A delightful wine and cheese reception opened the special evening of presentations by panelists: Jeff Weiler, President of JL Weiler, Inc. a firm specializing in historically -informed pipe organ restoration, Chicago, IL; Margaret McElwain Kemper, Adjunct Associate Professor of Organ at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL; and Derek Nickels, Director of Music at the host church, Church of the Holy Comforter (Episcopal), Kenilworth, IL. Each presenter gave background information, observations, and some predictions of his/her field of expertise: organ restoration; organ teaching; and church musician (organist/choir director.)
Following the presentations audience questions and comments were taken, moderated by Sub-Dean Sharon R. Peterson, allowing for more detail from the panelists. Jeff Weiler clarified the difference between an Organ Restorer and an Organ Builder. He also discussed the effect of the Organ Reform Movement on organs, audiences, and organists in the USA. He is hopeful that though the fields of both organ restoration and building have shrunk, those professionals who remain are highly skilled and excellent in their techniques. Upcoming young Organists are an inspiration – as is the return to a desire for increasing Liturgy, seen in some churches. Jeff also stressed the positive change that diverse organs are now respected for their unique qualities and place in music history and repertoire.
Maggie Kemper shared her experiences as an organ student and as a Teacher of the organ. She recommended publications by Richard Enright, Sandra Soderlund, John Brock/Wayne Leupold, and George Ritchie/George Stauffer for further information. She noted the legato touch of the 1960’s is no longer over-used, resulting in a wider variety of articulation. (Her own teacher, Marie-Claire Alain, once demonstrated 12 articulations for her, ranging from staccato to legato.) Several basics for good teaching were listed and explained: Organ shoes; Proper hand position; Playing musically – even in exercises; Achieving expression through rhythm and touch; Giving positive criticism/instruction; Setting a good example; and Nurturing the musician-person who is being taught. She remains committed to and inspired by teaching.
Host Derek Nichels explained the evolution of the job of Church Musician as he has experienced it. Playing a Hammond B in his first organ job, he now has duties which range from Pastoral Care to finalizing the Bulletin content. He emphasized good listening skills are necessary for the Church Musician to patiently meld his/her musical expertise with the needs of the congregation. Since the musical life of a congregation is at its core, the mission of the church, recruiting of members to participate, and encouraging donors all play a part in a healthy church. Adaptability is key.
We came away with a sense of appreciation for the history of the organ, concrete ideas of how to improve our playing, some wisdom for advising our congregations on their instruments, and the inspiration to continue creative musical problem-solving in this evolving world of Organists. As we celebrate 60 years, (April 29,) of the North Shore AGO chapter, why not look for ways to more actively invest personally in valuable events such as this? Put the season’s dates on your calendar, plan to attend, and invite a friend whose life will be enriched by this marvelous chapter.
Sharon R. Peterson, Sub-dean