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Sometimes, I bring my Klavierbuchlein; other times, I bring the hymnal I received from my parents. In the winter, I bring an extra sweater. More important than what I bring is what I leave behind. As I ascend step by step up the passageway that many others walk by without a second glance, I cross through rays of light that appear to have been scattered by a kaleidoscope. At the summit of my climb, my feelings of anxiety, frustration, and uncertainty are vanquished as I enter the organ loft -a place where I feel impervious to the outside world and perfectly content.
I’ve played piano for as long as I can remember on the well-loved Kreutzer upright that sits in my living room. My church congregation has always been an integral part of my life as well. When offered a church organist position in ninth grade the word “organist” immediately conjured up the image of some reclusive, frumpily dressed, senior citizen swaying back and forth filling a cathedral, but it seemed like an intriguing use of my musical ability. It didn’t take long to realize the offer was serendipity. While I do have some sartorial sense, I soon understood why organists are often hermits, as I too succumbed to endless hours in the organ loft. There is no other place that I can become as immersed in my music or feel as content. Despite the deep connection that I’ve always had with music and my faith, I had never before felt the serenity and purpose that I feel when playing the opening cadence of the Gloria or the Agnus Dei.
The organ loft is a place where I’m both master and servant. I play hymns in the style that I choose, and get to improvise during communion and other quiet times. I register each manual -sometimes a mellifluous Gemshorn, and other times a triumphant sounding hautbois. Despite these liberties, I have a responsibility to the congregation, to the priest, and to God. Some hymns are intimidating to sing, and therefore must be accompanied with the utmost of care. The priest’s chant tone needs to segue into the Mass parts, so I play a soft cue like a pitch pipe. The most difficult commitment, though, is the one I make to God as I sit down on the bench and unlock the organ. Am I glorifying God and being the best Christian I can be? Am I helping other people in their crusade to find faith? Will God forgive my wrong notes?
Entering church and climbing to the organ loft is my redeeming catharsis. I play for weddings, and my belief in love and harmony is restored. I provide music for funerals, and I am reminded of just how insignificant my struggles are. Music and faith are the most important tenets of my life, and the organ loft is the intersection of my two guiding disciplines. I glance down at the congregation and see how my faith and my talents are impacting others, and I know they’re not the only ones being helped.
As I settle myself on the organ bench, I often reach for the gold-embossed maroon hymnal that was my favorite Christmas gift in 2012. I pause and read the elegant cursive inscription from my father: “May your devotion to God and the organ continue to grow throughout your life. We’re so proud of you.” There are a lot of things that I wish I could have had the time to learn from my father, but the enduring lesson my Dad passed on is the importance of believing- not only in God, but also in myself. The organ loft is faith and music incarnate. When I play organ, I feel like I’m pleasing God, and continuing to make my Dad proud as well -it makes sense, as the organ loft is that much closer to Heaven.