Organists' News
by Susan Burkhalter

August 2008
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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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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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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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Posted by: @ 8:48 pm

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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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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Posted by: @ 8:40 pm

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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Posted by: @ 8:39 pm

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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Ever Played the Wrong Hymn? MP 3 Players: March 06, 2005 (Repost)
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Posted by: @ 8:38 pm
Ever Played the Wrong Hymn? MP 3 Players
BLOG, MARCH 6, 2005


By Susan Burkhalter, © 2005

It happened at an Ash Wednesday evening service: I played the wrong opening hymn, and our pastor had to stop me, then I played the correct one. I think I made the mistake because our church downloads their hymns into the bulletin (usually only the melody), and the first 2 hymns both began with d minor ascending 5-note scales. The church pays an annual fee allowing them to obey the copyright laws when they do this. However, in the past 20 years of playing church services at various places, I have once or twice played the wrong hymn even when using a hymnal. Are there any other organists out there who have done this during a service? If so, e-mail me at, if you’re not too embarassed about your mistake.

Remember my last-month’s BLOG telling how I am a football fan? I received a comment from Paula Durbin-Westby of______ in the U.S. She said “Go Redskins!” and admitted that she had watched the Superbowl and also practiced the organ that weekend. Paula, what team do you root for?

In December I heard an advertisement on the radio from a diamond company, which said, “The music you listen to makes a statement about you. So does your diamond.” (Mervis Diamonds) I started thinking, and what about people who always walk around with an earphone in or near their ear, listening to an MP3 player? Nobody will know what music they listen to, unless they remove the device and place it on another person’s ear. Of course, if people drive a car with their windows open and music playing loudly on their radio or CD player, we will hear that. But perhaps the trend to “wear” your music so only you can hear it will make us more isolated from one another. In some ways this is bad, creating another way we can avoid or cut off one another, as we can do with telephone technology such as “call waiting” and answering machines allowing us to escape callers.

And yet I am intrigued with MP3 players! Both of my adult children received these devices for Christmas, one an MP 3 player and one an i-Pod. I have asked for one for my birthday. I will let you know if it enhances my life.


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Organist is Football Fan: January 21, 2005 (Repost)
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 8:36 pm
Organist is Football Fan
I suppose there are not many of us. I chose this topic for my BLOG entry this month because right now the NFL football playoffs are leading to the Superbowl on February 6th. In the past around this time of the year I have sometimes overheard organists at AGO meetings joking about how they will have to think of an alternative activity with which to entertain themselves on Superbowl Sunday.

I confess: I am a football fan! It only happened in the past 5 years. When I grew up, my father and brother were major football fans and watched football on TV. My sisters and I complained about football then, we really didn’t know much about the game. My Dad was from the Deep South and had old-fashioned ideas about proper roles for girls and women, so he never explained anything to us about the rules of football or the games he watched. Also in those days before Title IX (which was passed in 1972 and said that girls should have equal opportunities with boys regarding sports in school), girls didn’t really play team sports much, unless you were a Catholic girl and played basketball.

As I raised my two children, a girl and a boy, I learned more about organized sports. The benefits of being on a team were touted as good preparation for the working world when one became an adult. My children participated in teams for soccer and field hockey (my daughter), and soccer, basketball, baseball, football, and lacrosse (my son). After years of exposure to soccer games (yes, I was a “soccer mom”, but not an active one), I never overcame my feelings of extreme boredom when I observed games. However, football was a different story — the rules are complicated and I still don’t understand them completely, even after reading most of a book called “Football for Idiots” by Howie Long. Since my son played Junior Varsity and then Varsity football all the way through high school and enjoyed it immensely, gradually my interest in football grew. We always tried to attend my son’s football games every week. Being involved with the team as a “Spaghetti Mom” gave me a chance to get to know some of the players. The Spaghetti Moms helped prepare the weekly Friday 2:30 p.m. sphagetti dinner the guys ate on Game Day. Participating on the team built my son’s character and his muscles. Also the coaches and other players were good role models for him. It also kept him out of trouble most of the time. I feel that it greatly benefitted him as a college student, too. The daily practices made him plan and budget his time, since he also had to keep up his good grades.

Watching football on TV is entertaining as long as you limit the amount of time you spend watching. The players are amazing athletes, with their power and speed. Football is almost like a chess game or a ceremonial war. Football provides visual and aural excitement, with the colorful uniforms and cheerleaders, crowd noise, noisy beer ads, and traditional music played. It is even more fun watching it with my “football friends,” John and Jane. They have had 2 sons who played football on my son’s team, and I learn a lot when I watch football with them, since they know all the rules and intricate strategies.

If J.S. Bach were alive today, it is not too likely that he would play for the NFL (National Football League), but if he did, his name would be “Jaybo Brooks” and with his somewhat feisty personality, perhaps he’d play offense.

On Superbowl Sunday at 7:30 p.m., I will be playing organ as one of the accompanists in a benefit concert for the DC AGO at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC, a program of compositions by living Washington, DC composers. It should be exciting. John and Jane have invited me to drop by and finish watching the Superbowl with them after the concert, so we’ll see if I have time.

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AFTERMATH OF MY ORGAN CONCERT: December 01, 2004 (Repost)
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 8:35 pm

(c) 2004 by Susan Burkhalter

I played Fantaisie in A by Cesar Franck in Dale Krider’s “5 Organists on Halloween” Concert, on Sunday, Oct. 31, 2004 at 5:30 P.M. It was actually called “Students of Dale Krider.” All of the organists, including one who also played the cello extremely well in some chamber music, were well worth hearing, especially the 16-year-old Jay Parrota, who gave a flawless performance. I was the second player.

Since we got there early (at about 10 til 5) we all got to try out the organ, which they had moved into the middle of the front of the sanctuary. It’s usually in the shadows over on the left up front. I played one page of my piece. I was slightly nervous about the concert, since it is a very difficult, 13-minute piece and very complex, with lots of registration changes. But I had spent countless hours studying and practicing it and was well-prepared. When I tried out the organ I was confident.

One of my goals for my performance was to communicate my impression of the feelings I thought the composer was hoping to convey in this piece. I wanted the audience members to feel them, too. I meditated on the piece the day before, and walked in the woods. Here are the feelings I decided are in the piece: sadness - delight at beholding beauty - foreboding of gloom - clamororous excitement - longing - loneliness- anxiety, peace - despair - acceptance of gloom. At the end, “Hold on to what we’ve got - also, things ARE as bad as we thought. Let us retreat, shut the door for a while, and hope for a better day.”

When it was my turn to play, I tried to keep the tempo flowing at its proper pace and I focused on being right where the music was at that moment, not thinking behind to “maybe that phrase wasn’t perfect” or thinking ahead to, “uh-oh, the triplet section is coming up.” My strategy seemed to work well! As I began the second page, I still concentrated on keeping calm enough to be controlled, yet communicating what was in the music. As I grew more absorbed in “making music,” I seemed to lose all my fears of “making a mistake.” The excitement of communicating overtook me. Things were going well.

When I got to the last page, which is a quiet, meditative section, I reminded myself, “This quiet section must be full of feeling, sometimes pathos, sometimes a glimmer of hope, and you must concentrate all the way through the ending, don’t daydream just because it is not fast-moving.” The last measure ends with the feeling, “acceptance of gloom.” It is beautiful.

When I finished, I was so overwhelmed with feeling, I was like a washcloth wrung out. I got off the bench, bowed without looking at individual people, and sat down again in the front row, awed and quiet about what I felt had happened. Judy and Jay both looked at me with admiration (I thought). It took me a while before I was back to normal and living in the everyday world.

After the concert, several people came up to me with admiring and awed looks on their faces (I guess they thought I had played really well), and gave me some very kind comments. After I got back home to a few Trick or Treaters ringing the doorbell, I was pretty happy. When I went to bed that night, I relived moments of the concert occasionally, and was on Cloud Nine! The next morning when I awoke, I could barely believe that it had turned out so well. It was almost like having an other-worldly experience or being visited by a god. I know that I did make 1 or 2 unnoticeable mistakes, and when I hear the tape I may notice things to do differently next time, but on the whole, it was a success.

Addendum: In last month’s BLOG, I had asked people to submit performance tips or stories. Here is what Victor Kovacs, an organist from Cincinnati, Ohio, sent: “when you’re performing a recital, you tend to do things differently. Always copy the music, and buy a small binder and arrange the pages in it appropriately - a copy machine with the double-sided feature can [help] do this quickly. That way you can write all over the copy about the special things you need to do on that organ. . . For spots that are difficult, my unique way is to practice in the dark [Ed: he turns on only the music rack light, or if the piece is memorized, turns off all lights], and force myself to focus only on the music itself, so that I make myself learn how to play the section. . . Another mental technique is to meditate on something else rather than a straight focus on the music. I think of people I love, memories of the past, ideas for the future, etc - whatever makes you happy
– Vic Kovacs”

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October 22, 1004 - ORGANIST READY TO PERFORM: October 25, 2004 (Repost)
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 8:34 pm

By Susan Burkhalter, © 2004

I am getting ready to play Fantaisie in A Major by Cesar Franck on October 31st in a 5-organist recital at a church in College Park, Maryland. The piece takes about 13 minutes to play. The organ is a 3-manual, 39-rank Lewis and Hitchcock. I have been learning this piece for about 1 year. It is very difficult but rewarding because it’s a great work that changes its mood numerous times. You can study and play it for a long time and continue to learn and feel new things about it, since it is complex and mysterious.

Now I practice the piece one-half hour a day on my home electronic 2-manual organ, a Baldwin A240. I have to pretend I am playing the pipe organ while I practice, pretending to make the registration changes by moving my hands or feet to where they are on the St. Andrew’s organ. I have set up the same number pistons on my organ and I use those. I only get to practice on that pipe organ about once a month for 1 1/2 hours. My current practice method on my home organ is to do silent score study for 5 minutes (mainly for registration changes), then I play half-way through the piece, still making corrections and repetitions of sections. Wherever I left off I will begin there on the next practice session. The transitions in this piece are challenging, because they should be gradual and not too abrupt. My teacher, Dale Krider, told me to make a slight retard before a registration change to make the piece flow into the next section better. Several times a week I try to play it all the way through without stopping, as though I’m at the performance. However, I have yet to get it perfect!

Much of my practicing is physical, fingers slithering from place to place and feet being at just the right location. Even at this point in my extensive knowledge of this piece, which I have played hundreds of times, I find that when I correct one thing, something else pops up. For instance, a certain pedal note is a dotted half note, not a quarter note. Something that keyboard performers, and probably those on other instruments, develop is a feeling of intimacy with their piece. Webster’s New World DIctionary defines intimate as “closely acquainted or associated; very familiar: as, an intimate friend.” I have spent so many hours at different times of the day or night playing this piece that when I’m feeling surly, I could almost say to it, “Behave yourself or I will smack you!”

Another thing that occurred to me is how lucky young people are when they learn a difficult piece. Years ago I accompanied a 16-year-old boy, Sigmund Young, who played a violin concerto for a contest. He had played his piece hundreds of times and had memorized it. He could probably play it in his sleep. I envied him his familiarity with the piece. Also young people do not carry around the mental baggage that most older people have acquired. This lets them be more singleminded when they perform a piece.

If anyone has a unique method for preparing for a performance, or a good “performance” story, email me at

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QUESTIONS TO PONDER: September 26, 2004 (Repost)
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 8:33 pm

Here are two questions to ponder: (1) How do we as professional organists, music directors, performing musicians, or music teachers (if we are married and/or have families) balance our professional duties with our everyday lives living with a spouse or significant other and, especially, raising children? (2) How many professional musicians such as the types I mentioned in Question 1 who have children watch their children also become serious musicians or choose music careers? And why do some of us have children who naturally gravitate to music lessons and choose classical music as a way of life, while others of us (such as myself) have children who were heavily exposed to classical music and lessons in it while young, but the children chose careers and studies in other areas?

I’ll address Question 2 first. I have known many piano teachers with families. There is the famous piano teacher, Jane Smisor Bastien (whom I met briefly about 10 years ago - she is a charming, polite and friendly woman, as are her daughters, one of whom was in our music teacher organization for one year until she moved away). Both of her daughters, Lori and Lisa, became excellent and successful piano teachers. There are also some piano teachers in my organization, a local branch of the MTNA, who have families, and quite a few of us have exposed our children to piano lessons or lessons in other musical instruments. But only a few of the children that I know of became professional musicians or music teachers. I did know of a local organist once whose 2 sons became rock musicians and attended the rock ‘n’ roll college in California; I don’t think that counts, though, because it wasn’t their parents’ “type” of music (therefore they were eschewing that lifestyle).
Both my daughter and my son had many years of piano lessons. My son took from me for 5 years and from another teacher, Mrs. Ethel Huffman, for 2 years, but he then quit piano and has seldom played since, except to pick out some of his favorite pop music by ear! He also played trumpet for 4 years at school, but didn’t practice much. He probably has perfect pitch, since his intonation was extremely accurate and he did not like reading notes. At age 14 he began teaching himself guitar (acoustic and electric) and it became “his” instrument. He is good at it and enjoys playing. Most of the songs he learns are by imitation and tablature from the Internet.

My daughter had piano lessons for 7 years from me and 7 more years by Mrs. Ruff and Mrs. Hallstead. She played well but didn’t practice a lot.
During her last year in high school she asked for voice lessons, then at college took vocal courses and sang in 2 of the classical music groups on campus, one of which was a church choir. In summary, I would say that, while my children have some musical talent, they chose not to pursue music as a career because other fields appealed to them more. However, music studies certainly enriched their lives and also, I feel, helped them to become good students at school.
Now for Question 1, how do we musicians balance our professional lives with our family responsibilities? I know of one woman organist/choir director with 3 sons who was married for the second time to a man, an amateur flutist, with an older son and daughter. This family usually brought all the members to church, which I considered an amazing feat, since most of them were teenagers. Her youngest son sang in her children’s choir. Her husband’s son was an acolyte. I don’t know how they did it, since many teenagers I know (including my children) choose to stay home from church once they have been confirmed at age 13.

Here are my tips for trying to accomplish a number of conflicting duties at once: I am also a housewife (which means cleaning house and gardening) and consider it necessary to cook healthy food regularly. In addition I do some volunteer work at the high school and with the Suburban Women’s Club. Occasionally I feel like I am being chased by a wolf in the distance and I feel like the juggler who balances 2 twirling plates on sticks. Here are my 2 ideas, which have helped: Since I have to practice organ and piano every day, I always use a kitchen timer, of which I have 4 different ones (1 ladybug-shaped and 1 chicken-shaped). That way when my practicing inevitably gets interrupted by a telephone call or hungry son, I know how many minutes I’ve done. My 2nd tip: I have piano students which conflict with the dinner hour (they come between 3:15 and 8:00 p.m.). Every week I make a weekly meal plan before I go shopping. That way I always know what is for dinner and can make some things ahead in the afternoon.

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Here’s an update on my entry of April 24th: August 02, 2004 (Repost)
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 8:32 pm

Here’s an update on my entry of April 24th: Lois Miller of the BACHorgan community e-mailed me with more explanations of their church organ. She said, “What our organ project consisted of was adding several electronic voices from the four Ahlborn Archive modules (you might notice that Ahlborn-Galanti advertise their organs in the TAO and Ahlborn advertise their ‘modules’) and combining those sounds with our existing 8 ranks of pipes. It is a beautiful arrangement. Even a well-respected voicer could not tell which were the pipe voices and which were the electronic voices.
Our 3-manual console was purchased ‘used’ from the First Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, Utah via the internet — the console was built in 1990 by Schantz, specifically for that church.” Keep us posted, Lois.

Oddly enough, since I began the discussion about “pipes vs. digitals”, the Lutheran church in Northern Virginia where I’m organist has begun to look into replacing our old home Allen with a new organ. Bob, my music director, and I both prefer pipe organs, but we feel that the music committee will probably want to save money and choose a digital organ.

Singing in the church service accompanied by a CD: I don’t care much for the use of CD’s during the church service. Some churches use them with their choirs and children’s choirs. Once around 1994 the 5th grade class of my children’s elementary school performed a musical accompanied by a CD which had the vocals on it as well. Since sound systems are so powerful, the recording drowned out their voices. A CD is not responsive to the singers. They become like robots, forced to go along mechanically with the recording. The aim at rehearsals becomes getting them to learn their parts and keeping up with the sounds of the recording. There is no room for expression or personal interpretation or tempo changes. Finally, the sound system is cranked up to fill the room with noise so that one’s ears are bombarded and not allowed to listen for nuances or individual voices.

About playing the organ music of J.S. Bach: I am flabbergasted that Our Leader Dan Long has so many of the works of Bach under his belt and at the ready! For instance, he plays the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, and Prelude and Fugue in B Minor, the list goes on! Whereas I have only learned about 10-12 works of J.S. Bach and have forgotten some. Some recent ones were the 3 I learned to take the CAGO exam of the AGO - Fugue on “Wir glauben all in einem Gott”, the second movement from a Trio Sonata, “Adagio e dolce”; and “Schubler Chorale, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”. Since last Fall 2003 I have been studying the Prelude (called the “9/8 prelude”) and Fugue in C Major, BWV 537. I have spent so much time trying to differentiate between keeping the fugue subject notes connected and legato, and making wide leaps nonlegato. It is still not ready.

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Here in the Washington, DC area… June 11, 2004 (Repost)
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 8:31 pm

Here in the Washington, DC area we are experiencing funeral activities for Ronald Reagan. I hope to get a list of the music used at his funeral at Washington Cathedral today.

And starting May 11th, the 17-year-cicadas began to emerge from the ground! I can’t tell you what a thrill it has been to watch them and all their antics. They are lovely, fairy-like bugs (we have thousands in our yard) who come and go and do no harm. I like to visit them each day and carry various ones (I have named some, like Ursula and Tiger) around on my hand or arm for a while. They fly to the trees where the males make a loud roar to attract mates which can be heard all day until dark. I discovered that it is pitched between E and E flat. I think they are miraculous! They will all die after the females lay eggs and the resulting underground nymphs will start all over. They were last here when my children were 1 and 3 1/2. I wonder if J.S. Bach ever saw such a natural phenomenon in his time?

Politics will be much in the news because of the elections coming up this fall. I used to think that many musicians were apolitical, but now I think they are probably similar to people who work at more mundane jobs. That is, probably some care about politics and give money to their political parties and make sure to vote. I have always been interested in politics, because my parents used to volunteer with the Democrats when I was young and I have always been a Democrat. I don’t know whether organists as a group include more Republicans or Democrats.

You probably tire of my railing against the influence of Pop Culture in our society. I try to straddle the fence, since I know a lot about popular music and TV stars, etc. because my children are college-age. However, the picture looks gloomy for classical music and I think we definitely have to fight and keep trying to recruit more young people! Observing the popularity of the TV show “American Idol” made me think, it is too bad that so many good voices are being lost to popular music. Wouldn’t it be great if some of those winners were classically trained? Instead, they are using (and possibly damaging) their voices to shout, they’ve learned to wail in quartertones to sing the blues, and they distort their vowels. Today in the “Washington Post” I read the obituary of Irene Manning, 91, a classically trained singer who appeared in some of the most prominent musicals of the 1940’s, including “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” At least she used her voice correctly.

Books I am reading now (to borrow an idea from Our Leader Dan Long): These are books from my son’s assigned Summer Reading lists going back two years, books that he mostly didn’t read: “I Have a Dream - Writings and Speeches That Changed the World”, by Martin Luther King Jr., edited by
James M. Washington; “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez, a novel about the rebellion 1938-1960 against the Dominican dictator Trujillo that is based on true stories. And here is another short book I finished: an excerpt from “Men of Metal” by Rowland Samuel, which was an insert in “Motortrend Magazine”. It is a supposedly true story that took place in England in 1994 of some mysterious giant robots that perhaps used parts of Minicoopers. The robots would rescue people involved in motor accidents, then disappear.

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About pipe organs vs. electronics… April 24, 2004 (Repost)
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 8:31 pm

About pipe organs vs. electronics, I prefer pipe organs and believe pipe organs are the only “real” organs and others are imitations of pipe organs and other sounds. But churches who can’t afford pipe organs or won’t budget the money for them often end up buying electronic organs. Also I prefer playing a good electronic if the alternative is an old tracker action that’s not in good repair and has a stiff action that could injure your hands (I have had to play such organs in the past). Lois Miller, a member of the BACHorgan community, mentioned to me in an e-mail that her church replaced a pipe organ of 8 unified ranks with a Rodgers with pipes (it wasn’t clear what kind of new organ her church has) and that several churches near her had gotten Rodgers organs and one will use the pipes. Some day maybe I will hear such an organ.

She also asked me what it was like being a substitute organist. I was recently hired permanently as the part-time organist at a Lutheran church in Northern Virginia. I had chosen substituting years ago initially because I was the mother of young children then and felt it was important to be constantly available for them until they were grown, something that even a part-time job wouldn’t have permitted. I mainly substituted at Protestant churches and sometimes Christian Science churches. Being a substitute made me feel that I was “always a bridesmaid never a bride.” You have some interesting experiences, get to play all kinds of organs, some quite good pipe organs, and to direct some good choirs. However, after over 20 years of it I wanted to belong somewhere and to have some status.

On the subject of “how our country is dominated by the popular culture of rock music, T.V. stars and electronic gadgets”: I attended the talent show at my son’s high school in an upper-middle-class neighborhood (Bethesda, Maryland) in February. Luckily I had brought ear plugs, since there was very loud amplified music during most of the show, even at intermission when they played recordings. The theme was “MTV.” Sadly enough, all of the performers played or sang rock music of some kind, even though the school has excellent choral and instrumental music programs in which hundreds of the students participate. In their nod to “old European culture” they invited about 10 members of the orchestra to play along with a rock band in one of the numbers. While I saw the strings playing their instruments on stage, I couldn’t hear one note over the loudly amplified guitars and drums of the band!
And there was an exquisite virtuoso performance of “Liebesfreud” by Rachmaninoff by a 16-year-old girl, the pianist Pallavi Mahidhara. During the 5-minute piece, many of the 1,000 audience members were talking! I had to turn around in my seat to “shhh” some. What is the future of classical music in America to become when so few young people are willing to listen to it and learn about it?

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Online groups of interest to organists: March 26, 2004 (Repost)
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 8:25 pm

I discovered there are 2 other online groups of interest to organists - I tried to log onto (it has a Pipeorgan Webring) and there is another one I haven’t tried yet, a Pipe-Digital-Combo group; to find it, email

For Easter music, since my church has a small and modest electronic Allen organ, I am playing: Prelude - Allegro from Suite Gothique by Leon Boellmann and Postlude - Toccata in C Major by Theodore Dubois. I am hoping to learn all of my Holy Week music by April 2nd so that I can enjoy the spring and do some gardening.

I was surprised that nobody born between 1946 and 1964 commented on how the Beatles and their music influenced them when they were young. I graduated from the College of Wooster and a piano major there, Jerry Lee, was so excited about the Beatles’ music that he analyzed the form and harmonic system of several of their songs. He thought they were original. Have any of you been influenced while young by any other performers or composers? I attended the College-Conservatory of Music of the U. of Cincinnati for 2 years, and while there I was chosen one of the “Ten Most Creative Students on Campus” by Brook Jones, then director of Playhouse in the Park. One of our projects was an hour-long meeting with Composer-in-Residence John Cage. He was a quirky and enthralling man of whom I was in awe. He taught us how to make our own composition in his style and we wrote it down (I saved mine; it was never performed). Another interesting musical experience for me was hearing Oriental music live for the first time when Ravi Shankar, a sitarist, gave a performance at the College of Wooster.

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The shortage of organists: February 12, 2004 (Repost)
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 8:25 pm

“Wayne Earnest, DMA, who is Music Minister at Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, Virginia wrote an article in response to another article on the shortage of organists in The American Organist around 2001. In his paper he suggested ways to alleviate the shortage of organists. He noted that filling large, full-time positions was not a problem; rather, the greatest need for organists was for smaller, part-time, low-paying, no-paying (particularly rural) positions. His solution was to create a “Multi-Parish Church Music Director” (MPCMD), an organist who oversees music programs at several parishes or churches. E.g., 30 churches who cannot find organists apply to get an MCPMD who oversees five churches. He/she is paid $50,000, each church paying $10,000, to oversee and train amateur pianists to play the organ at five churches and to travel to one church each Sunday.
Wayne’s article had more great ideas on this subject. For a copy of the 3 1/2 page article, email him at”

(2) On a different subject, how many of you have experienced “bad coffee” at your church? I have never worked at or attended a church that didn’t have bad coffee, even if they spent money on a good kind of coffee. It always smelled burned and I refused to drink it. I believe it is because it is made in the big metal coffeepots and nobody ever properly cleans them.

(3) Last month we were discussing the Allen and Rodgers organs that use pipes, and I received 2 interesting comments about that, from Hans Weichselbaum of New Zealand and Doug DeForeest. Anyone who has played these organs and likes or dislikes these, let me know.

(4) Finally, I was in college in the late 60’s into 1970 and I and my 3 siblings were greatly influenced by the Beatles. We loved their music, tried to dress like them and imitate them, and as my sister Sally, a novelist, says, “They were like part of our family.” I can instantly sing along with almost any of their songs. I can remember their antics, happinesses and sorrows as though they are part of my subconscious. Do any of you other organists/musicians out there find yourselves influenced emotionally and/or intellectually by any famous performers (musicians, actors, or authors or films, etc.) in this fashion?

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Do any of you play at churches that have the new Allen organ with pipes or the new Rodgers organ with pipes? January 13, 2004 (Repost)
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 8:21 pm

Do any of you play at churches that have the new Allen organ with pipes or the new Rodgers organ with pipes? My teacher was telling me about these. The Allen uses pipes your church already has there, but the Rodgers brings in new pipes. He thought they cost about $45,000. They would be an option if your church thinks it can’t afford a pipe organ. (where I’m playing now they have an Allen home organ, about 10-20 years old) (2) Do any of you have quaint or interesting features at your church? My church calls their library the “Revelation” room. (3) Here’s an idea for after Christmas: (not musical) I keep a file of Christmas things. Each year I may put in something such as a touching newspaper article (this year it was a Christmas story from MountainWings, a website). Another thing I included was Dan Long’s funny takeoff on the poem, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. Then next year I get it out before the holidays and it reminds me of the previous Christmas!

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