January 2018
When You’re Good You’re so Good, and When You’re Bad You’re so Bad!”

Eileen Baumgarten

I got my start playing the organ when I was in 7th grade in Powhattan, Kansas, and was a member of Zion Lutheran Church.  The elders decided that they needed some new blood at the organ bench and asked my friend and me if we would take organ lessons and be willing to play for church for $1.00 a Sunday.  We accepted and took lessons that summer.  The church was unheated except for Sunday mornings so taking lessons in the summer and piano in the winter months was the way it all started.  (There were those times getting ready for Christmas Eve I practiced with a winter coat on until fingers were frozen.)  The biggest revelation sitting on the bench was seeing the minister go back into his study during the hymn right before the sermon when I assumed he was praying over his sermon and seeing from the organ bench that he was actually going out the side door and having a cigarette!  After high school I attended St. John’s Lutheran College in Winfield, Kansas, where I planned to study parish work with an emphasis in organ.  My organ teacher there persuaded me to audition at the University of Oklahoma with Mildred Andrews.  I was a very naive country girl had no idea what I was doing, but went with him for the audition and was accepted as a student.  I entered OU after finishing my second year at St. John’s in the fall of 1969.  It was an eye opener as well as awe inspiring when I walked into the music school’s opening program to hear Charles Benbow play Messiaen’s “Dieu parmi nous.”  I knew I was among some great talent and wondered what I was doing there.  Everyone loves to hear stories about Miss Andrew’s style of teaching.  All girls were required to wear skirts to all lessons.  Once I showed up in culottes which I considered a skirt, but Miss Andrews thought was too much like pants.  We went out into the hall to try to find another one “of her little chickens” to trade with so I could go home and change my clothes and come back with a skirt on so I could take my lesson.  We had two 30 minute lessons a week which she believed was more efficient than a once a week one hour lesson.  No time was ever wasted.  When your lesson was finishing, the next student would be at the edge of the stage, and she would wave you forward.  Then as one student was leaving the bench on the left, the other student was sliding on on the right, and the next lesson began no minute wasted. There was great respect, love and fear of our “Dear Teacher”.  I was never a prodigy or one of her outstanding students to go on and earn a Fulbright or major competition.  I was just glad to learn many good techniques and be able to complete my degree without being one of the students who would be asked to come in a room and told it was time to select a new major.  Lessons learned that I still use are practicing the alto line alone of a fugue, playing a difficult line backwards, if your feet make a mistake, it’s probably because your hands don’t know what they are doing, and one of the most valuable is the use of the Brahms Fifty-One Exercises For the Piano—specifically Nos. 24a, 24b, 27, 30, 33, 34, 39, 40a, 40b, 41a, 41b, 42a, and 42b.  The organ department at OU struggled some after her death, but is now flourishing with the American Organ Institute run by Dr. John Schwandt.

The title “When You’re Good You’re so Good, and When You’re Bad You’re so Bad” was taken from a quote Miss Andrews spoke to me at one of my lessons.  I just try to make “good moments” coming and keep the “bad moments” at bay.

Eileen Baumgarten