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RCCO’s Jan Overduin to play in Thunder Bay


THUNDER BAY, ON   -----   January 23, 2010  ---    JAN OVERDUIN retired as Chair of the Jan OverduinOrgan and Church Music Department at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo in 2003 but that does not mean he has retired from playing the pipe organ. This year he is one of the travelling clinicians for the RCCO (Royal Canadian College of Organists). It takes many years of dedicated effort to master the organ, an like many organists playing the instrument just becomes a part of your life. This coming Friday, January 29th Jan’s duties with the RCCO will take him to Thunder Bay, where he will perform in recital on the magnificent Casavant Organ at St. Paul’s United Church. The Friday night recital will start at 8:00 p.m. and admission is a very affordable $10.00 at the door.

The organ once touted as the “king of instruments” is heard less frequently in recital these days. Most instruments are housed in churches where their capacity to provide accompaniment for a wide variety of musical styles all by a single musician made them a popular choice for many congregations. To-day church attendance is smaller so the instrument has fallen on hard times as a popular instrument. Many people would be surprised to learn that the organ is one of the oldest of the classical instruments, predating even the violin. The literature for the organ begins in the late 13th century and continues to the present. Organs in one form or another were extant a thousand years before then but musical notation was a poorly developed art in those days, so there is no record of how very early music was played.

On Friday the Jan Overduin will play music by the most famous organist of all; J.S. Bach. Bach’s Organ Concerto after Johann Ernst, is not a concerto in the traditional sense. It is a literal transcription of a concerto for a small group of string players so that all the parts can be played by one musician at the organ. In writing this transcription Bach saw the potential to transform the string concerto into a virtuoso piece for the organ. The subtle nuances of string players are gone and the bold sound of the pipe organ turns this piece into an exciting work to listen to.

Also on the programme are two Fugues on the letters B-A-C-H by Robert Schumann. These days it is fashionable be mark anniversaries of important composers. Robert Schumann was born in 1809, so this year is the 200th anniversary of this composer’s birth.

One of the things that organists do is improvise. Jan Overduin is a formidable improviser and has written two books on the subject. While I do not see any improvisation of the program he will play a hymn, and I am willing to bet that the harmony you hear in recital will vary from what is in the hymn book.

Over his working career as a professor of music at Wilfred Laurier, Jan Overduin has had close relations with Barrie Cabena. He calls him simply the best Canadian composer for the organ. Cabena’s Sonata 45 op 407 for organ is a major work, and was dedicated to Jan Overduin on the occasion of his 60th birthday. I think it is great that he has chosen to play a new (the piece is 5 years old) Canadian composition on his program, and it is a composer with a direct link to the performer.

Jan Overduin’s work will not be over with the recital. Saturday morning there will be a workshop of interest to all church musicians. Coffee will be served at 9:00 a.m. and the workshop will commence about an hour later. The topic will be “A workshop on Hymn Playing”; How to encourage congregational singing, alternate choir and congregation, ways to make hymn accompaniment interesting, leading, inspiring, manipulating and using pianos and keyboards where there is no organ. Registration is $10.00. This event is also at St. Paul’s United Church.

Bert Rowson
Arts Editor:

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