I had an incredible time at the Advanced POE in Boston, MA, July 17-22. Before the week officially kicked off, I went on a bus tour to Lexington, Concord, and Cambridge. A couple of the sites that I was able to visit throughout the week were the Boston Common and the Boston Garden.
On Sunday afternoon, I checked in at a Suffolk University dorm, just northeast of the Boston Commons. My room was on the sixteenth floor with literally a million-dollar view of downtown Boston. The kickoff concert was held at the First Church of Christ, Scientist (the Mother Church). It was a stunning venue, beautiful building, and incredible organ (the eighth-largest in the world). The opening recital was played by Nathan Laube. Closing my eyes part-way through the concert, I saw the images of historic sites that I had seen earlier that day mixed with modern special effects. (If you cannot tell, I obviously had not had enough sleep the night before.) This created an incredible running visual with the background music. Simply, the music had become much more than just music. It became an inspiration and a memory. This concert is now one my top five all time. I would find out later in the week, Nathan and many of the other college students and faculty were not only very approachable, but they were great sources of knowledge just waiting to be fully tapped into.
On Monday morning, I attended two lectures: Improvisation Workshop and Practice Techniques & Body Awareness. In the afternoon, I had my first of two lessons with Dr. Faythe Freese of the University of Alabama. With her personality, Dr. Freese could be confused for a sister of my teacher Dr. Ann Marie Rigler. She was very vibrant, enthusiastic, and positive. She has the incredible quality of teaching without letting you know that she is instructing you and a great way of figuring out what teaching language helps to get the technique idea across. The first of three master classes that I attended was taught by Jack Mitchener. That night, we attended the first of two faculty recitals. This concert was held at two churches, the first having a German organ and the second having a French organ. (Log away for future concert idea.)
Tuesday started out with an organ crawl at Symphony Hall. Unfortunately, the Hall seating was in transition and the organ was not fully functional at the time, so we did not get to see it in all of its usual brilliance. From there, we moved on to the Mother Church to do an organ crawl and have an open console. Once again, a tremendous organ. Directly afterward, we had a Career Workshop. Because we were going to meet many prominent organ undergraduate faculty and important people, we were told that we needed to introduce and sell ourselves all in a "30-second commercial about ourselves." The first question we were asked was "What is the single most important thing about you?" The first person to answer that question took 15 seconds to tell why her Christian faith was the most important thing.
[And now for a quick commercial break. Organ playing has had its historic roots in the music ministry of the church. And many of the youth organists are also Christians. I had always expected the pipe organ camps to put an emphasis on assisting or leading the congregation in worshiping God. At the first organ camp, I was told that people try to leave faith outside of the organ camps so that they can be more "friendly" to people of other religious faiths. But on that Wednesday afternoon a third of the camp stood up to say that their Christian faith was the most important thing about them. Because one of us stood up and we all stood for what was right and not what might have been "politically" correct, we were able to change the entire tone and direction of the whole week. We chose to live with our Christian faith as our computer home screen and not as a hidden file. This Saratoga helped foster discussion not only among the various denominations present but also Christians with people of other faiths, particularly atheists. My three suite mates all happened to be Catholic. We had incredible discussions lasting sometimes until 1 or 2 in the morning about various topics ranging from the core Christian doctrines, Catholicism and Protestantism, other religions, the Christian life, and the church's role in the community. Many leaders were born or reborn because we chose to live out our faith and to demonstrate Christian love and examples to those who need to see it. This week was a perfect example of the daily application of the Worldview Academy beliefs and philosophies that I had been exposed to earlier in the summer. It was powerful!]
Moving on, I had my second lesson with Dr. Freese and second master class, this time with Christopher Young. The Tuesday concert was a Young Artist Recital featuring five college organ students who were our dorm chaperones for most of the week. Each person played one or two pieces of standard organ literature and one new piece that was commissioned for this POE. Four of the five composers were able to attend.
Wednesday featured a shortened lesson, followed by a field trip. That morning, I had my first of three lessons with Peter Sykes of Boston University. We had our lessons on the organ in Busch Hall, just north of the Harvard campus in Cambridge, MA. It was supported by E. Power Biggs, who was instrumental in bring the tracker organ back to America. This was one of those pioneer organs. Departing Cambridge, we traveled to Groton School in Groton, MA. Groton is a private boarding school which teaches kids grades 7-12. It was a setting out of a soap opera or movie with the freshly cut center green, hallways lined with headmasters long since departed, and the gothic chapel with imposing spires. The chapel was designed by the same architect that started the design for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The organ even has quite a history of itself. So much, in fact that they gave an hour lecture entitled "The American Classic Organ". This was followed by an Accompanying & Service Playing lecture. Leaving Groton, we moved on to Shanklin Music Hall in Groton for a concert given by Jonathan Ortloff on the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ. With various pieces from Family Guy, Breakfast at Tiffany's ("Moon River"), and "Springtime for Hitler," it made for a very entertaining concert. The concert was followed by a brief open console time that heard pieces ranging from "When You Believe" (Prince of Egypt) to the "Star-Spangled Banner." Wednesday evening's concert was hosted by the Methuen Memorial Music Hall. Unlike other organ halls, the organ is encased in a very elaborate wood case and the room, walls, and even the roof is decorated to the last iota. This was the second part of the faculty recital. It was as if the various faculty were competing against each other, and we were definitely the beneficiaries. This concert also rocketed into my list of top five.
Thursday morning was centered at Harvard Memorial Church in Cambridge. We started out by learning about the history of the church and the organ. Then, we crawled in the organ that was in the front of the church. After that, we were able to look at the installation of the new C.B. Fisk organ in the balcony of the church. It was absolutely stunning. I even heard that they put 22-carat gold on the front pipes. It was very hard for me to identify with. After that, we adjourned to the choir room to talk about the various college organ programs present and the admission process. A big plus from the whole week was meeting such prestigious organ faculty from all around the country. For me, this is the only way that I was able to meet the various college faculty. And seeing them throughout the week, I was able to get a much better sense of their personalities than if I had dropped by their
college for an all-day visit. In short, it was a great experience to be surrounded by such illustrious collegiate organ faculty. This day, I had my second lesson with Dr. Sykes. Thursday also was the last master class. This time, the faculty member was Paul Jacobs, organ professor at Juilliard. Without going into too much detail, this was my favorite master class of the week. I was able to identify with his personality and forthrightness. He was the best person at including the "audience" in the piece even if some of us had never heard the piece before. He was also able to hit some very good, general points of suggestion that were beneficial to all.
That evening, we went on a Duck Tour of Boston, passing some favorite tourist sites such as the obelisk-shaped Bunker Hill Monument (located on Breed's Hill); Holocaust Memorial; the U.S.S. Constitution (or "Old Ironsides" referencing Oliver Wendell Holmes' famous poem); the river bank where Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Dr. Samuel Prescott started their famous "Midnight Ride"; a piece of the Berlin Wall; Trinity Church; and several other important sights. [And now for a brief geography lesson. The city of Boston was built around a natural harbor, profoundly named, Boston Harbor. The city is divided in half (east to west) by the Charles River. On the north bank of the Charles River, lies the city of Cambridge, which is home to such famous colleges as Harvard University and MIT. And on the south bank lies Boston proper. This is where Boston University is located, right alongside the river.] This tour gave us a great overview of the city in a very short time. The final event of the evening was the screening of the silent movie "The Cameraman." The background organ music was provided by Mr. Peter Krasinski. My criterion for good silent movie organ accompaniment is if you do not even notice the organ music, but if it subtly adds to the movie's overall effect. This met and surpassed that criterion. The movie itself was very entertaining and presented some very interesting views on various social topics.
Friday was the day of the student recitals. After registering my pieces on the Old West Church organ, my lesson mate, chaperone, and I made our last trip to Cambridge and Busch Hall to put the final touches on our performance pieces. As we made our way to the Church of the Advent, located in the heart of downtown Boston, I looked back on all the buildings that I had seen throughout the week. Boston is the first East Coast city that I really enjoyed visiting and felt very comfortable with the city's identity. Every building screamed with history and beautiful architecture. Truly, an unbelievable city. After eating lunch in the church's basement, we went upstairs for the first part of the student recitals. Then, we walked across downtown to get back to the Old West Church, which is where I played. I was second after the cross-town stroll. My first Bach piece went very well, slipping on a few notes; but not telegraphing any of the mistakes nor dwelling on any of them. The second piece was another story. The Lemmens' "Fanfare" had a very good first measure, then came the moment of the day. I know that I have told you that it was very hot throughout the week. This day was no exception, with the high for the day clocking 102°F. Also, most of historic churches in the Boston area do not have air-conditioning. And this church was no exception. But they were one of the churches that did a thoughtful act of kindness for all of the organ kids suffering through the Boston's "Dog Days of summer." They brought out several fans so that the audience and the players could stay cool. There was just one problem. As I entered the second measure of the second piece, the wind blew the first page off the music rack and started to work on the second one. And me, being the "seasoned pro" and having all his music memorized. Well, no. I immediately thrust my left hand up to the music, hoping to salvage the piece. I did not break tempo nor rhythm, I kept playing with my right hand and pedal until about one or two measures later when the guy from Hawaii (who had been taking pictures) and the guy from Louisiana (who was getting ready to play) rushed over to hold my music pieces until somebody turned the fan off. I was very proud of them: I did not hear even one sarcastic "Wizard of Oz" comment from them afterwards. This moment gives you an idea of the sense of community demonstrated throughout the week. It was about so much more than organ! And I finished the piece well, putting an exclamation point on the week. Afterward, I pointed skyward thanking the One who had given me this opportunity, the teachers who had helped guide me, and my family who has always helped me to grow!
In conclusion, it was a great week. Although I learned much musically, the life lessons that I take away far overshadow any music knowledge gained. When a few people stand up for what is right and choose to live their lives differently, they can have a tremendous impact on the whole group. This week reaffirmed my belief in taking a strong stand for the truth even when the popular or politically-correct would say otherwise. We must be willing to give up much to follow our convictions. This is what will separate the leaders of tomorrow from the leaders of today. I thank God for this incredible experience! This mountaintop week would help prepare me for the situation I would find at home.