December concerts with pipe organ!!!!

December means holiday concerts and I love them. I’ve attended 3 concerts this December all of which included the pipe organ. The sound a congregation singing Christmas corals along with the pipe organ fills me with joy.

First United Methodist Church Ann Arbor
First United Methodist Church Ann Arbor

An Organist’s Christmas

On December 5, my husband and I went to An Organist’s Christmas presented by the Ann Arbor chapter of the American Guild of Organists and the Ann Arbor First Music and Art Series. It was at the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor. Unlike previous years, the Boy Choir of Ann Arbor was not part of the program. This year it was only organists. Three different organists took the stage: James Kibbie, Kola Owolabi, and Michael Burkhardt.

As you may imagine, Christmas music was played. Dr. Michael Burkhardt played Bach’s chorale prelude Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland (BWV 659). Then we sang the carol Savior of the Nations, Come which is played to the tune Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland. I found this particularly interesting as I wondered how often chorale preludes are played to introduce the hymn they are a prelude on when I started learning Helmut Walcha’s chorale prelude of Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen.

Adrian College Lessons and Carols Service
Adrian College Lessons and Carols Service

A Service of Lessons and Carols

On December 7, I attended the annual Lessons and Carols service at Adrian College. What I love about this event is that is nearly filled to capacity. The orchestra played a pre-service concert consisting of (wait for it) Christmas music. I was a bit distracted by some female college students that thought this was a good time to giggle and wave at a man in the orchestra. I was pleased when they left before the Lessons and Carols began. Next year, I will arrive earlier and sit closer to the front with the “old” people.

The orchestra played most of the music for the service, but the pipe organ was played for the Hymns (Carols) and Handel’s “Hallelujah!” from “Messiah. The service ended with each person’s candle lit while singing “Silent Night”.

The Adrian College pipe organ is the first pipe organ that I ever played!

First Presbyterian Church, Ypsilanti, Michigan
First Presbyterian Church, Ypsilanti, Michigan

A Very Merry Christmas

On December 12, I went to The Ypsilanti’s Pipe Organ Festival’s holiday concert at the First Presbyterian Church in Ypsilanti. This concert consisted of duets for the organ and piano. The piano was played by Gary Powell and the organ by Stephen Schnurr, both have impressive backgrounds. Christmas music was also played at this concert! A couple of the pieces were piano duets. Gary was also entertaining when speaking in between pieces. It was a very enjoyable and delightful concert.

The combination of piano and organ together reminded me of my childhood where this was done at my church most Sundays. I have not visited a church recently where this occurs, but Gary said it is a very common practice in Baptist churches. Perhaps, I should visit a a Baptist church!

Neither musician played from memory. What I noticed was that Stephen, the organist, had a page turner for most of his pieces while Gary, the pianist, turned his own pages on all pieces except for one! Does this mean that turning ones own pages is easier for a pianist than an organist?

Merry Christmas to you!

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and are able to enjoy some holiday concerts. I also enjoyed the Lights at the Toledo Zoo. (no pipe organ there!)

Merry Christmas,

November 2014 Organ Lesson - What would the cat say?
January 2015 Lesson: Forgetting about the singers and the easy way out
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Heidi Bender writes about her experiences of learning to play the organ. She started on the adventure in 2009.

She also writes on her website Tons of Thanks, which helps people write thank-you notes. Heidi is also a cat lady who writes at The Joy of Cats.

8 thoughts on “December concerts with pipe organ!!!!”

  1. Mrs. Bender, when I first started attending Richwood Presbyterian Church our organist and a pianist routinely performed special service music together. After the pianist relocated the practice ended, but I still miss it, almost 25 years later. Our widowed organist, who served from 1958 until mid-2014, relocated elsewhere to be closer to her son. That has left me as musician and lay pastor. The logistics are difficult, but made tolerable by capable readers of the lectionary.

    Your December blog is delightful. We have only three small pipe organs remaining in our tiny city, but I get to play them all. I have played for weddings at Holy Family Catholic church, for community Christmas Cantatas at First United Methodist church and every week at Richwood Presbyterian church. Thank you for your blog posts.

    • The idea and technology behind something like this does sound nice and practical for most situations, but it would take a little more work to make it logistically practical for an organist. When both your hands and feet are already preoccupied, a tool like this doesn’t really make the situation any easier.

  2. Interesting that you mention the use of piano and organ duets in church. I have never encountered this in a church service (trying to recall if I’ve ever heard this done at all), but apparently the Lutheran congregation I serve now previously had piano and organ duets on a regular basis–with quite a bit of such duet music to be found still in the music/choir room. However, I suspect this might be because the congregation tends to be more “old-fashioned”/traditional in worship practice and music compared to what you often find in Lutheran churches today. [There is nothing wrong with this at all; in fact, I think there’s a lot more advantages than disadvantages. It has just made for a more interesting learning experience the few years I’ve been there so far, especially for a 20-something who came there with very limited knowledge of the hymnal/liturgy they use and no previous experience with or exposure to some of the practices that they’ve had for decades.] I have thought it might be fun to try a piano/organ duet sometime, but I knew the organ was going to have to be restored to full working order first (a project that is almost completed at this time).

    I don’t think ease of page turning is necessarily easier at the piano than the organ. Regardless, turning your own pages requires plenty of thought and intentional practice, since music rarely provides easy page turns (where one hand is completely free to turn the page). I guess turning your own pages while playing the organ could seemingly be more difficult, only because there’s generally more that your mind needs to focus on (at least your feet and the pedals anyway).

    • Hi Rachel,

      I was surprised when I starting visiting churches that use their pipe organ when it didn’t include piano too. I was not familiar with liturgy at all until I visited a Lutheran church.

      I’m happy to hear that the restoration work on the organ at your church is nearly complete. how exciting!



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