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Local organists to celebrate International Year of the Organ

It could be called the organ concert heard 'round the world.

The American Guild of Organists is asking members in the United States (and friends in other countries) to hold an organ concert or program Sunday as part of the 2008-09 International Year of the Organ celebration.

In Willmar, the Prairie Lakes Chapter of the American Guild of Organists will mark the celebration with a free program of hymn-based organ works and singing at 3 p.m. Sunday at Vinje Lutheran Church.

Four participating organists will lead the assembly in singing through the liturgical year of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Sundays after Pentecost, lesser festivals and end time.

"Each chapter has been asked to host an event or recital or program on Oct. 19, the date given to us,'' said John Jahr, director of music and worship ministries at Vinje Church and a participating organist.

The Prairie Lakes Chapter, with fewer than 10 members in a 50-mile radius of Willmar, wanted to participate in the event, said Jahr, who is chapter dean.

"We really want to let the community know that we're here. We know there's a lot of interest in the Willmar area for organ music. I'm told that when events were hosted here in the past, that they always had attendance and that's a very good thing,'' he said. "We wanted to keep that going.''

Other participating organists:

n Phil Holzman, minister of worship and music at Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church in Minneapolis and former Vinje music director;

n Beci Peterson of Clara City, a student at Concordia College in Moorhead and summer organist at First Presbyterian Church in Willmar; and

n Annette Thompson, recent Vinje Church interim music director.

Jahr said the program will be a tour of the church year.

"Everything that we're playing is based on a hymn tune, and then we'll play the piece and then we'll sing the hymn so people can get a flavor for that. Most everything will be very familiar.''

Jahr said the organ is the best instrument for one person to lead congregational song.

"There are other ways to lead congregational song: a symphony orchestra, or a band or a worship team. But those all require more than one person in order to make that happen,'' he said.

In addition, organ music is the closest thing to replicating the human voice because human voice is air through pipes, which is the same with the pipe organ.

"It's another reason it's good for leading congregational song,'' he said.

Jahr grew up near Moorhead where he attended Concordia College and worked 11 years for Peace Lutheran Church in Fargo.

He moved to Minneapolis, attended Luther Seminary in St. Paul and earned his master's degree in sacred music in conjunction with the music department at St. Olaf College. Five years ago, he moved to Texas where he worked with churches. He returned to Minnesota this past June.

Jahr said the organ attracts people of all ages.

"Young children are just fascinated by organ music, especially if they have a chance to watch you play and see that you use your hands and your feet and you pull knobs and you do all kinds of things and it changes the sound,'' he said.

"One of the things that I really like about Vinje is that even the people that attend our contemporary service still love organ music. It seems that people are very open-minded and really do enjoy it,'' he said.

Jahr said the job of the church organist is important because the musician can do much to enhance or detract from the message for the day.

"It's our job to work closely with our pastors and with our other worship leaders and planners in making sure that the message is a unified one and one where we're not getting bombarded with lots of little small messages, but an overarching theme,'' he said.

Finding an organist can sometimes be a time-consuming process for a church.

"The important thing is finding a good match of musician and congregation that they are able to have similar philosophies and work together,'' Jahr said. "I think there is good news for musicians out there who are looking at positions in church music. The churches are putting good value on finding the right person and finding a good match.''

When asked if he has any favorite composers, Jahr said everyone loves Bach. Bach is "kind of where it all begins and ends.'' But Jahr said many other great organ compositions are also available.

"The exciting thing for me is that people are still writing really good music and I'm always just thrilled when I get a piece that is so useable and the composer is someone you never heard of before,'' he said.

"That's the exciting thing for me: to be able to introduce some things. We here in Minnesota are lucky to have a lot of local people and local composers that are just writing really good things for our churches.''