writhing black monster you thought was dead. It keeps coming to life.] Every melodic motif went up or down in a way you didn’t expect and never a consonant resolution. During the ending of the movement, I pictured a man and woman dancing in the dark, and skating off at the very end. There was one moment of beauty - a downward squeal by the violins.

Part 3: “Meister Eckhardt and Quackie”: There was beauty in the beginning, constant arpeggios by the strings,winds and “quiet bell” instruments with an underlying driving rhythm, which suggested in my imagination glimmering fireflies.


It takes me a while to memorize this, because I can’t practice it every day. I’m working on 12 pieces, some for my lesson, some for a concert series in which I hope to play, and service music. I memorized the prelude (*refer to my BLOGs of 8-13-06, and 11-11-05 for earlier talk about Bach’s dm Toccata and Fugue) some time last year, and I review it to keep it current. By now I have memorized pages 29 and 30 of the Fugue, Peters Edition, through measure 58. (I numbered the measures, starting with the Toccata).

Before telling what I’ve memorized, here are “Memory Drills” which I use to build confidence when performing in public on piano or organ, and I teach them to my piano students as well:


First, you must do a formal and harmonic analysis of a piece (e.g., “A-B-A form”). You must know what key you’re in and the names of the chords. Here are the drills: (1) Be able to start at “landmarks”. Mark the beginning of distinct sections of the piece with any symbol you like, such as, draw a flower. (2) Stop every 4 or 5 measures, resuming where you left off, from memory. (3) Play the whole piece on a “silent” keyboard. That is, don’t press the keys down all the way on a piano. (4) Play the whole piece slowly without stopping. (5) Play the whole piece with your eyes closed. (6) Study the score, away from your instrument.

Back to the Bach d minor Toccata and Fugue: I found that right after the episode starting with a counter subject (last time it was stepwise D C B flat A G A B flat G, ending with a cadence in d minor, p. 30), beginning in measure 49 through measure 52, I had to memorize the right hand and left hand
separately, then put them together. When the subject entered for the 1st time in the pedal, I had to memorize that section, pedal separately and hands together separately.

I haven’t memorized these yet, but it looks like measures 57-70 will be real easy to memorize, because of all the arpeggios and especially with the way the tune echoes between 2 manuals (for instance, swell and great), and the same applies to measures 73-85.

One more helpful “memory” tip: It helps me to sing aloud certain melodies or intervals I’m learning, in my own range (I’m a mezzo-soprano), whether it’s in the bass, tenor, alto or soprano voice, using the solfege syllables “do re mi” etc., where “do” is C.

That’s all about memorizing. Gentle readers, don’t forget to e-mail me,, with your anecdotes about weddings and organ teaching! The community is waiting to hear from you.

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Posted by: @ 8:47 pm

By Susan Burkhalter, © 2007
February 6, 2007

I’m guessing that the problem of using CCM and blended services mostly occurs at the smaller (300 members or fewer) or less prominent churches where the socio-economic level of members is middle-class and lower. It has become a plague by now, and I feel that we organists and ministers of music must inform our pastors and get them to take a definite stand against using CCM in church services, or it won’t go away. I know of 2 medium-sized churches right now in upper-middle class neighborhoods in which the pastors are informed about use of CCM and they have taken a stand against it. That is why in those 2 churches, traditional music is used and the threat of CCM has been tactfully dealt with. In one church, there is a sparsely-attended small early service that uses only acoustic guitars and piano, and that is the limit of “contemporary” music for that church. It is my family’s Episcopal church. Just for the record, I am a Traditional but do like rock music and sometimes listen to it on the car radio or my MP-3 player.

The author gives definitions of the ideologies of each group on p. 17: “CCM: Contemporary Christian Music – includes music styles such as soft rock, pop/rock, easy listening or classic rock . . . [etc.] . . .P&W – the Praise and worship movement of CCM. This music style also has a strong rock influence . . .Contemporaries: Christians who prefer CCM for praise and worship in church services . . . the Traditionals: Christians who prefer traditional or conservative music in church services . . . the music is generally considered to be non-controversial and safe . . .hymns, traditional songs and those contemporary music styles that do not use rock or other musical influences that emphasize sensuality . . .”

This book is well-written in language easy to understand. It is 138 pages long. I spent months reading this book, taking notes, and reading it again. My “book report” will be sort of a summary of the book. This book contains such a wealth of material on CCM, analyses of why people want to use it, ideas on how to reform a church that wants to switch back to traditional music, that my report barely does it justice. There are also moments of humor, such as when the author is discussing how pastors ignore the fact that use of CCM goes against scriptural teachings, and he says “Pastors are to guard the sheep from deception, not open the gates and let it in”, p. 100. Another example of humor is in Chapter 11, “Show me where the Bible says that rock music is evil.” The author is citing this line of reasoning and lists 6 other classic “Show me” arguments, such as “Show me where the Bible says it is wrong to have a few beers”, p. 95. Therefore I strongly urge all church musicians and their pastors to read this book! It is an excellent resource for convincing people that CCM doesn’t belong in church services. Dan Lucarini, the author, has an extensive knowledge of scripture. For instance, he mentions how Psalm 150 is often erroneously used to support modern-day “praise music,” p. 101. He says the first musical reference in the entire Bible is Genesis 4:21 – Jubal, the father of all musicians. In the book he lists all the arguments that Contemporaries use to justify their enthusiasm for CCM and he provides counter-arguments, backed up with authoritative interpretation of the scripture and he even uses Strong’s Concordance. Because he experienced all the ins and outs of using CCM music, he has many helpful hints for how to tactfully deal with the Contemporaries and the Traditionals.


The book was published around 1999. The author had been very active in the rock and pop music world. He grew up in the Methodist church. He performed with bands from the age of 13, playing keyboards and singing vocals and writing songs. He went to college on a music scholarship and promoted rock concerts while there. He became a born-again believer at age 23. Later after he was married he joined a church and sang in the traditional church choir. He was even required to cut his long hair to be in the choir He loved the choir music and the traditional hymns. He wrote religious songs. Gradually he began leading the music, mostly traditional, at this church’s services. Then his family moved and they joined another church that had just gotten a new, younger pastor. At that church they began to use more CCM.

The author’s new job caused his family to move to Denver, Colorado. At their new church they used CCM and the author joined the music ministry. His wife, Judy, was dubious about the use of CCM from the start. They got a new pastor who was influenced by “the seeker-sensitive church”, p. 32. After a while, the author knew he had to leave this church, feeling that the new pastor was taking the service “further into worldliness than I had ever imagined,” p. 34. He became completely disillusioned with the CCM movement and decided to study the Scriptures to find arguments against the use of CCM in church services.

The church his family attends now (in 1999?) uses no CCM styles. He says “God inhabits the praise of his people without the presence of controversial music styles and performances that closely imitate the world’s music system . . . my church has that kind of worship service. . .We are a diverse church with several Hispanic families, and together we experience genuine and spontaneous worship without CCM or the need to use culturally correct music styles. . .”


In Chapter 3, “The Big Lie,” Dan Lucarini mentions the philosophy of the contemporary P & W movement, which says, ” We can use any contemporary music style in our praise and worship services, and God will accept it.” On p. 44 he lists all eleven (11) arguments which Contemporaries use to justify their use of CCM in the church. This alone, as well as useful rebuttals to them, is worth the price of this book! Examples of 3 of them are “Music is amoral,” “We’re just trying to reach the unchurched.” and “Show me where the Bible says that rock music is evil.” There are chapters that address each of the 11 arguments.

He goes on to discuss the “come as you are” movement in churches hoping to attract new attendees, suggesting that it is misleading because “sooner or later any visitors are going to discover . . . that there are plenty of judgments in the Bible.” Then, citing Scripture, he goes on to refute the belief that God accepts you for who you are. He quotes Rev. Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose-Driven Life”, pp. 45-46, saying Rev.Warren’s opinion that using Contemporary music helps your church grow is unfounded in Biblical truth, since “. . .he gives no Biblical basis for attributing such a lofty status to CCM—only his opinion. . .”

In Chapter 4, he describes “the true heart of Worship”. In this chapter, Dan Lucarini states, “I fear that in the vast majority of Contemporary churches (and also in some Traditional churches), our worship practices have strayed far away from the true biblical heart of worship because we have failed to base our practices firmly on the Word of God and instead built the foundation on the needs of man.” This statement represents the crux of his book. In this chapter, and in Chapter 6, “I Want My MTV”, he talks about how Contemporary people, many of whom are in the Baby Boom generation born between 1946 and 1964, in the “seeker-sensitive churches” lift up their hands and faces and call that worship, p. 56 But he feels this is false worship, because it shows that people feel good about themselves, and he says,”When we try to feel an experience of affirmation from worship, we are not worshiping God. We are worshiping our own egos.” He abhors the loss of the concept of “fear of God” in many of today’s churches, citing 1 Peter 2:17. Additionally, when he speaks of Biblical worship, he brings up the old practice of proskuneo, p. 53 in ancient Persia, in which a person who was of much inferior rank would fall to his knees and touch his forehead to the ground (also called ‘prostrating’) in a greeting to the superior person. He suggests that in the true heart of worship, prostrating ourselves or bowing down before the Lord would be more appropriate than the raising of hands.

In Chapter 8, “Isn’t this just a matter of personal preference and taste,” he extensively quotes Scripture to point out four good moral imperatives, including “We should avoid all music styles that could be associated in any way with today’s evil and immorality. . .” Also “we should honour our brother’s needs above our own freedom in Christ” [regarding the use of musical styles that are offensive to some].

One common misconception I’ve discovered many Contemporaries have (I faced this problem in 3 of my organist positions in churches since 2002, says Susan B.) is that “CCM is easier to sing than traditional hymns,” and the author, Dan, has a whole chapter on this. He says the CCM songs are difficult to learn because they are heavily syncopated and hard to notate exactly, and they are problematic for the organist or pianist, since they are not really written for keyboard instruments, rather for guitars. I found this to be true and also discovered that while playing CCM songs in 2006 at an Easter sunrise service, the accompaniment book and the “tune only” books which the people were singing out of (a contemporary Methodist hymnal, “The Faith We Sing”) were different! So the people and me, the keyboardist, lost each other several times. Maybe the people were also singing them the way they heard them on a CD. My checking their versions first would not have helped, since theirs probably had repeat signs which they didn’t know how to follow! Another problem Dan points out is that during services, few people in the congregation sing along, since the CCM songleaders who have flashy solo pop-style voices often intimidate the congregation. He also goes into the notion that the kind of people who usually sing CCM are white suburban people who try, inauthentically, to perform the music of “poor southern sharecroppers.” The author doesn’t approve of Contemporaries singing melody-only hymns by looking at screens, and on p. 115 he claims, “. . .a congregation that is able to sing its hymns in four-part harmony will find . . . that its worship is richer and more satisfying than if it is able to sing only the melody of the hymns. In this chapter, p. 115, he gives 7 steps to good hymn-singing from a book by John Wesley.

In the 6 pages of Chapter 17 he talks about “blended services” and why they are usually an unsuccessful approach. People think they will please everyone. The fundamental problem is that one is trying to combine in one service, “an unnatural clash of incompatible musical styles,” p. 122. In the author’s experience, CCM always prevailed over traditional music, which became only an occasional visitor. To me, one of his most frightening statements in this book is on p. 123, when he says, “I fear that the classic hymns may disappear completely from our services within fifty years because younger generations have been raised on a steady diet of CCM. . .” He also feels that separate services of Contemporary and Traditional music are not a good idea.


On the whole there is a lot about this book that is disturbing, but people really need to wake up and be outraged about this growing problem! If we church musicians don’t clamor and protest, who will?! Chapter 18, “How Shall We worship together”, and Chapter 19, “How do we choose acceptable music for services?” are the most optimistic part of the book, and they give us hope for the future of traditional church music. In Chapter 18 he recommends a reform where we remove CCM styles from our services, and lists the 6 benefits that will accrue when you do, p. 125. He describes what 9 things you will see and hear at a typical “reformed” service, such as “a grand piano and an organ” and “an enthusiastic, well-rehearsed choir” , as well as a list of 7 things you will NOT see or hear, such as “accompaniment tapes”, and “musicians who mimic secular artists”. On p. 129 he gives a warning for both Contemporaries and Traditionals who want to make this change, that by opposing CCM in the church [you] will be unfairly labeled as “a Pharisee, a legalist,” as well as 7 other insulting terms.

In the final chapter 19, “How do we choose acceptable music for services?” he gives 7 useful guidelines for consideration in service planning, such as how to tell if contemporary songs are acceptable, and to “put the microphones back on the stands.”

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Before discussing digital organs, I received an e-mail from a fan, Marta Kumer of Arizona and D.C. She says people in Phoenix should go to hear a talented young organist who graduated from Arizona State University, Homer Ferguson III. In feedback to Dan’s Rampage, “The Monster Still Lives” about the expensive digital that replaced a damaged pipe organ at Trinity church in New York City, a Pennsylvania organ builder stated that in our overly materialistic society of instant gratification, people think that technology allows them to “have it all” through digital organs. We organists know people are fooling themselves because the digitals are imitating pipe organs but aren’t “real” organs. We’re mad about this situation.

One reason why we’ve arrived at this place, I feel, is that in our American society we have abandoned the teaching of music and art history in our public schools, for the most part. I am over 50, and it seems that most people under 45 nowadays got no training in school in classical music. When I was in school, we had field trips and sang classical music and played it in the band in elementary school. We even had folk dance and square dance lessons in physical education. But things vastly changed when “science and math” became king in schools. My family lives in an upper middle-class area in Maryland where I’ve taught piano for 29 years. Many of the students never heard of Bach, Chopin, etc. (Beethoven they know from the movies in the 80’s starring the dog, Beethoven), unless their parents had formal music lessons when they were young and made the effort to take them to live performances of classical music. But most parents around here believe that music history started with the rock and pop standards of the 60’s. And of course there’s the cultural wasteland of TV where you rarely ever hear any classical music, except occasionally on PBS.

Because of the state of cultural affairs in America, many church people are ignorant of art music and think digital organs are just fine: “Hey, they cost less than pipe organs.” (except for the fact that they become obsolete the minute they’re installed and only last 10-20 years, whereas pipe organs can last forever if properly maintained, so are a better investment).

I played a 1919 Kilgen tracker action organ at an Episcopal church in Alexandria, Virginia on November 19th. The metal swell pedal said “C.K.” but it wasn’t designed by Calvin Kline! A 10-year-old boy in a seat right behind me was fascinated by my hand and footwork to make the organ work. His interest was similar to that of boys watching heavy earth-moving machinery. The mechnics of the organ were noisy. Would he have even noticed my playing on a digital?! I think not. The pipe organ is the only keyboard instrument that roars and screeches: a digital organ cannot duplicate these sounds because they are visceral.

Also a talented German piano student of mine has studied with me for about 2 years. Her family bought a piano when she started. Her dad says “When we move back to Germany we will replace it with a keyboard.” I said that is a mistake, the piano is a percussion instrument and you don’t use the same technique to play a keyboard (I had mentioned this to him and his wife when the girl started lessons). So my husband, also a good pianist, demonstrated how a piano mechanically produces sounds by showing him the parts inside our grand piano that caused the effects.

I think people are beguiled by anything electronic now - their cell phones, laptops, DVD players, etc., and are too preoccupied with their gadgets to notice that real mechanical things we’ve had around for 300 years or more still get a better result than electronic imitations of them.


I found this information in the textbook, “Form in Tonal Music” by Douglass M. Green, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., and I simplifed it somewhat. Many organists play the preludes and fugues of J.S. Bach so this will be useful to you. “Fugues are classed together in a single species not because of similarities of form, but because they exhibit in their texture similar contrapuntal procedures” [counterpoint: the art of polyphonic composition]. A fugue may show “binary (2 parts) or ternary (3 parts) form; it may exhibit resemblances to the rondo. Frequently a particular fugue has a unique form of its own . . . a fugue is a polyphonic composition, with a texture made up of a constant number of melodic lines, usually 3 or four, occasionally 5, rarely 2 or 6.” (–Douglass Green) The top line is called the soprano voice, the lowest the bass, alto is the middle line, and if a 4th voice, it’s the tenor.

The fugue has a theme beginning in one voice and imitated by each voice in succession. The theme is the subject, its imitation the answer. Commonly the 1st answer to the subject is stated in I or the tonic and is answered in the V or dominant key (e.g., subject - key of C, answer - up a 5th in G). There can be real or exact imitation and tonal imitation. Each time the subject presents, it’s an entry or statement. The passages in which the theme doesn’t appear are called episodes. A group of entries is called an exposition. Sometimes there is also a “countersubject.”


Here was my Christmas gift to my church where I play once a month: As an offertory, I took a hymn tune from the Episcopal hymnal, “Truro.” I played one verse as written. I played an interlude at the end, then played the hymn tune accompanied only by 8th notes in the left hand, improvised, halfway through, then the tune harmonized by 8th notes in 3rds until the end, with some pedal at cadences. I improvised an interlude, then with a one measure chord progression, modulated up a whole step and played the hymn tune in the new key. I ended it with a short improvised coda. Congregations seem to love this kind of thing! It’s spontaneous and a bit suspenseful, as they aren’t sure what you will do next and either are you! However, you must practice the improvisation as much as it takes to get comfortable.

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October 2, 2006

What an exciting musical weekend we had! First we heard the National Symphony Orchestra with the young guest conductor Ilan Volkov ( conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra). The program consisted of Rachmaninoff’s 4th Piano Concerto with pianist Yefim Bronfman, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, and a new work, “towards a Pure Land” by Jonathan Harvey, a British composer b. 1939. This work was inspired somewhat by Buddhist literature. It was written for orchestra and quite a few percussion instruments, including a wind machine! It was intrigueing and piqued the audience’s attention throughout. My impressions of it: It would be good background music for a nature film. At first it sounded like something scuttling across the ocean floor. The gong banged a few times like a large man coughing once but cutting it short while he slams a door. “Clakkety” noises like castanets reminded me of the Luciane coffee commercial on TV in the 1960’s or ‘70’s. On the whole, this music was very peaceful and cheerful.

Sunday a young student, age 11 and I attended an organ recital by Paul Jacobs, the amazingly talented and expressive young organist who is head of the organ department at Juillard, played on a 4-manual Schantz at a Lutheran church in Washington, DC During his concert he announced that he noticed a few young people in the audience, and he commended us for bringing them. He asked that they be sure to come by and meet him after the concert.

In summary, if you are a musician or music lover, make the effort to attend live performances of classical music and take along a young person under 30. We must keep the tradition alive for younger people who are here now and will someday replace us at concerts!

Here are two of my early poems on musical themes. They may or may not inspire you! After the poems, I mention two more details about the Bach E Flat Prelude and Fugue, BWV 552. Finally, if anybody has an original poem on a musical theme you would like to have read and maybe put in my blog, send it to me at Additionally, let me know what concerts you attended that affected you, along with your name and where you are from or where you are organist.

By Susan Burkhalter © 6-05-06


written 6-15-80, my reaction to a performance of Godspel l by teenagers at my church in Washington, DC

all the people who have to swarm around performers
getting in everyone’s way (some of them performers themselves)
they can’t get over the rocket blasts of energy,emotion, crisscrossed menageries, all kinds of

people moved and trampled and touched,
young and old, different colors, different problems,
some will react and others will whistle like teakettles at the ready,

but others will go home for weeks, unnoticed, then erupt
loudly and bellowing, sending out fumes and incense
sweet trailing smoke, smashing their plates of peas and potatoes,
and going out with their shoelaces untied.
Zig zag hemispheres, ribbons tying us together and wires
keeping us apart, hanging from the ceiling and hooked up into walls and crevasses, put there by professionals under union rules.

Everyone has a place – a union, society, family, employer – but that’s a myth, because many are forgotten, lonely,
frazzled, starved, dead.
The performers send out waves of embarassment, wailing, honking, true love, real money-making blockbusters; and a few in the audience,
Bumbling fishhooks, telescoping midgets, in the thick of human foibles . . .
Frisbee-like magnets, settling in the coffers of our love.

II. playing the church organ Sunday afternoon
(written 3-10-75)

by Susan Burkhalter © 6-5-06

my paintbox of colors spilled all over you yesterday
violet gentian light, thru stained glass windows – zebras and other acrobats
danced their sharp hooves up my spine
& we feasted on a gale of yellow straw, whirling by, lightstruck glowing
brays like mowing machine motors, tinkling broken glass
my fast lightfingers wove a million melodies,
honey strands on this beehive loom.

Rainfingers spatter – whirring keys, clackety eggbeaters
Movement on a highspan bridge, lines of autos
heading for pastures of delight at the beach
Drive right up God’s pointing finger
Into His laughing mouth.


Bach’s E flat Prelude and Fugue, 2 more details I found: the quarter notes’ worth of rests in measure 110 (9 measures from the end of the fugue) are to mark the place where the alto voice drops out. Also when I was getting the 6/4 section of the fugue up to tempo (M.M.dotted half note = 48), I had to change fingering and couldn’t do finger substitution as much.

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By Susan Burkhalter, © 2006
August 13, 2006

I will start by reporting on J.S. BACH’S D MINOR TOCCATA AND FUGUE, BWV 565 - I have the Peters edition. I have memorized the toccata. It seems easier to memorize than the fugue, perhaps because we have heard it so much in recordings, the rhythm is “catchy”, and it uses triads and sequences which are easy to remember. I did have a little trouble committing the prestissimo section to memory, since the endless diminished 7th arpeggios were hard to keep track of. I devised a system which helped: in the 3rd measure of that section, where the right hand moves down to C# on beat 23, I say out loud, “Elevator going down,” then in the next measure, beat 3 and, I say, “Elevator going up” when the right hand melody moves to “EG.” Finally I say “one” when the right hand plays C#, beat one of the measure which is 4 measures before the fugue entrance.

To digress briefly, we love the music of J.S. Bach so much! My sister had piano lessons for less than a year as a child, but resumed piano studies around age 41 and has studied for more than 10 years. She said, “I have a natural affinity for the music of J.S. Bach. When I sing it or play it on the piano, it always feels comfortable and I can feel what’s coming next, [even though] other people have said it’s difficult and they have trouble with it . . . I believe his music has great spiritual depth - you know there’s a God when you hear his music - and we think he’s the greatest composer who ever lived!”

Onto the Fugue of Bach’s D Minor Toccata and Fugue: The fugue has so much repetition I had to do score study to memorize it. My teacher, Dale, has me articulate the fugue subject thusly whenever it appears: Emphasize the 1st 16th note of each group of four16ths on beat 4, then next measure emphasize beat 1, 2, 3, then beat 1 next measure (i.e., emphasize the first F, then D, D, F, then D). I have memorized to the second page of the fugue. To emphasize these notes you detach them slightly (I think).

MY IMPRESSIONS OF THE FUGUE, FROM “ST. ANNE” PRELUDE AND FUGUE, BWV 552 OF J.S. BACH: I have finished learning the prelude and now I review it to keep it current under my fingers. I have almost gotten the fugue ready for performance. I hope to perform the entire work in a program sometime in the next year.

The first fugue subject (theme 1), in 4/4 on the St. Anne hymn tune, seems slow and ponderous because there is a whole note, then three half notes, a whole and a half, followed by 8 quarters and ending with a half note. When the motion of other voices gets busy later, it reminds me of a fire that starts with slow burning coal but sparks jump out. The whole fugue is like a puzzle with theme 1, theme 2 (in 6/4) ,then theme 1 and 2 join, and finally theme 3, (in 12/8) the last fugue subject. The key to the puzzle’s solution is that each “theme” is felt in 2 beats.

Theme 2 is a bubbly, flowing tune that is like floating on a fast-moving river. Along the way some exciting things happen: In measure 69 of the fugue, in the 6/4 section, the rests in the bass voice lend a sense of hushed waiting. In measure 99 of the fugue, final 12/8 section, the dotted half notes in the alto are so noticeable, like taking a nature walk and discovering one by one a flock of beautiful birds. It’s especially thrilling in measure 99 where the A flat is paired with the soprano D flat.

Then comes the final fugue subject in the 12/8 section, such a wonderful theme! My teacher Dale says for the three eighth notes in that theme, slur the 1st two and detach the 2nd and 3rd eighth notes. Then in measure 101, the excitement grows when the soprano sings a scale up to A flat on beat 4, then the scale descends. It’s suspenseful how Bach alternates rests with the appearance of the fugue subject in the pedal. In measure 107 the fugue subject comes in “stretto”, and the remainder of the fugue is thrilling, almost like a cannon going off. The “St. Anne” theme returns in measure 109. My teacher showed me colorful registration in the last section, such as use of the pedal 32 foot Bourdon and adding swell reeds in certain parts. In measure 112, the soprano descant, dotted half note B flat to A flat resounds like a klaxon (which is an outdoor alarm signalling an emergency). Also the three measures here to measure 115 without pedal give one a free aerial feeling, as though you are parasailing! J.S. Bach’s E flat major Prelude and Fugue is truly one of the most glorious works ever written!


As musicians, we live in a world of diversity. It’s useful sometimes to experience the art of a foreign culture. A piano teacher, Mrs. Hom, told me the Chinese opera would be performed in a building in Rockville, Maryland during the weekend of June 17th. For years I have wanted to see one ever since a flute-playing friend, Candy Prattlemore* (*not her real name) enthusiastically described her evening at the Chinese opera. The Chinese opera can be hard to find out about, since they don’t advertise, and the players and audience are largely Chinese or Asians. When I called a man to verify the time and date, I was told, “He doesn’t work here today.” I had to call Mrs. Hom. She called somebody, then called me back.
I went to the opera. It was free! The auditorium was full, with an audience of 200 or more. The printed program provided by the Chinese Opera Society of Greater Washington was in Chinese with some English.

The opera was in 3 acts, each with old tales from Chinese folklore, I believe, and I left after Act 1: Brief Reunion Between Mother and Son, Beating the Innocent Zhou Ren, and Feigned Madness. There was a screen with occasional English subtitles, such as “after living in the mountains for 1,000 years, I decided to . . .” All singing and speech was in Chinese, and I don’t speak Chinese. All I understood were place names, e.g. “Chicago, Illinois.” The only non-Asians that I saw attending the opera were myself and two men.

There was a cast of five actor-singers, and a live orchestra of nine players who played percussion instruments, violins, and 3 Chinese instruments played with a bow called Moon guitar, 3 Strings Guitar, and Lute. All music and speech was amplified.

The singers’ movements were solemn and formal. They walked slowly and all gestures were graceful. All the people onstage were beautifully dressed and made-up. The singers’ beautiful costumes were elaborate and I couldn’t always tell men’s from women’s. The musical scale in Chinese music differs from the western 8-note scale in that it has quarter tones. The songs were long and flowing. The soprano sounded like a wailing cat sometimes. The songs seemed to be melismatic (a melisma, according to the Harvard Dictionary of Music, is “A group of more than a few notes sung to a single syllable, especially in liturgical chant . . .”).

The audience of adults and children was well behaved and attentive, with the exception of some people who talked quietly to their seatmates, probably explaining the opera. But the talking didn’t disturb me, since I can’t understand a word of Chinese!

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By Susan Burkhalter, © 2006
June 27, 2006

Why do Christians go to church? Why not just get religion online on your own schedule and not have to leave home? Or why not organize small groups of 10 families who meet in each others’ homes for dinner, followed by an informal worship service? Neither of these 2 options would satisfy my religious needs. I go to church out of habit because I grew up as a Presbyterian attending traditional church services in a church building with preachers, choirs and organ music. These traditions have developed for over 1,000 years and they should be preserved because of their beauty and universal appeal. Also because I am self-centered, it helps me to join with other worshipers in a service. Many people can benefit from regular church attendance, since in my opinion all of us have selfish impulses and unkind or wicked thoughts sometimes, and communing regularly as a congregation with a higher being can guide us away from these influences.

Christianity is . . . (from 1957 World Book encyclopedia; note: non-inclusive (sexist) language was used then) “Christianity is the religion founded upon the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus sought to prepare His people for the coming Kingdom of God. Only those who repented of their sins and desired to do the will of God could enter this kingdom.

The Old Testament prophets insisted upon right relationships and fair dealings among men [sic], and Jesus emphasized these teachings. His own doctrines also called on all men [sic] to recognize the brotherhood of man [sic], the love of God for all His creatures, and the power and domination of the coming Kingdom, in which people would do God’s will and live in harmony. But the religious leaders of the day did not approve of Jesus, and Rome feared that his teachings threatened its power. Therefore He was crucified.

Christianity spread very rapidly. The teachings of Christ united many races, classes, and religious beliefs into a brotherhood [sic] reaching from Persia to the Atlantic Ocean. Later it spread to America. Christianity is now taught in all countries, and has become the prevailing religion of the Western Hemisphere [not sure it still is in 2006?].

Christians remained practically one great community for a thousand years. Then the Greek Catholics broke away from the Roman Catholics in 1054. The Reformation in the early 1500’s created another great group, called the Protestants. . .”

The guidebook my children used for confirmation classes in the Episcopal church in 1997 says, “All Churches are Different. Every Sunday, in churches all over the world, people gather in Anglican churches to receive Holy Communion. In America, Anglican worshipers are called Episcopalians.
Every Episcopal church is different. Some are very, very old. Others are quite new. Some have many members. Others have only a few people.
Some churches have large choirs and pipe organs. Others have quite simple music.

Certain things in the service of Holy Eucharist are the same in every church: Always there is a Holy Table or altar; Always there is a priest who leads the service for the people who gather; Bread and wine are placed on the altar; Words are read from the Bible; Words from ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ are spoken by the priest and the people . . .”

We have other religions in the U.S. besides Christianity. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think the Jewish or Muslim religions actively seek new members or have mega-churches like some of the Christian churches do. I think some groups of Christians do too much marketing to reach potential new members, when it would be better to let people seek them by discovering that they need religion. Those who see the value of church-going will make time in their schedules for it. We don’t need mega-churches, praise music, and marketing ploys such as sending out coupons for Starbucks like a Florida church did last year, or holding carnivals with a moonbounce to attract young families. We don’t need to provide entertainment each Sunday to draw people in by using music similar to what they hear constantly in the secular world on TV, on the radio, on their computers and i-Pods. Churches who condone this kind of programming at services are going down the wrong path.

Finally, here are some examples of people who could benefit from church but stay away: (real people whose names have been changed)
(1) James, in his 60’s, grew up attending the Lutheran church in a small town. He married a Jewish woman (his 2nd marriage). They had a son who was raised Jewish. James was widowed. He was very lonely. He could have started going to church again, but he didn’t. A church would have welcomed him! But this is a decision he will have to make for himself.

(2) Belinda was middle-aged and divorced. She grew up as a Baptist but attended church sporadically when an adult, since she was critical and would usually find something about a particular church which displeased her after a while and then would drop out. Her son, however, was a more faithful churchgoer, especially when he married in his mid-20’s. Sharon has shared a house with a friend for years. She seems to feel a bit sad that she is churchless, but doesn’t think a church would approve of her lifestyle. However, churches are happy to have more members and would welcome her and her friend!

Since adulthood, I myself have never been satisfied with any church of which I was a member. I’ve never felt that I was really accepted at any church where I belonged or worked, except when I was a choir member and you know how choirs are delighted to have anybody at all who can carry a tune, man or woman! My current church where my family belongs is OK but I mainly go there because my husband likes it.

Learning the St. Anne Prelude and Fugue by J.S. Bach: Now that I don’t have a regular church job and work as a substitute organist, I have a little more practice time to work on music for concerts that I study with my teacher, Dale. More insights on this music in my next BLOG.

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May 8, 2006

When I write in my weblog I can’t always choose one idea and must write about 2 or more topics. I am writing this outside on the picnic table.

It dawned on me that performers should have something to “say” and be emotionally involved with their music when a church where I played participated in a choir festival in February in Northern Virginia. I accompanied my church’s choir on the piano while our music director led, and after hearing 16 choirs sing, I realized that not all had had an impact on their listeners. Our choir, for one (including my performance as accompanist) gave a very ho-hum, if basically correct, rather mechanical version of our anthem. I checked off groups on the program (there were 3) who had given lively performances in which all the members seemed totally involved and of one mind. Their performances were inspiring and exciting, giving a true portrayal of the piece as the composer intended, whether it be fast and rhythmic or moderately paced, serene and flowing. One thing I noticed was that the successful choirs seemed to be one unit working towards the same outcome, and their faces were alive with emotion and their postures showed intensity. Two anthems that were “moving” to me were “Father, I Put My Life in Your Hands” by Richard Robert Rossi, and “Can You Hear? by Jim Papoulis. (oops, sure hope neither of those was Contemporary Christian Music, since it’s not my favorite thing)

What I’m studying by Bach: I have been learning the St. Anne Prelude and Fugue in E flat Major by J.S. Bach, BWV 552 since November 2004. The prelude is completely learned and my goal now is playing it up to tempo, m.m. quarter note = 90 without any mistakes. I had an organ teacher in the 1970’s, Ronald Stalford, who would say, in a sympathetic, kindly way after hearing me play portions of a Bach prelude and fugue, “You play so well . . . but then something always happens! If only you could keep your wits about you.”

I want to play this prelude very well, because I love it so! It is frustrating to be at this point. I decided to spend the first 5 minutes of each practice session studying the score and writing some notes (e.g., a chord progression). Here is my current practice method: I use the metronome, quarter note = 87, and I tell myself, “look ahead while looking at what you’re playing; find places where you can ‘zone out’ for half a second, for instance, at the end of a phrase to rest your brain from endless concentration. And (this was my teacher Dale’s idea): practice a long section, say 2 pages, but then go back to the previous 2 pages before that and review them, build up the whole piece in this fashion. By studying the score, here were some problems I discovered: (I have the Peters edition) - page 4, careful of pedal, heel - toe and right foot, middle of 3rd system. Last system - problems of leaps, right hand (RH) goes a 9th down, fingering 5-1, E flat to thumb on D. Page 5 - you might miss in last system, 2nd measure, where left hand (LH) skips from C down to B flat - a 9th. There are other big leaps on both of those pages.

I have learned the whole fugue but the tempo is still slow. Next time I will mention some dramatic expressive things I found in the fugue. Also I am once again memorizing the d minor Toccata and Fugue, BWV 565.

Books I am reading: “Be My Guest” by Conrad Hilton, originator of the Hilton Hotels. If you like history, you would like it. He was born in 1887 in San Antonio, New Mexico and this is the story of his life. There are many fascinating facts and tales in this book; for example, on page 81 he lists some popular dances of those days: the cotillion, the schottische, the two-step, the waltz. And some of the slang expressions were “Beat it! Getting your goat. Sure. Peachy. Classy. Nutty. Flossy.” Also in 1913 he started a bank in San Antonio, New Mexico, by going door to door and convincing people their money would be safer in a bank than in the teapot or buried chest where some people kept money.
I bought this book for 1 penny from Amazon Books, and the shipping was $2.95!

Upon Dan Long’s recommendation I also started reading “Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement” by Dan Lucarini. This is a fascinating book and I am glad he wrote it. Although I am not a Biblical scholar, it is useful to us church musicians who support traditional music in the church that he cites Bible verses showing that the Contemporary style music doesn’t really belong in church. For instance, on page 57, he says, “God will not accept our worship when it is offered with music styles that are also used by pagans for their immoral practices,” and I certainly believe that is right. This style of music is inappropriate for a church service.
He also listed some popular arguments on page 44 that Contemporaries (those who support the use of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) in church) advance to support their use of this type of music . One of these was “CCM is easier to sing than hymns.” and I have to tell you, this is false. At my former church, a Methodist church in Virginia, they often used a contemporary style hymnal called “The Faith We Sing.” This music was hard for everybody to sing except the handful who had perhaps heard recordings of it. The keyboard arrangements always had to be simplified by me because the congregation could not follow them otherwise. Also when we sang 2 of their hymns at a sunrise service on Easter 2006 I accompanied them on a keyboard. In both hymns people got lost or confused, because the version in their small pew hymnals left out sections that were in the accompaniment version I was using.

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By Susan Burkhalter, © 2006
March 24, 2006

You may remember that I received an MP-3 player, an “i-River”, as a birthday gift last April. For me learning how to use technology like computers and cell phones is somewhat challenging, since it wasn’t until 1995 that I first used a computer. After procrastinating for a while, eventually I make the effort and learn how to use these machines and instruments to some degree.

Of course this may seem strange and silly to many of you younger people who began using computers in kindergarten. When I first got my MP-3 player I was thrilled! My son already had one and now maybe I could experience my second “teen-age-hood”. For a few months I studied the booklet on how to use it, put it together, and learned to turn it on and off, how to wear it, and how to listen to the music on it.

At last I had some free time and got the courage to attempt putting “my music” from the computer onto the MP-3 player, with my husband’s help. He is proficient with computers and all kinds of machines. On February 5th I plugged the cable from the player to the computer. We put in the i-River CD and installed the “i-River Music Manager.” (I couldn’t have done any of this without his help). To put music into your player, you drag and drop songs (maybe this is how it works for all sorts of MP-3 players). It was exciting to finally have more than 6 songs on my MP-3 player! I put on about 40 and will not put on more until I learn how to work with that amount of songs.

Now I practice navigating with the MP-3 player. I still need to improve but am better at it. One thing I discovered pretty soon was that the music needed to be put into folders, or else you always listened to the same songs when you first turned it on. I think it’s really fun to walk around wearing an MP-3 player and it makes me feel more modern and younger.


I am the organist at a 300-member Methodist church and accompany an adult choir and a men’s choir there. Here is my method for keeping up with all the service music I must learn: I plan my organ preludes, offertories, and postludes by making two-month lists of my music (that is, two months ahead of time) which I e-mail to the secretary so she knows what to put into the bulletin each Sunday. i.e., at the end of February I planned March and April music. This music list is also posted on our church’s website (Dan Long’s idea!) under “Upcoming Service Music.”

I make a handwritten list for myself of harder organ pieces which require more practicing, putting the date I must start them and the date on which they will be performed. SPECIAL MUSIC: For my Easter postlude I will play “Carillon Sortie” by Henri Mulet. It is a flashy toccata and rather difficult. (I first learned it over 20 years ago). It requires an advanced piano technique. I started practicing it last December only on the piano, trying to do 10 minutes a day and build up stamina, since there are sections that could tire or strain the hand if not properly practiced. I have ways to practice it which I’ll make available to anyone who’s interested.

CHORAL MUSIC: When the Music Director gives me a few anthems to play, I try to learn them completely as soon as possible. I make a handwritten list and check it off when each one is learned. We also did a Christmas Cantata and are doing an Easter Cantata which is 87 pages long. I play movements of them on piano or organ. Both compositions are “contemporary” fashion, a mix of musical styles: Broadway musical, occasional quotes from some classical music and hymns, with elements of jazz and rock. I find this type of music completely forgettable for all. I regret that they didn’t choose some of the traditional literature instead (such as excerpts from Handel’s Messiah) or even a modern anthem similar to traditional church music, such as those by Andrew Carter.

The cantata also must be learned as quickly as possible, so that I can “polish” it and get it up to tempo and be ready to practice it with the choir. These contemporary “cantatas” are also a lot of work for me, the accompanist, since they are basically written for instruments but impractically arranged for keyboard, and I must go through the entire work and arrange it by X-ing out notes with a pencil. Since I have studied composition and improvisation with teachers, I know how to do this. There are too many octaves and too many notes to play at a fast tempo, which would also unduly stress the hand.

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By Susan Burkhalter, © 2006
February 12, 2006

Since February is Black History Month, I wanted to write about African Americans: their religious expression and their contributions to American culture. I have admired things about Black people since I was young, especially their solidarity as a people and their perseverence to better themselves while fighting racism and prejudice. I am reading a book, “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr., published by Harper. I believe Martin Luther King was truly a great man.

A good way to observe Black History Month in your church is to program some music by an African-American composer, and that is what I am doing on February 26th: For a postlude I will play “Passacaglia” by David Hurd. I found this music in a 5-volume anthology called “African-American Organ Music Anthology”, produced by Mickey Thomas Terry and published by Morningstar. There are some delightful, high-quality pieces in these books, which were reviewed in the May ‘05 issue of The American Organist. Dr. Terry is on the faculty of Georgetown University in Washington, DC and is a superb concert organist whose concerts I’ve heard several times. He also has a Phd in Late Medieval and Early Medieval European History.

There are 2 prominent Black churchs in Oldtown Alexandria (Virginia) that I drive by on the way to the church where I work. They are Shiloh Baptist and Alfred Street Baptist Church. The buildings are beautiful and well-maintained, and on Sunday I always see finely dressed Black men and women walking into those churches. They exhibit a joyous and purposeful air.

I read a book last year called “The Black Christian Experience” by Emmanuel McCall (published in 1972). I recommend this book if you want to learn more about the history of the African-American church. I will now relate a few facts about the history of Black churches which I learned from this book.
In 1818 the Presbyterians adopted a declaration where slavery is called “a gross violation of the most precious of human nature. . .” (p. 26) The first Baptist church was Shiloh Baptist, founded in 1773 at Silver Bluff, South Carolina. The African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was founded in 1816 by a slave. He converted his master, who then freed him.

This book has useful information about music sung in Black churches, pp. 37-38 and in Chapter 5, “Music in the Black Church” by Joseph C. Pyles.

Most Blacks are found in Baptist and Methodist churches, although others belong to Pentecostal or Holiness churches, Black Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and the Unity Movement. The first Black preachers were slaves who worked inside white people’s houses (as opposed to field servants) where they learned reading and writing. Many slaves came from a culture where people memorized thousands of proverbs. “The Yoruba religion was 16 Odus of 200 stories . . .”

In the 1700’s and 1800’s, white churches had “Negro balconies” and “Negro pews” painted black, or else Negroes had to remain outside and listen through open doors and windows, and had to take communion in the basement or after the white people had left. In 1788, Andrew Bryan was
ordained in the Baptist church, then slaves were arrested and some punished for attending church meetings there. In 1833, a law in Alabama said it was illegal for slaves or free Negroes to preach unless before respectable slaveholders and when authorized by a religious society.

These are just a few of the fascinating facts I learned by reading this book. It also unveiled painful truths about experiences suffered by Blacks while slavery was legal, a wretched and shameful part of that period of American history. Perhaps you would like to read it yourself.

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January 2, 2006

I looked in the Episcopal “Book of Common Prayer” for some words to describe the astonishment and wonder one feels worshipping God and the Holy Trinity, or something about the “mysteries of faith.” The closest I could find were some of the words of the Holy Eucharist, Rite One (p. 324): “Lord, have mercy upon us . . . Glory be to God on High . . .” This year on Christmas Eve I felt strongly that the celebration of Christmas conjures mysteries, such as the Virgin Birth and what kind of person Jesus was, will He come again, and many more.

Before I describe my Christmas Eve experiences, I had an e-mail in November from an organ student, Vanessa of Padua, Italy, but when I tried to respond the e-mail was returned with “fatal errors,” so please contact me again, Vanessa, if you’re out there!

I worked hard practicing my organ and piano music to get ready for our three Christmas Eve services: a 5:00 children’s service with “the Pageant,” and 7:00 and 11:00 communion services that were almost identical. I didn’t ponder before the services how I would feel as the main “music provider,” even though I spent 12 hours at that church on Saturday, December 24th, finally leaving around 1:30 a.m. Also this year was the first time in my life I remember having to leave the house on Christmas Day, since Christmas fell on a Sunday. Does anyone recall having previous Christmas Days occurring on a Sunday so that their church felt obligated to have a service then?

It was Christmas Eve and suddenly the services started. I realized that I (or any organist) was important now and instrumental to these services - without us they couldn’t happen with music! At the pageant service, people sang carols heartily and took flash photos of their children, and I felt that love and joy was flowing in that congregation. At the two later services, I was struck by the mystery of Christmas Eve and the sense of anticipation I sensed from people while I played the prelude, Fantasia on “in Dulci Jubilo” of J.S. Bach. It is a profound expression of awe and joy as it builds toward the end. One exciting part is the climbing triplet figure beginning on the note B in measure 30 that leads to a descending pedal scale starting in measure 32. Then it is fun to add to the pedal and add reeds starting in measure 37. Who else but Bach could write such a satisfying work with its mesmerizing conclusion starting on beat 4 of tied eighth notes emphasizing the second half of each beat, to end with separated quarter notes. This piece quietly lent excitement and put the congregation into a receptive mood for what was to come.

Life contains surprises and a young Slovak-American man named Mattheus joined us for 2 of the services on Christmas Eve. He was a talented flute player who played along on hymns. He and I spontaneously varied our sounds as he impulsively picked the soprano, tenor or alto part to play on various carols. We were something like a serious vaudeville act as we changed the voicing depending upon our mood, interacting a bit like jazz musicians. It was an artistic thrill. He and his wife, a mezzo-soprano theater performer, happened to be in town visiting her folks who were choir members. After the service he and I chatted and said how strange it is that one can perform and give out one’s emotions and in an hour, after it’s over, there’s nothing to show for it, just memories!

I will end this story by relating a discovery I made: Who could predict the prescience of J.S. Bach? He inadvertently wrote the tune to a popular song, and it can be found in measures 32 through 37 of the “St. Anne Fugue” in E flat Major. The popular song is a new one by Paul McCartney (the Beatle), “We’re Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime.” You kind of have to use your imagination to hear it here, but here is how it works: McCartney’s basic tune is 4 quarter notes followed by 2 eighth notes, a quarter, 2 eighths and a quarter, and it goes A G B flat A, C B flat A F F F (I may have transposed it). Start with the half note pedal D flat in the fugue (“we’re”), then “simply having” goes with Bach’s half notes in the soprano G F F E flat, repeat “simply having” on beat one of measure 35 with those half notes; then “a wonderful Christmas time” comes in rhythmically if not pitchwise on the pedal notes G E flat B flat, jump to the left hand quarter notes B flat C B flat A flat G (they overlap the pedal B flat half note).

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NOVEMBER 11, 2005

By Susan Burkhalter, © 2005

When I began reviewing the Toccata in d minor on August 28th to play as a postlude later, I thought it would come back quickly. I learned it about 20 years ago, and had played it from memory on my home organ in my piano students’ recital around 1997. Things are different now, though, since in 1997 I didn’t have a part-time job as organist and had more practice time for pieces I chose.

I allotted myself 10 minutes a day for the Toccata. My church job requires that I practice several hours a week on service music such as the prelude etc., and also learning the anthems for 2 choirs is time-consuming, especially our 85-page Christmas cantata we began in October. Plus I take organ lessons, and try to put in 1/2 hour a day on that assigned music.

I’ll be playing the piece as a postlude on November 20th. Recently I had to admit I won’t get the whole Fugue ready by then, so I will continue to memorize the Toccata and Fugue and will repeat them as a postlude in February. No one should complain when they hear it again, as it is a popular work! I like it a lot - it is dramatic and gives one a precarious feeling with the groups of 16th notes, spacing of rests, and diminished seventh chords.

Memorizing the first page (p. 27, Vol. IV of the Peters Edition) took time. I wanted to be accurate with rhythm and began counting it and playing it by tapping 32nd notes in one hand for the 1st 3 bars. Then with tempo changes (prestissimo, lento, allegro) I would switch to counting in16th notes. I always had to count out loud so I wouldn’t lose my place and would know where Beat 1 was.
When I got to the 2nd and 3rd page the way a sequence would begin (I count “1 ta 2 ta 3 ta 4 ta” when I subdivide into 8th notes) on ta of “one” threw me off for a while. When I came to the Prestissimo section beginning with a c# diminished 7 chord, the challenge was to know what pitch you were on, and I kept track of it by singing (solfege?) “do re mi” for the beginning upper and lower pitch. Five measures before the Fugue comes in, I found it helpful to practice this part using a rhythm of long short short long.

Here’s a little bit about how I learn organ or piano music: Fingering is very important, I always write it in with a pencil. I use colored pencils to mark some instructions. (Incidentally, the great composer Stravinsky also marked his music with colored pencils!) One of the hardest things for me when learning the music of Bach is to learn which notes are phrased together and which notes are detached, such as in a fugue subject, then you always have to articulate them that way when the subject appears.
I have extensive experience performing from memory. Two of my organ teachers, Ronald Stalford and Charles Callahan, often performed from memory. Also in my training as a pianist, playing from memory was encouraged. I’ve always performed in my own students’ recitals, usually from memory (although I don’t always have time lately to perform from memory). Here are my “memory drills,” they help you feel that your piece is secure in your memory so you will feel more confident playing it for an audience: Always use the same fingering and pedalling, to help with your kinetic memory. (1) Mark “landmarks” in the music; for instance, where a section begins or where a new theme comes in. I use colors and pictures to mark them, since I like to draw. Be able to start at any landmark.
(2) “Stop every 4” - Be able to play the entire piece and stop every 4 measures, even lift your hands off the keys, continuing to the end. (3) Score study - study the music away from the keyboard. (I do a harmonic analysis of a piece I memorize) (4) “Silent keyboard” - be able to play the entire piece on a silent keyboard - if it’s a piano, you don’t press down the keys. (5) Play the whole piece slowly from memory. (6) “Eyes closed” - be able to play the whole piece with your eyes closed.

When I learn music sometimes I see a picture of something happening in my head. Here is what I envisioned for the “Prestissimo” section of the Bach toccata in d minor (the triplets on a diminished 7th chord), which begins about 9 measures before the Fugue entrance: (story by me) “An acrobatic man is climbing a precarious rocky cliff. He scrambles to a spot, teeters, climbs further, nearly drops, and balances. By page 21, 4 measures before the Fugue entrance, he is almost to the top. He begins to spin plates on sticks and balls on a gyroscope.” I noticed that this section of the Prelude usually stabilizes itself on every Beat 3.


I began learning this major work exactly a year ago on November 7th. My teacher, Dale and I both say that this work by Bach is among the greatest music ever written in history. It is truly sublime (Webster’s Dictionary defines “sublime” as “(1) noble; exalted; majestic. (2) inspiring awe or admiration through grandeur, beauty, etc. . .”). I’m at the point in my study now where I have learned the entire Prelude and my goal now is to gradually get it up to a tempo of quarter note = 80. It seems to take forever! I practice 2 pages with the metronome until they are at that tempo. I have been learning the Fugue for a few months but only have nearly the 1st 2 pages learned, and not perfectly. It’s challenging to maintain all the entrances of the fugue subject in the same articulation of detached notes and legato notes. My greatest challenge of the Prelude was to be sure the rhythm was accurate and to always hold the dotted quarter for exactly 6 sixteenth notes while other voices were moving. I probably repeated sections thousands of times at varying tempi to get that accomplished! My teacher said I would be glad I did, somewhere down the road.

Now for what you’ve all been waiting for, some esoteric observations: On page 4 of the Prelude (Peters Edition, Volume III), there is a phrase that expresses some of the greatest desolation I’ve ever noticed in music.
Starting in the 7th measure of the first line with an Eb major chord, using a series of descending figures in the soprano and in the bass (pedal), with the figure “16th-half note” moving down by whole or half steps, first to f minor, then to c minor, and to almost G Major 7, it hasn’t even resolved itself within the next 5 measures. When I first played this passage, I felt very sad and that the composer must have felt very alone, I nearly cried.
Also on this same page, sometimes I like to make up words for music, and in the first line, page 4, Prelude, the figure of the 8th note followed by 6 sixteenth notes clearly says, “take a little pinch of salt.”

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Posted by: @ 8:41 pm

Before I expound on the topic of “using CD’s”, remember how I am learning how to use my MP-3 player which I got 5 months ago? So far I have learned how to listen to it, stop and start it, and to do ‘voice record’. Today I will study “delete files.” In the next two weeks I hope to learn how to put “my music” on it from the computer.

Also following Our Leader Dan Long’s example of memorizing J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d minor, I, too, am memorizing it and plan to play it as a postlude on November 20th.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “worship” as (1) a prayer, church service, or other rite showing reverence or devotion for a deity; . . .(2) to show religious devotion or reverence for; adore or venerate as a deity . . .(3) to engage in worship; specifically, to perform any act of religious devotion . . .” In the past I played an ancient digital organ at a Lutheran church where the younger people in their 30’s with small children wanted to organize a “Contemporary Service” mainly for themselves but open to all. They had some good ideas and the Pastor approved the whole service, but for the service music they chose to play a CD. I was inwardly appalled but expressed only mild disagreement about it. At this same church they would sometimes put up a screen (the latest fad in “modern” churches - why do people get such a thrill out of it? It’s not much different than a TV!), and I sang occasionally with a small group that was accompanied by CD’s (we sang music in the style of Christian rock or country music, both of which I don’t really like).

I feel that playing a CD instead of having live people play instruments and sing really doesn’t meet the definition of “worship.” People are no more involved than they would be hearing Muzak waft over them at a shopping mall. When you try to sing with a CD, it is nonresponsive. You have to go fast to keep up with it and most people haven’t had music lessons to be able to do this. Finally, the latest sound systems some churches have are often too loud, and to me this would offend sensitive listeners and cause them to withdraw or even leave the room. My experience with CD’s in church or at elementary and middle schools for children’s choruses is that most people drop out and listen to the voices on the recording, or just tune out. It’s like trying to jump on a fast merry-go-round. Also the professional singers on the CD sing better than the average school or congregational singer, and this mostly excludes you. Even when the CD’s are of instruments only, the tempos are too fast for most people to ever learn to sing along with them.

I think I know where these younger people got their idea that “using CD’s is all right.” When popular singers record in studios, tracks of music, instruments and percussion, are already laid down for them and the singer sings along with prerecorded music for his or her recording. But it makes no sense to use this same technique for amateur singers! By the way, churches that use CD’s to replace live music could also consider using a DVD or video of the minister preaching his/her sermon. That way, the minister, too, could watch herself speaking (and use the time to snooze, just kidding)!

Finally, in his September 18th WEEKLY RAMPAGE, Dan Long talked about how the “game show mentality has hijacked major portions of our culture here in the US.”, as he put it. He probably would agree that using CD’s in church goes right along with some of the other trends occurring in churches that he mentioned in his Rampage. He noted how he read that some churches try to make their sanctuaries less church-like to attract new members. “Why wouldn’t someone want to be reminded of church?” he said. Further, he says with “the move towards feel-goodism . . .” the congregation “is left with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside and little else.”, Dan remarked.

I’ve heard of churches around here that hold “financial planning workshops” for families with children and weekend rubber raft rips, to attract younger people to church. Then there’s the Luis Palau Festival (he’s supposed to be the successor to Billy Graham, some have said) we had on the Mall in Washington, DC with Christian Rock bands and fun activities so young people would swarm to hear him preach. My 22-year-old daughter and I were discussing ways that churches try to lure young people to attend their services. She says it’s more like they’re (the churches) a business now and that their approach really turns her off. She says if people want to go to church, they’ll go to a church that is just a traditional, everyday church. She meant such as the kind of church in which she grew up, which had choirs, an organ, and traditional church music.

I think the problem of fewer people attending church now than in the past has complex causes, but one of the reasons is that society has changed since the 50’s and 60’s. In those days when I was a child, attending church was a way of life in our middle-class society. Most children went to a church or temple; it was expected, like eating your vegetables. But in the 70’s and 80’s, more electrical gadgets were invented, there were more choices for entertainment and things to do in your leisure time, and with fewer stay-at-home moms, (since working women still had to cook, keep house, and raise children after working hours) people became busier. For many people, the logical thing to give up was church attendance. They didn’t see the need for it.
Even though society has changed, human beings still have spiritual needs. I think and hope that eventually people will see the light and will try to scale back their activities, trip-taking, and accumulation of material possessions. As a piano teacher for 29 years, I have observed many types of families and have gotten to know the children. Many of the mothers who also work at 9-5 jobs live frantically busy lives and their children are over-scheduled with activities. I don’t think 6-year-olds need soccer practice twice a week, yet a mother of one piano student had her child enrolled in it!

I believe Dan is right, that we organists should join the “Global Struggle Against Musical Mediocrity”, as he calls it, and I hope that more churches continue to uphold good taste and to be basically the same institutions they have been for hundreds of years.

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Posted by: @ 8:40 pm

By Susan Burkhalter, © 2005

August 30, 2005

Before starting on the topic of funerals, the organ at my new church is a Zimmer II/21 ranks, and well-suited to Baroque music, so for service music I am programming a piece by J.S. Bach (or occasionally another important Baroque composer) once a month. This will require extra practicing, since his music is difficult, but it will be worthwhile for everyone. I just played Adagio from Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564; in September, I will play the Prelude and Fugue in d minor by Dietrich Buxtehude; and at the end of October I will play the d minor fantasie and fugue, BWV 565 by J.S. Bach.

Up until now, I haven’t played many funerals, but in my new job, I’ve already played two. I decided that the organist’s role in funerals is similar to that of the Greyhound bus driver while carrying out his/her duty toward passengers when someone rides the bus to his/her vacation city.

Death is a passage to the world beyond, if you believe in an Afterlife. Even if you don’t, the deceased person’s soul has departed and the remains are in a coffin or urn. These will be taking a trip. When I played funerals, I served as the “driver” of the vehicle, the organ, which helped people move to their destination by creating an atmosphere of musical sounds.

I did not know either the old lady or old man whose funerals I played, just as the Greyhound bus driver who took me to upstate New York last summer to visit my sister didn’t know me. But by providing transportation, he helped me enjoy a visit with my sister.

Death is a part of living. In our youth-oriented society its discussion is somewhat taboo. Yet it requires ceremonial and formal acknowledgement, both for the departed and his/her family and friends who mourn. We organists fill a necessary role by responding to emotions with the music we provide at the funeral service. Our actions as funeral musicians require a certain level of maturity, sensitivity, and decorum. It is a two-way street for organists - a few times tears have come to my eyes from watching other people cry or hearing the eulogies and stories. Sometimes family members request certain hymns. Our music is an outlet for people who can’t always verbalize their feelings. This music evokes more feelings and memories for those in the congregation and accompanies everyone’s trip. The organist’s prelude and postlude creates a beginning and end to the service and helps people move to the next point, as does the bus driver’s loading up the luggage when you get on the bus and vocally announcing your city of disembarcation at the end of your trip.

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July 19, 2005
In next month’s BLOG, I could relate anecdotes of funny things that happened to organists at weddings. E-mail me, if you think of any.

I have experimented a little with my new MP-3 player. I know how to turn it on, wear it, use the volume control, and listen to the music that is already on it. By next month I hope to learn how to transfer my “own” music from our computer onto the MP-3 player. I am one of those “technophobes” when learning to use electronic devices such as cell phones and the remote of the DVD player. Ask me to cook a meal, care for an animal or child, or clean something in the house and I’m totally confident. But give me a new gadget to master and I get slightly anxious and procrastinate to avoid learning about it.
Remember the BLOG in March when I postulated that perhaps certain technologies such as MP-3 players may further cut off people from interacting with one another? Well, here was my experiment to see if listening to music on my MP-3 player removed me from contact with people passing by: I couldn’t figure out the neck strap and will have to ask someone at Best Buy how it works. The arm band you wear the player on feels a bit like a blood pressure cuff. I was slightly nervous I would bang the player into something and had to be careful that it not get lost. I wore the player into the library and into the 7-11 while playing music on it. I discovered that it’s somewhat distracting. I had to remove one earpiece when talking to someone. Its instructions say do not listen to it while driving or cycling, as it may cause a traffic accident.

I have received several comments from members of the BACH.organ community regarding funny things that happened to them at church services. Here they are: The first isn’t a funny thing, rather advice on preparing for a performance from Frank Mento, originally of Campbell, Ohio. Frank lives in Paris, France where he was appointed Titular Organist at Saint-Jean de Montmartre Church in Paris and is a harpsichord professor. He suggests practicing each hand alone and pedal alone, then putting them together. He also plays the soprano part while singing the alto, etc. Another idea for playing a concert, he says, is to sit erect on the bench and imagine you are growing taller.
Other readers told of their funny experiences: Don Heckenlively of the U.S. plays for a small Anglican church. He has once or twice started to play the wrong canticle due to wool-gathering. Then there is Alan Weamer of Davison, Michigan, who reported that the first time he ever played a church service he was 15 years old. The service was at a small Presbyterian church in the midwest and he was terrified. He read along silently with the responsive reading in the bulletin, but started to play the Gloria Patri too soon, since the reading continued onto the next page, where it said “Wait for the Lord, Yea wait for the Lord . . .” Finally, there was an e-mail from Valerio Dal Molin from Italy. He plays at a Catholic church near Milan. Last year he was playing a Sunday Mass, and when the cantor announced the title of the first hymn and Valerio began to play, the organ was silent. He had forgotten to get the key
from the sacristy to turn on the organ!

I will end with 2 of my “funny experiences” at church services. Years ago when I was the organist/choir director at a small Episcopal church in Virginia, I was playing a wedding. I had only been playing professionally for about 2 years. The organ was in the balcony. The wedding service had begun, and the bride and groom were standing before the altar. Suddenly I heard a thud! and a mild cry of alarm from the congregation. The groom had fainted, from nerves, most likely. He was revived, and the service continued. The second “funny thing” wasn’t really that noticeable, but I found it amusing: I have recently begun a new job as organist at a different church from where I was the past
one and a half years. On June 26th, my last Sunday at my previous church, which was a Lutheran church where they take communion every Sunday, I went up to the communion table to take communion. At this church you must first get the little glass cup from a server holding them in a round tray (several times in the past year I had gone up to the communion table without first getting a cup, and had to run back and get one. That was a little embarassing.) I was somewhat anxious to take communion efficiently so I could get back to the organ and start the first of 3 hymns which always accompany communion at this church. But in my haste I couldn’t remember whether the people receiving communion at the table moved clockwise or counter-clockwise, and I kept butting into the line of people at the wrong point so I missed getting the bread or getting the wine poured into my cup. It was comical,since people were looking at me wondering why I kept popping up in different locations. Finally I completed the taking of communion and returned to the organ.

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By Susan Burkhalter, © 2005

There were several good letters on this topic in The American Organist’s May issue, including one from Wayne Earnest. But before I begin that discussion, remember how I was fishing in my recent BLOGs for people who had played the wrong hymn? Well, nobody came forth to admit it if they did. But I did talk to Patty Teele, a very fine organist who played at St. James Episcopal in Potomac, among other churches and was the House Manager of the Thomas Circle Singers. She will be moving to Pasadena, California. Patty laughingly admitted that one time while accompanying an anthem at St. James, a gust of wind blew her music onto the pedals! Does anyone out there have a funny mishap to report that occurred during a service or concert? If so, e-mail me at

In his letter, John A. Hansen said that he grew up with “noble, timeless church music . . .” [and he finds] “’praise’ music and other contemporary worship materials insipid, tawdry, and having the appeal of yesterday’s cold mashed potatoes. A meaningful worship experience should draw a worshiper towards something higher than the commonplace aspects of everyday life . . .” He goes on to suggest that a congregation should educate its young people, including liturgically and musically. Both he and Wayne Earnest mention how many churches nowadays feel that they must increase their membership to bring money into their church, and many in those churches think playing “pop” music in church will attract more (younger) people.
I prefer the traditional church music in church and lament that so many wonderful old anthems and recently composed traditional style anthems are collecting dust in choir room drawers while those choirs are singing “contemporary” music. While I’m not opposed to contemporary music, I agree with Mr. Hansen that much of it is bland and boring and totally forgettable.

Public schools, even in upper-middle-class areas such as where I live, usually don’t teach music history. Classical music was seldom played in my childrens’ elementary schools. Whereas in the German School in Potomac, Maryland, they do teach classical music history and I believe all students are taught to read music by singing and playing recorders (flutes). I’m alarmed that we truly are becoming a musically illiterate society! Unless their parents make an effort to teach children about classical music and folk music or music in their heritage, give them instruction in an instrument such as piano, and take them to classical music concerts, they won’t be exposed to classical music, except possibly in church.

My solution to musically illiterate people (presently more people under age 45 are found in that category in America, since older people did have more exposure when young) is The Classical Music Starter Kit. I will prepare a large envelope containing the following items: A handout listing - the local radio station WGMS - 103.5 FM, our only classical station in the DC area; Suggest that they buy a CD on the RCA Red Seal called “Classical Music 101”, which plays snippets of 101 popular classical tunes, such as “Fur Elise” and songs people may hear on TV advertisements etc.; websites they could visit to learn more about classical music, such as to google “classical music composers” and see what they find. Also they could visit, or A tea bag or coffee coupon and a small chocolate bar, for the “friendliness quotient.” Names of suggested books they could read to learn more about classical music: (1) What to Listen for in Music (Signet Classics, paperback) by Alan Rich, (2) Inside Music by Karl Haas, (3) The Symphony - A Listener’s Guide by Michael Steinberg. Tell them to look in the newspaper on the weekend to see what churches are putting on free concerts, or check the schedule at “Millenium Stage” at the Kennedy Center in DC (free programs). Perhaps there is even more I could put in the envelope, but this is a start.

I got the idea for The Classical Music Starter Kit when 2 months ago a friendly man came up to me after the service and exclaimed how he really liked a contemporary-style hymn we had sung, “And you played it very well!” he said. He ignored the two classical pieces I had played on the organ, which were much more difficult than the hymn. The hymn was such a simple thing a preschooler could have sung it after one hearing. It only used 3 chords. The funny thing was, little did he know that I had forgotten to bring the hymnal for it and had to play it from its tune without chords (adding the chords myself) printed in the bulletin!

Finally, why is it that churches feel compelled to attract the “unchurched” (that phrase always sounds to me like “the undead”) by playing “pop” style music, as though they would somehow be poisoned by exposure to traditional church music, when (A) go to our local mall and notice how the upscale stores often play nothing but classical Muzak, and (B) buy groceries at our Giant Food, accompanied for an hour by nothing but classical Muzak. You will discover that there are large numbers of people of all ages shopping or working here, undeterred by listening to classical music, so why do churches feel they must “baby” people?! What to Listen for in Music

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WAYNE’S WALTZ WOWS WASHINGTON: April 17, 2005 (Repost)
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This month I am featuring more helpful ideas of Wayne Earnest, Minister of Music at the historic Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, Virginia, from his March article in The American Organist, “Reviving the Local College Organ Department.” You may remember that another excerpt of one of Wayne’s good articles was shared with you in my February ‘04 BLOG.

But before I begin, I am still waiting to hear if any organists out there have ever played the wrong hymn at a service. E-mail me at if you want to tell about it. Also on my birthday, April 16th, I received an MP-3 player! I will let you know later how I feel about using it while walking around.

Now for a summary of Wayne’s article: If you would like to read the whole article as well as his previous one, e-mail him at There is both an organist shortage and an organist surplus. There is a surplus of organists for college/university teaching positions (because there are fewer organ majors as documented in TAO over the years) and for large, urban church music positions. [yet] For the small/smaller, low-paying or volunteer positions, there is an alarming shortage. In discussions with people from churches in the part-time/non-professional music job category (like the little, rural churches where I grew up in West Virginia), I’ve heard so many times . . . “We just don’t have (or can’t find) anyone who can play”–said with a sigh of desperation and/or sadness. Such churches are resorting to playing CD’s as a means of having music in worship! (Worship is a verb, not just a noun. When worship or any part of it becomes a mere noun - a product that can be purchased at your local Wal-Mart - then it is well on the way to ceasing to exist!)”

“Together, college-university teaching positions and large, urban church music positions comprise only about one percent of the job market, while the small/smaller to medium-sized church music positions comprise about 99%. Statistics across denominations indicate that about 80-85% of churches have a membership of 250 or less. . . “mega-churches (usually 4,000-10,000 members) . . . are only a small fraction of the aforementioned one percent.”

Wayne suggests that local colleges could help train organists for the smaller church positions. He says, “A ‘big name’ organ professor told me about 15 years ago that the organ major enrollment at his university had actually increased and that he thought this was directly related to the fact that smaller schools had quit offering the organ major! . . . those smaller colleges [could offer courses to] “’The second-tier’ students, ones who would be good candidates for a curriculum designed for those who would likely be interested in small/smaller positions . . .[and] The little colleges tend to be in more rural areas–the very locations where the churches that need these “second-tier” organists are also located.”
Wayne was on the music faculty at Newberry College (1979-86) and had 38 students enrolled in an organ class they offered for community members in the 1982-83 school year. Wayne feels that a practical curriculum for such organ students would be an organ minor and that his/her major could prepare the organist for making a living. [an idea of mine - how about a double major in organ and another major?] He also thinks that a way to expand organ departments at colleges and universities of all sizes would be to require piano majors to take one semester of organ as a secondary instrument. I think that’s a good idea, it is how I started playing the organ, since I was a piano major and organ or harpsichord study as a second instrument was a requirement.

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