“Ask not what the organ culture can do for you…”
It is a tremendous privilege to write this first column as your new dean. I am honored to be elected and look forward to serving. We enjoyed hosting many of you in our home for the end of the year party and I look forward to working closely with the board and the entire membership for a rewarding and inspiring year in our chapter. I am certain you will all want to join me in thanking outgoing dean Naomi Shiga for her great work.
I think we all know that the Puget Sound area is known nationally, throughout the world, really, as a place with a particularly rich organ culture. While I was in graduate school and working in the Midwest, I certainly missed this aspect of living here. There are several factors that contribute to this glorious situation. OK, we have great organs! We may have one of the most distinguished collections of organs of any region in the United States. Two of the finest organ builders on the planet live and work right here in Pierce County. Their organs are beautiful to hear and see, and they inspire organists to practice more, learn more about performance practice, and refine their skills. These organs are fantastic teachers in university settings and inspire numerous congregations to experience a glimpse of heaven every week.
Yes, the organs are great. But how did these organs arrive on the scene? People. We can look back at every important organ in our area and point to the person or persons who made those organs a reality. At the University of Puget Sound, that person was my teacher, Ed Hansen. At Pacific Lutheran University, that person was David Dahl. The beautiful organ that now lives at St. Andrew’s was first the result of the work of the Tietjens, and now Naomi Shiga. We have and have had visionary people in our midst who have achieved amazing things.
So, what’s next? “Ask not what the organ culture can do for you; ask what you can do for the organ culture.” It is our turn to be those visionary people. I believe the organ is at a crossroads. Sure, there are churches who are hopelessly mired in their limited experience and are not much interested in the organ or musical excellence and true beauty. Yes, organ departments in universities struggle to keep students coming through the doors. However, the organ still clearly speaks to young musicians in the intangible way it speaks to all of us. Not a single one of my organ students at UPS is churched! They have not come to the organ the same way you and I did; they stumbled into a situation where they saw and heard something beautiful and wanted to be a part of it.
In future columns, I will explore ways we can promote and develop our organ culture. I would welcome your ideas and feedback. Even more than that, your chapter and the organ culture will need your presence and engagement. Let us be the ones who set a wonderful vision for our instrument and its music. Let us also be the ones who make that vision a reality.