Organs the old man has known. . . in which he tells not quite all.

The Baldwin Model 5, circa 1960

The Baldwin Model 5, circa 1960

I began my organ study practicing on the Baldwin Model 5 organ at the First Baptist Church in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. I still have the first instruction book I used, and the first date the teacher wrote in it is June 17, 1956.

When our family moved to Omaha, I became organist at Trinity Baptist Church (which no longer exists). That friendly little funky church gave me the opportunity to figure out that an organist has to pay attention to what’s going on, and it allowed me to discover for myself the differences in style among playing solo music, accompanying other musicians, and leading group singing.

Then I went to the University of Redlands where I earned my Bachelor of Music in organ performance—and, in the process came out as a gay man (yes, before Stonewall), made a few lasting friendships, got married, and began counseling because, well, the university could not cope with gay students, and (mainly) because I wanted someone, somewhere to know about my seizures. That also was the first time a counselor told me that if I just straightened out (pun intended) my sex life, those strange feelings of other-worldliness and dissociation, to say nothing of the high-pitched exploding white noise in my mind, would stop.

When I graduated, through a series of events and decisions I won’t bore you with here, I became organist at Christ Church Episcopal, Ontario, CA, my favorite and most fulfilling position so far. (The recording is a recent one, made after the organ was refurbished and given some much-needed additions of stops. It was, however, even when I was there, the gutsiest, most exciting organ – in America? Oh, let’s not be silly. But it was and is my favorite organ. Exactly what kind of organ it is you will have to ask Steuart Goodwin, its caretaker.)

The current denizen at Grace Church in Salem

The current denizen at Grace Church in Salem

Then I went to graduate school at the University of Iowa and played three recitals on the giant Cassavant tracker organ in Clapp Recital Hall as part of my PhD in organ literature. While I was in Iowa City, I was divorced and became a real gay boy.

Then I moved to Massachusetts in the fall of 1977 and became organist at the very staid Grace Episcopal Church in Salem. There I got sober and became chair of the music department at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. The church has a three-keyboard Schantz organ.

In January of 1994 I moved to Dallas to be with my late partner and to work on a second PhD, this one with an emphasis in creative writing. My unfinished dissertation is a (damned good) novel. But who needs two PhDs?  I was organist at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Farmers Branch until it closed. The lovely Allen digital organ is now in a Catholic Church in Rowlett, and I live alone but am involved with the love of my life.

And I have my very own pipe organ. It is the first organ Steuart Goodwin built—in 1970. The University of Redlands had it as a practice organ until about eight years ago when they wanted the room it was in for a faculty office. They offered it to Steuart, and I paid him to dismantle it there, drive it to Dallas, and rebuild it in my living room.

The University of Iowa Cassavant

The University of Iowa Cassavant

I have always fancied myself an organist. Whether or not I am good, great, mediocre, or lousy is up to someone else to decide. But one thing is certain. I’m getting old.

The little mechanical action, 5-stop organ that was never meant for church or concert hall suits me fine. The little old man and the little old organ playing little old music in private. What could be better? The recording is the “Lentement” from Cinq Versets pour Harmonium (Opus 21) by Charles Tournemire, published in 1949.


It’s just my style

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