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Organ virtuoso to pull out all the stops

by on June 19, 2013 11:00 AM

When most people think of organ music, they picture themselves in church, listening to familiar hymns played by an organist who’s been at that keyboard for years.

But not many would expect to hear the sounds of a modern experimental piece by a Czech composer.

Andrew Earhart, a 2011 graduate of Indiana Area Senior High School, would like to change that.

He will be playing Thursday at Zion Lutheran Church, in Indiana, a guest of the Carol Teti Memorial Organ Scholarship Committee.

Earhart, a previous winner of the Teti scholarship, will perform pieces by several composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, Dieterich Buxtehude and Marcel Dupr←. He will also perform the American premiere of “Expiatio: Preludio fantastic e fuga retrograda per organo” by Otomar Kvech.

Earhart began playing the organ after he had started taking piano lessons, but not before he tried several other instruments.

“I was a late bloomer when it comes to instruments,” he said. “I jumped around quite a bit, and I didn’t start piano until eighth grade, after I’d gone through violin and French horn and a couple other instruments here and there.

“My piano teacher said, ‘I think you might be interested in organ.’ It was after a church luncheon or something that I ran into Dr. (Christine) Clewell, a professor at IUP. We started talking and she said, ‘Would you be interested in taking lessons?’ And I said, ‘Sure, why not?’”

From there, Earhart built his organ repertoire, performing during a church service a year after taking up the instrument and later in the Czech Republic.

“It’s really cool because every year I step up the things I’ve done,” he said. “I started with my first church service, then I did Carol Teti, and I won. Last summer I went to the (American Guild of Organists) national convention (in Nashville, Tenn.) to perform in a master class.”

He cited music by Bach as some of his favorite pieces to play, though he does enjoy American contemporary music and French symphonic music, which a majority of organ music is centered around.

Earhart attends the University of Michigan, where he’s pursuing a double major in organ performance and naval architecture and marine engineering. He hopes someday to design ships and offshore platforms.

“When I went to college, I decided why not do both?” he said. “I think it’s a cool combination, because it’s like using both sides of your brain. I’ve always been academic, but music has always been my second love.”

At Michigan, Earhart studies under the renowned music professor James Kibbie. It was through Kibbie that he was given the opportunity to perform at the 2013 Prague Spring Festival International Instrumental Competition for Organ, an opportunity he described as “one of the best musical experiences in my life.

“It was kind of serendipitous, because Dr. Kibbie had encouraged some of his students to do competitions, but I was the only one who auditioned for this one. And he’s on the adjudication, so it kind of turned out well, because I have never been outside the United States.”

Earhart was the only individual from North America invited to compete. He said the trip broadened his view of organ music, which is much more popular in Europe than in the U.S.

“I got to meet a whole bunch of people from a lot of different countries and kind of get a more global experience of the organ world,” he said. “It’s definitely more popular. It was interesting, because in Prague, there were organ concerts in all the old churches pretty much every night. So, that was interesting, to go to a place where what you do is really popular.

“I think one thing that kind of surprised me was how subjective music can be. Because, I hear a lot of people talk about a way a piece should be performed, and definitely there are certain ways you should play Bach or Widor. But even in those realms, interpretation is so different. What one person does one thing one way, another person does completely different. It brought in my appreciation for the diversity of music.”

Earhart will be playing some of the pieces he performed in Prague during Thursday’s recital.

He was encouraged to hold the recital at the request of Clewell. He hopes those in attendance will take away a better appreciation for the organ, its diversity and challenges.

“Not many people really know much organ repertoire because most people think of the organ as hymns and random pieces that nobody pays attention to on Sunday at church,” he said. “But it’s really an expansive rep.

“The main difference between organ and piano is the way the sound is produced. When you hit a piano key, it hammers a string. But when you press an organ key, depending on the stops you have pulled, it triggers a bunch of levers that hold pipes open. So it’s really more of a wind instrument than a keyboard instrument.

“People kind of put the organ in a box, per se, to kind of limit it to the church environment and sacred music. But there’s so much out there for it,” said Earhart.

The Carol Teti Memorial Organ Scholarship Committee was established in 1993 to combat “the vanishing organist.” The committee’s primary focus is raising scholarship money through fall and spring fundraising events for IUP students who wish to pursue the study of organ and church music.

Zion Lutheran Church is located at the corner of Sixth and Church streets. The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m.

Jeremy Hartley is a staff writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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