This is an adaptation of my article in the May 2020 issue of “Principal Pipings”, the newsletter of the Lexington (KY) Chapter of The American Guild of Organists.
This month I am celebrating my quinquagenary (50th anniversary) as an organist. It’s a shock to have reached this milestone, but the past few months of Social Distancing have given me much time for reflection. Yes, it really has been a lifetime!
I did not deliberately set out on this path; the Holy Spirit and my dad were in cahoots! I had two wonderful organ teachers at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Old Lyme, CT, and was playing at small churches in the Connecticut Shoreline area before I was old enough to drive. My father, the K-12 music teacher in Old Lyme, knew that substitute organists were in demand, especially during the summer months. He had faith that I could do it. Initially I was not so sure, but I gradually came to the realization (as most teenagers eventually do) that my father was a very wise man.
After high school I attended Hartt College of Music, then transferred to the University of Connecticut for a broader education my sophomore year. In my Junior year I auditioned for and was awarded the organist position at St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel on campus, immediately next door to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church where our Organ professor Mrs. Herrmann played and taught. At St. Thomas I had the luxury of practicing Bach, Mendelssohn and Widor at full volume late at night until the wee hours of the morning. I played three and sometimes four weddings back-to-back every Saturday during the summer months. I also accompanied the Folk Group and attended many fun social events with them. After graduating from UConn I remained in my organist position at St. Thomas while training to become a computer programmer for The Hartford. I moved to Manchester CT and commuted to UConn on the weekends. One day a newly arrived graduate student climbed up to the choir loft to deliver a compliment on my prelude. A year later I married that guy and moved to Miami, FL, where he was completing his Ph.D.
As they say, the years have flown. My husband’s research career took us from Miami to Pittsburgh PA, Washington DC, Tampa Bay FL and now Lexington KY. I primarily worked in I.T. jobs but my sideline organist positions were much more exciting and memorable. I was fortunate to accompany world-class soloists from the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera; play for special ceremonies at Georgetown University and the Paroisse Saint Louis de France (Diocese of Paris); and accompany the St. Jerome Chorale (Tampa Bay) in a Christmas CD project and a concert tour through Ireland. I became a piano instructor at the John Hopkins magnet school for the Performing Arts in St. Petersburg, FL. At Calvary Episcopal Church in Indian Rocks Beach I developed an eclectic 8-event concert series for the surrounding beach community and directed it for three years. In 2014 I accepted a part-time organist position at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Lexington, KY. Encouraged by this wonderful congregation, I found myself learning new repertoire in the genre of liturgical jazz. Most recently I joined the board of the Bluegrass Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society and am now collecting new pieces to play at the historic Kentucky Theatre in downtown Lexington. This 50-year journey has taken many unexpected twists and turns!
Funny things I remember: the priest who suddenly called out in The Voice of God during one of my midnight practice sessions at St. Thomas; the groom who decided to go out for a haircut twenty minutes before his wedding; the Catholic church with an active wasp nest in a low-hanging chandelier right over the organ (the question was not if, but when); the incessant ringing of an office phone in the middle of an AGO certification exam in an organ studio at Duquesne University (I didn’t stop playing and managed to pass the exam); the 3-manual Rogers organ in Miami that overheated during the lengthier Christmas Eve and Easter Vigil services, making increasingly louder and more frequent electronic popping noises, culminating in a dramatic loud explosion and shutting itself off for the duration; the 3-manual Rogers organ in Washington DC that also overheated during Christmas Eve and Easter Vigil services, making increasingly louder and more frequent popping noises, culminating in an even louder explosion (the acoustics were better) and shutting itself off for the duration; my first Miami wedding on “Caribbean Time” (one hour later than announced) for which I had prepared a 20-minute prelude; the disturbing sensory experience of a very large frog falling on my head when the exterior Choir Room door was opened; cyphers on a tracker organ and frantically transposing music on the fly to play in complimentary keys; a kazoo anthem offering by the senior choir; a long-rehearsed junior choir anthem where during the performance of it they just stood there and didn’t sing a single note; weddings with power failures; funerals with interesting music requests; a windy outdoor Blessing of the Animals service played on electronic keyboard where two HUGE dogs became enamored of me; the gentleman who called out “More” after my final postlude of the final service of eight exhausting Holy Week and Easter services; missing two pages in the middle of a big piece on Christmas Eve; playing too loudly; playing too softly; disagreements with the altar guild over floral displays on the organ console and piano, blocking views of the choir and making me sneeze; impromptu joyful singalong renditions of the Hallelujah Chorus; Bell Choir rehearsals dissolving into general hilarity; and more, mostly related to choir parties, which my older and wiser self realizes should never be disclosed.
Now officially retired, I’m so very grateful for teachers, mentors, fellow students, clergy, choir members, AGO members in eight Chapters, and friends and churchgoers whose paths I’ve crossed during these 50 years. My life has been richly blessed, and I am thankful beyond measure.
Lynn Vera, CAGO