Nov 022009

At the close of our church service today, I stuck around in the pews instead of going downstairs for coffee, not wanting to let the postlude go to waste. It was a Bach piece, I don’t remember what, played by Roxanne, our substitute organist for today and our onetime regular organist. I wasn’t the only one who stayed behind just to listen.

Later when told her how much I enjoyed it, I joked that it was like Paul Manz coming back. Then she informed me. Paul Manz had died just a few days ago. If I could listen to it again, I could probably explain what parts of the Bach had reminded me of Manz. Roxanne said she had played a Manz piece for the offertory, as a tribute. Usually I notice things like that, but I had stepped out for a few minutes and missed it.

Paul Manz was at Concordia College, St. Paul, when I was a student there. We all knew we had a great one among us. I got to see and hear him play just a few times, but it was always a treat even to hear one of his students play. If I hadn’t skipped chapel so much of the time, I would have heard even more. But this was when the Vietnam war was heating up. The school was dropping requirements and standards left and right, as was happening at most colleges. So I skipped morning and evening chapel more often than not. But there were also the times when one could wander into Graebner Memorial Chapel late in the evening and listen to students practice. I knew already then that the sounds and sights would be the source of future nostalgia.

When I was a new freshman I had to take piano, as did all students in the teacher education program. My father had made some attempts to teach me when I was younger, so I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with a keyboard. The professor (a man named Brauer, perhaps?) said I had a nice touch on the keyboard. At one of my lessons he said, “John, you could still be an organist. It’s not too late!” But I wasn’t interested in working that hard. If I was going to work at anything, it would be history and science. When the piano requirement was dropped, I dropped it.

There was a pecking order among those who were going to be teachers. Those with usable musical ability were higher than those who had none, who were at the bottom of the heap. Those who were organists were higher than the others, and could write their own tickets, so to speak. And at the top were the elite ones who studied under Dr. Manz. (Things like history, literature, and science were not factors in establishing one’s status.)

A roomate-to-be had come to Concordia expecting to be one of Paul Manz’s students. He had already served as a frequent organist at one of the downtown Detroit churches, and had an ability to improvise that was way beyond my understanding. He auditioned, and then was crushed to learn that Dr. Manz would not accept him as once of his students. If Roy ever sees this, maybe he can tell the story himself, as he did many times back then to entertain us. But none of what happened changed the fact that we were in awe of Dr. Manz.

Today I listened to the tribute that Michael Barone has done at (As far as I know, none of the local public radio stations carries Pipedreams. I occasionally get to listen to it when we’re traveling.) Tonight I listened to the hour-and-a-half program — twice — and came away with an even greater appreciation for the range of what he has done.

I tried to explain Paul Manz to a friend who had joined the conversation with Roxanne this morning. I pointed out that when you hear organ preludes that remind you of a steam calliope at a circus, that’s Paul Manz’s music. Roxanne’s way of explaining it was better: His music is joyful. (You can hear the steam calliope effect in some of the pieces on Pipedreams, but there is a lot more than that.)

The Pipedreams program was recorded in 1981 2001, and features interview segments with Dr. Manz. In one of them he describes how he and Herman Schlicker designed the Schlicker organ at Mt Olive Lutheran Church. He explained that he wanted an organ that was big enough to lead the congregation in song, but not so big as to overwhelm and frustrate them. That is a characteristic of a lot of Manz’s organ preludes. To put it crudely, they are right-sized. And they are joyful. (I’m now listening to the Michael Barone program a 3rd time.)