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May 11, 2002
Vol. II, No. 16

"GUEST RAMPAGE: The Power of Music"
There hasn't been a Guest Rampage in a while so I was glad to hear from Susan Burkhalter this week. You may remember her as one of the winners from the "Ode to Organ Shoes" poetry contest. Susan emailed me the following essay that I'm sure will strike a chord with many of you.

"The Power of Music"
by Susan Burkhalter (Click link below for more information on Susan Burkhalter)
Anyone who is the parent of teenagers or who works with them regularly can tell you that teenagers are heavily influenced by their emotions. At times they can even be overwhelmed by their feelings, since they have not yet gained either the ability older people have to temper their emotions or the wisdom to understand the effect of particular feelings upon oneself. Artists who compose, arrange, or perform today's popular music have used this quality that teenagers possess to their advantage. The producers of popular music realize that they can reap monetary gains when one of their songs has won teenage fans and is played frequently over the airwaves.

I had a powerful experience in April while playing the organ prelude at a church service. Before relating the experience, here is an explanation of my process for music selection: I always plan my preludes and postludes several months in advance. A woman in our choir, Caroline, and I have remarked how amazing it is when a church musician unknowingly chooses a piece of music that is significant for that day. For example, I chose "How does Azure Deck the Skies?" by C.V. Stanford during a time when our local residents were worried about an ongoing drought. Another time I picked "Processional March" by William H. Harris, music which had been used as a wedding march for a member of the royal family, for the Sunday right after the Queen Mother died! Perhaps our choices at those times are influenced by a Higher Being.

Now I will describe the experience that was so moving for me. My prelude that Sunday was "Sheep May Safely Graze" by J.S. Bach, arranged by E. Power Biggs. That Sunday service was a confirmation service for the 7th graders who had completed their confirmation course. I was practicing the prelude before the service, when Caroline, the choir member, walked in, beaming, saying how much she liked that organ piece. I concurred enthusiastically, saying that it was the type of piece I could play over and over without tiring of it. I continued to practice it while the confirmands gathered for photographs by their advisors and family members. Suddenly I noticed a dark-haired young man sitting in one of the pews nearest the organ. He was quiet, but exuded nervous energy, and he seemed to be lost in thought. He waited there for almost ten minutes as I practiced and was obviously entranced by the music, as though he had met a lovely new friend. He was transfixed by his perception of the music. Finally he arose and walked away in a daze.

The memory of this episode will stay with me for quite a while. I believe that it is rapturous events such as this that make all the drudgery of practicing our instruments, years of lessons and bleak Sunday services when our efforts are unappreciated worthwhile! Also the unexpected nature of such a happening is one thing that encourages us to follow our calling as church musicians.

Follow this link if you've had a similar experience or would like to read comments by others:

Updated pages: Organ Links
At the time it was built in 1912, the Kotzschmar was the second largest organ in the world. The Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ website offers both a photo tour and a video tour. If you download the plug-in, you'll find yourself at the console with a 360 view of the organ and auditorium.

Also, Ken Lowenberg emailed me the specifications of the Rieger organ at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church, Washington, DC, so I added them to the photos he sent recently.

Have a great week!

Dan Long

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