minutia press.
What's a nice Jewish boy like me doing playing organ?

Due to popular demand (Nathan has asked), here is the story of how I came to play organ.

When I was in high school, I took and developed pictures for the school newspaper and yearbook. I had the chemicals and trays to develop prints in the family bathroom at my parents' house, but there was no room in the house without a window, so it was not possible during the day to transfer exposed film from a camera into a developing tank without ruining the film. You think I digress, but I don't.

Across the alley from my parents' house is the Northaven United Methodist Church. The church is so named because it is on Northaven Road. There was a Methodist Church on Lover's Lane in Dallas, but it moved to Northwest Highway. It kept its name, however, so it's the Lover's Lane Methodist Church located nowhere near Lover's Lane. You think I digress, and I do.

The aforementioned church had a bathroom with no window, so during the day I could go over there and use their bathroom to transfer film to a developing tank. I could then walk back to the house and develop the film. I could print during the day because photographic paper is much less sensitive than photographic film.

It was difficult not to notice that at one end of the sanctuary, a large pipe organ was being installed. It was built by Roy Redman, whose shop is still in Fort Worth, I believe. The instrument was very large, and it was a "mechanical" action organ, which means that the keys were connected by wires, pulleys, and trackers (long pieces of wood) to a "door" that lets air into the pipes. I started asking questions, and became interested in the project.

I had never really heard a pipe organ before. Since the destruction of the (second) Central Temple in Jerusalem, the more observant Jewish movements have not allowed instruments to be played in services. The Temple did have instruments, however, and the observant Jews are waiting for the Temple to be rebuilt before they take up insturments again for services. Reform Jews don't want to wait that long.

I started taking organ lessons from Barbara Klump (who apparently has no web presence but lives in California now). The church was fairly petty at the time: they made me pay something like a dollar per hour of using the organ to pay for the electricity to run the thing. They are the first and last church whose organ I've used that wanted money to use their instrument. The church is much more reaosnable now -- I've gone back home and played on its organ from time to time.

For reasons never made clear to me the church decided I shouldn't take lessons and wouldn't let her teach me anymore there. I should point out that my parents were never in favor of my studying organ. The church's refusal to let me continue was more fodder for their position, but as a teenager, that only strengthened my resolve to continue. Larry Palmer, then organist at St Luke's Episcopal Church let me practice on the Moeller organ there.

When I arrived at Rice as an undergraduate, the Jewish Temple across the Street, Temple Emanuel. To be honest, I had forgotten how beautiful that Temple is and just spent 1/2 hour at the web site. I recommend it highly. I studied organ at the Temple, with Ann Frohbieter, who in turn was studying how to teach organ, so I was her guinea pig.

I started playing for the Temple's early service. Also, my friends Tom and Mary Catharine Gerleman went downtown to help with Mass at the Annunciation Catholic Church. They roped me into going with them to play organ for them.

When I arrived at grad school at U of Illinois, I started studying as a non-major in the organ department. I also picked up a few "gigs":

  • Chanute Air Force Base on Sundays. They alternate Catholic and Protestant services eery hour. I usually played only the Catholic ones but occasionally substituted for the Protestant ones.
  • Christian Science on Wednesday nights
  • Seventh-Day Adventist on Saturday mornings
  • Substitute around town: Baptist, Methodist, Jewish, Lutheran

As a grad student, I thought they paid pretty well. When I moved to New York, I started playing for St Patrick's in Yorktown Heights. I'll post about that sometime soon.


Thank you very much for posting that! It was very interesting. Although I can't seem to understand why the first church wanted you to stop taking lessons...

Posted by: Nathan at January 9, 2004 10:03 AM