“Boldly Ventured Is Half Won” (Latin/ German proverb).
IN MARCH this year, four young Singapore organists embarked on an adventure to San Diego and Orange County, California. They took part in the American Guild of Organists (AGO) / Quimby Regional Competition for Young Organists.
The purpose of this US-based competition was to encourage organists below the age of 23 to pursue excellence, to gain performance experience and to receive recognition for their achievements. Beginning at the Chapter level, the winner for the Chapter would go on to the Regional Competition, and finally to the National competition in Minneapolis in 2007.
This was probably the first time that students from Singapore were involved in the competition. Christina Suresh (age 16), Victor Li (19), Melissa Goh (20) are organ students at the Methodist School of Music (MSM), while Angela Lim (19) is a student at the Nanyang Academy
of Fine Arts. All are members of the Singapore Chapter of the AGO (whose headquarters is located at Methodist School of Music), and are active organists in their respective church communities.
Victor is an organist at Barker Road Methodist Church and Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, Melissa is a member and a former organ scholar of Paya Lebar Methodist Church, Christina is an organist at the Parish of Christchurch (Anglican), and Angela serves at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.
The Singapore team prepared tirelessly for the event, fuelled by the excitement of competing and performing on the same platform as their American peers. The required repertoire included three pieces: one by Bach, and one each from the Romantic and Contemporary composers, as well as a hymn with an appropriate introduction and two stanzas. Mastering the classical pieces was one thing, but the hymns proved to be a daunting challenge.
Though the team members are already practising church musicians, they nevertheless spent weeks polishing their hymn-playing skills, creating original introductions, interludes and alternate harmonies for inspiring hymn-singing. This regimen heightened the organists’ awareness to creative hymn playing – a skill that they would certainly put to good use in their roles as church organists. While preparing for the competition, the young people also visited various churches and concert hall organs to hone their ability to adapt to different instruments.
For the competition, lots were drawn to determine the order of the performance. The competitors were each alloted a mere three hours to set their stops and adapt to the instrument. The pipe organ at the San Diego Chapter competition (March 17) was a 3-manual Reuter organ (Christ Lutheran Church), while the one at the Orange County Chapter (March 24) was a 4-manual Wicks (First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton). The judges were seated some distance away from the organ console and not allowed to view the names and faces of the competitors. Christina performed
in the San Diego competition and won the second prize. For the competition in Orange County, Melissa received the second prize, while Victor clinched the first prize. Victor will go on to the next round, the Regional Competition on June 23 in Irvine, California, the de facto representative of the Orange County Chapter (and Singapore!).
The group made side trips to other significant organ venues which deepened their love for organ music: in San Diego, they attended a concert at Balboa Park, home of the outdoor Spreckels organ. After the concert, they viewed the inside of the organ chamber and were invited to play the organ, much to the delight of the audience.
In Los Angeles, the group visited the First Congregational Church, reputed to have the largest church organ in the US (5 manuals, 345 ranks). Wayne Foster, the resident organist, invited the group to play on the mammoth instrument. Needless to say, the experience was breathtaking and memorable for all.
What an exciting time it was for everyone. There was obvious camaraderie amongst the students as they spurred and encouraged each other on. The team returned home enriched by their experiences in the US. Surely, only fruitfulness could result from such adventures.
We know that God will continue to lead and nurture these young, bright ones in their journey through the fields of organ and church music.
Kudos to a number of our local churches which readily avail their instruments for teaching and practice. These young people are like seeds; when planted and watered, they will surely bloom and bear fruit as they grow in their musical passion and service to the King of Kings!
Dr Evelyn Lim is the Organist/Lecturer at the Methodist School of Music.