Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Wanted: A New Civic Organist For San Diego

Spreckels Organ Society president Jack Lasher watches a Sunday organ concert in Balboa Park, Oct. 23, 2016.
Elma Gonzalez Lima Brandao
Spreckels Organ Society president Jack Lasher watches a Sunday organ concert in Balboa Park, Oct. 23, 2016.
Wanted: A New Civic Organist For San Diego
Wanted: A New Civic Organist For San Diego
Must be able to play the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ. Musical repertoire must span Bach to David Bowie.

Every Sunday at Balboa Park a musician takes a seat at the 101-year-old Spreckels Organ Society. Up there also set instruments like a bass drum and symbols all part of the Oregon. It is in any organ and the person playing it cannot be any old organist. One being that I'm going to be looking for is that they do have personality on the stage. Jack Lasher is looking for an organism that can demand the unique venue. This organ sits in a wide open public park. We get people on Sunday afternoons there just walking through the park or on a guided tour and they did not know that there was an organ there. So they hear the Oregon and they come in and then it is important that the organist be able to keep them there. One way to do that is playing a variety of music not church music which many know and not just classical pieces either. Carol Williams played tributes to David Bowie. [ Music ] that was Williams last January after David Bowie died. A lot of organist gear up for that. We are not really trained to do that. We are trained to play concert music. Williams left after 15 years because her husband took a job out of town. She will work on her own music and give concerts. William said she love the chance to show her range. Closing that has become a tradition to let my hair down and let Dosh do something like Broadway are rock 'n roll. Including her version of Phantom of the Opera. She said the right candidate will know how to attract a broad audience. They need somebody who was enthusiastic and determined and keep the organ as a voice to the city. It is vital that somebody is not sort of stuck up and just only wants to play romantic music. She has to be able to make it interesting by talking about the music and maybe throwing in a joke here and there. He defines this quality and stage presence. A liveliness about it so it's just not a figure sitting at the organ. He expects a least a 150 applicants for the job. His nonprofit will pay $56,000 salary. They will post a job in the American organist magazine. The committee will bring five applicants to audition. Wall Lasher is mourning the loss of Williams Nash I think she brings a glamour to the stage and her British asked -- exit does not her anything. He is excited to hear a new voice. Hopefully for many more years to come. I think it says a lot about San Diego and they've kept it going.

Wanted: A new civic organist for San Diego.

Job Requirements: Must be able to play the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ. Musical repertoire must span Bach to David Bowie. Stage presence and showmanship a plus.

Job Description: Winning candidate will play weekly concerts and carry on the civic organist tradition that only one other U.S. city has.

Salary: About $56,000, paid by the city of San Diego and the Spreckels Organ Society.

This isn't the actual job posting for San Diego's civic organist. A hiring committee is drafting the real one and will post it in publications such as The American Organist Magazine. (Yes, it exists.)

But it summarizes what Jack Lasher, the president of the nonprofit Spreckels Organ Society, needs. He found out this summer that the current civic organist, Carol Williams, is leaving after 15 years on the job.

"Thank goodness I was sitting down when I got that call," Lasher said.

Now he and a committee of musicians, music managers and a representative from the city are searching for Williams' replacement.

The person playing the instrument can’t be any old organist, Lasher said, because it isn’t any old pipe organ.

Every Sunday at Balboa Park, the civic organist takes a seat at the 101-year-old Spreckels Organ and fills its more than 5,000 pipes — some as tall as 32 feet — with music. The organist also controls a bass drum, cymbals and castanets that are part of the organ.

"One of the things I’m going to be looking for in candidates is that they have a personality on stage, both musically and personally," Lasher said.

The civic organist must command a unique venue — it’s easy for organ music to fill a church, but this organ sits in a wide-open public park.

"We get people on Sunday afternoons that are just walking through the park, or they’re on a guided tour, and they didn’t even know there was an organ there," he said. "So they hear the organ, they come in, and it’s important the organist (is) able to keep them there."

One way to do that is by playing a variety of music — not church music, which many organists know, and not just classical pieces either. Case in point: Outgoing civic organist Williams played hour-plus tributes to David Bowie.

Carol Williams plays David Bowie

Williams said playing a variety of music is "in my blood," but that it can be a challenge for some organists.

"We’re not really trained for that. We’re trained to play concert music like the great classics," she said by phone from Virginia. She moved last month after her husband took a job there, and will work on composing her own music and giving concerts.

RELATED: Balboa Park Organist Carol Williams Steps Down

As civic organist, Williams said she loved the chance to show her range.

"Closing night has always been a tradition to let the hair down and do something like gospel, Broadway, rock 'n roll," she said.

The right candidate to replace her, Williams said, will know how to attract a broad audience.

"They need somebody who’s enthusiastic, determined to keep the organ as a voice to the city," she said. "It’s vital someone is not just stuck up and only wants to play baroque or romantic music."

Lasher defines this quality as stage presence. On a recent Sunday, he took in a concert by Robert Plimpton, who was the San Diego civic organist before Williams. Organists will play guest spots in Spreckels Organ Pavillion until Williams' replacement is hired.

Lasher noted that Plimpton got up from the organ and spoke to the audience between each song, explaining how it was written or its context in history. He said that's another requirement for the job.

"(A civic organist) has to be able to make it interesting by talking about the music, maybe throwing in a joke or two here and there," he said. "There has to be a liveliness about it, so that it’s not just a cardboard figure sitting at the organ."

Lasher said he expects around 150 applicants for the job, who will apply both with a resume and a performance video. Then the search committee will bring five or so applicants to audition in Spreckels. The whole process could take nine months to a year, Lasher said.

A spokesman for the city said the city representative on the committee gets 50 percent of the vote.

"The city representative fully intends to speak on behalf of their interests to ensure the best qualified person is given the job," the spokesman wrote in an email.

Clearly, Lasher is still mourning the loss of Williams. ("She brings a glamour, if you will, to the stage and her British accent doesn’t hurt anything," he said recently.) But he's also excited to hear a new voice coming from the city organ’s pipes, hopefully for many more years to come.

"It says a lot about San Diego that they have kept it going," he said.

Drive Like Jehu & Dr. Carol Williams