Memories and plans in free-fall

The dream of a lifetime is about to come true for me. I’m going with a church choir on a European tour. I get to be the organist.

whitmans_mothers_day_ad-400x513I didn’t realize it was the dream of a lifetime until the opportunity presented itself. Imagine, playing organs in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and St. Petersburg. (Yes, I know—all items in a list need to be of the same type, not three countries and a city. C’est la vie!)

If someone had told me that I could make up such a trip, it most likely would not have been to Scandinavia. Italy, perhaps, or Vienna. Germany. Bach country. I don’t know.

But I am headed for Scandinavia with The Choir of Calvary Lutheran Church of Richland Hills, TX. I can’t say how grateful I am they’ve included me. First because the director, Viktor Anderson, is one of my favorite people (we met through a gentle sweet man we both loved dearly—may light perpetual shine upon him—about 35 years ago, and our paths crossed again when I moved to Texas). Other members of the group are good friends. The trip will be a sweet time with people I love.

We will be making music together, and I get to play some lovely European instruments. We will see the sights, eat too much, and meet many people. Our trip will end at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, one of the places on my “bucket list.” Along the way, we will be raising money for the support of the Lutheran Seminary in St. Petersburg. How could a trip be better?

I’m getting these thoughts of anticipation all mixed up with memories this morning. Memories inspired by my seeing ads for flowers for Mother’s Day. It’s a week away, and the internet is filled with come-ons. OK, I’ll admit it—I was something of a “mama’s boy” when I was growing up. I’m sure that comes as a great surprise to anyone who knows me or reads my writing.

The Flentrop at Harvard

The Flentrop at Harvard

My mother was my first piano teacher. I learned the basics of keyboard playing sitting beside her as she practiced the piano (she was, as I have said many times, a more naturally gifted music-maker than I am) and absorbing what she was doing both by simple proximity and by her showing me the basics of music reading and moving my fingers.

A couple of days ago a colleague asked me if I had ever heard the E. Power Biggs recording of the Bach Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor (for organ) on pedal harpsichord. Heard it? I wore out a vinyl disc playing it over and over again. It’s one of the most visceral and elegantly hair-raising recordings anyone ever made in my opinion. E. Power Biggs influenced organ playing and organ building in this country as much as any other single person. He presided over the Flentrop (from The Netherlands) organ at Harvard which was one of the first mechanical action instruments in this country in built after the flourishing of electro-pneumatic instruments. We wannabe organists owned and played his recordings on that organ ad infinitum.

I believe most the following is true. It is, at any rate, part of my personal mythology.

I met Steuart Goodwin in 1963 when I went to university. He graduated at the end of that school year and went off to The Netherlands to work in the pipe shop of the Flentrop Organ Company—sent there on a Fulbright Fellowship which E. Power Biggs had a hand in securing (if I have any memory left at all). In my living room is the first organ Steuart built on his return from The Netherlands.

The Goodwin in My Living Room

The Goodwin in My Living Room

My memories are in free-fall, jogged by seeing ads for Mother’s Day flowers, by my colleague’s question which prompted me to listen to the Biggs recording, and my preparing for the trip of a lifetime by practicing on the first organ that my life-long friend Steuart Goodwin built. About a month ago I uploaded here my recording of another of the works I learned by listening to another Biggs recording about a thousand times when I was in high school.

See what I mean, free-fall? There is no point here. Only memories. And plans. Does an old guy like me get to make exciting plans based on his most cherished memories? You bet.

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