An Evening of Organ in San Francisco

Crescendo issue: May 2014
San Francisco's Grace Cathedral was alive with music and applause recently, thanks to Interlochen's organ students.

"More than any other instrument, every organ is an individual experience," says Interlochen's organ instructor Tom Bara. "They vary in the number of keyboards, the number and quality of sounds available, the acoustics of the rooms they reside in, even the actual size of the keys and pedals. Learning to adapt to different instruments is an essential skill for every organist. Performing at a high level on tour provides a very real situation for us to sharpen this ability. Honing a recital as a group maximizes this experience because we can help each other set registrations by listening in the hall. Learning from each other in person and on site is equal to a year's worth of lecturing in studio class. Grace Cathedral is renowned for its music program and organ. Being invited to perform as part of their recital series is an honor and validation of what we do at Interlochen."

The tour, which was funded by long-time organ department supporters Lee and Peter Caraher, allowed Interlochen's organ students a chance to showcase their art in a setting that many musicians can only dream of. 

"Our students performed beautifully," continued Bara. "I am grateful that so many people came to hear them. In addition to the concert itself, a highlight was spending the day with organ-builder Jack Bethards at his Schoenstein Organ factory. Our students were exposed to the entire organ building process - tonal conception, the construction progression from rough planing to final finishing, assembly, and pipe voicing. The students asked some great questions as well."

In a world where so much of the focus can be on modern electronica, this beautiful instrument continues to hold its ground and captivate audiences the world over.

"On a purely musical level, playing the organ is an incredibly compelling experience," says Bara. "It is a wind instrument played by a single player, but the dynamic range is huge, on par with a large ensemble. It is as if we get to play an entire wind symphony all by ourselves. Organists who can do this successfully invariably have a great sense of rhythm, ensemble, and global sense of how music is put together. Therefore, organ is a great launching pad into other areas of music. Many organists become conductors and choral trainers, many become music theorists and historians, many compose and arrange music, others become continuo players and early music specialists. Like other areas of music, the church music profession is going through changes and challenges. Still, there are many opportunities in church music, especially for those who can combine excellent organ playing with a genuine appreciation for and competence in a wide range of musical genres."

More information on Interlochen's organ program can be found here.