ENCOURAGED, ENTHUSED, ENGAGED The life of a COVID-time organist as teacher, church musician and performer

By Dr. Jeannine Jordan

Read the PDF version here.

It is Saturday afternoon around 2:00 p.m. You are in your favorite comfy chair. You have been invited to an organ recital by a 10-year-old and her twin brothers who are 7 — Xoe, Oscar and Atticus. Seems normal. Then the other guests start to appear: two from the Philippines, three from Chicago, more from Indiana, Colorado, Washington, Arizona, Idaho, and the home base of Forest Grove, Oregon. Wow! What is this?

It is a very heartening event. An organ recital that you didn’t need to drive to, park at, wait in line for, buy a ticket or give a donation for, find a seat, get your frequent flyer number entered, go through security. An event you might not have flown across the Pacific, driven across the country, or maybe not even have made it into town for. You get the idea. And yet you could enjoy this organ recital with all the comforts of home… 

This wonderful “little” ZOOM recital was attended by people from literally around the world. The sound was great, the visual was wonderful, and the guests genuinely enjoyed the whole event. The only thing missing were the real time cookies, tea, and coffee afterwards. 

This recital was the result of immersing ourselves and our company, Pro-Motion Music in technology.  We utilize ZOOM for private lessons, church services, and meetings. I wish I could say everything has worked perfectly from day one….it did not.

However, we decided at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would take too long for “someone” to make everything work for our business like we would like it to. For “someone” to tell us how to put all the puzzle pieces together. What we and many many others have learned, is that technology has been evolving and expanding in its capabilities at an exponential rate since March. We made a choice to move forward however we could, to “make things happen” musically in our COVID world. The learning curves have been steep, but the results have been gratifying.

Most of the students of my organ studio have “made the switch” to online lessons and have fully embraced the format.  For the first time, my students have lessons on their home or home church instrument.  The advantages for an organist are huge.  Gone is the stress of adjusting to an instrument that is only played at lessons.  The usual distractions before one can make music at a different instrument– bench and light adjustment, piston settings – are eliminated.  By having lessons at a comfortable, “known” organ, the full lesson can be spent on creatively discovering and making music.  

Since our first successful youth Zoom recital, instead of waiting for the all clear to get together for our usual bi-annual Studio Recital, we have hosted five shorter Ala Carte Student Zoom Recitals. Audiences continue to be large with friends and family gathered from around the US and recently Peru and Guatemala.  It has been an opportunity for family and friends who usually are not able to attend the recitals to share the performer’s work and accomplishments.  Before year’s end, there are plans for several additional Jordan Studio Ala Carte Zoom Recitals.  

Pro-Motion Music Zoom Host Central (aka our home music studio) is also where my husband and I, as the Music Ministers of St. Bede Episcopal Church of Forest Grove, Oregon, have led the musical portions of our church services since mid-March.  

Again, it has been a learning process for all of us from priest to parishioner to musicians.  As musicians, we embraced the challenges to provide not only decent but excellent sound (type of microphone and placement for the singer and the organ registrations that work best) to provide a meaningful worship experience for our congregation. Our services are celebratory, and our congregation has enjoyed “seeing each other” and “worshipping together” these past seven months.  We are planning now for a blessed Advent and joyous Christmas as we continue and build on our “Zoomer Church” experience.

Probably the biggest change/challenge for Pro-Motion Music this year has been the loss of our live performances.  Our organ and multi-media concert experiences, while extremely complicated to present in the live concert situation, present incredible but not insurmountable challenges to move to an online format.  

We recently tackled this task with a concert host and his IT team in preparation for a live-stream presentation of our concert, Around the World in 80 Minutes.  It was for me a jarring experience.  As I was playing a 1975 Kney tracker organ, three masked and socially distanced computer-guru-IT-types were using a plethora of computers, microphones, mixers, and Google to solve the myriad 21st-century techno-challenges to present our COVID-time organ and multi-media concert.  And we think playing the organ is difficult!  Oh my!  Again, steep learning curves and plenty of patience needed, but thankfully Google provided answers at every turn.  Really, how does that happen?  

From what my husband calls Jeannine’s Musical She Shed, I am staying open to new ideas, exploring new technologies, and learning to teach, make, and share music in creative and innovative ways while preserving the personal connections so important in our musical world..  

Blessings to all of you in what has become our “new normal.”

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