Return to Nashville and Tariverdiev International Organ Competition Round I

This past April, the week after spring break and right after classes and stress had adequately resumed, I found myself pursing two adventures. Both of these must be mentioned since they will forever stand out in my memory both for the opportunities that each presented and for the brilliant individuals that I met along the way.

Friday, April 5, I departed Cleveland for Nashville, where I was to play a recital at the beautiful St. George’s Episcopal Church on Monday, April 8. Upon touchdown that evening, I rented a car for the first time (a tiny black Mazda with which I fell in love) and headed to the suburbs to meet the folks with whom I would be staying. It was such a pleasure to be back in the rolling hills, southern hospitality, and warm weather of Tennessee, especially since, a little over a week previously and during spring break, it had snowed in Oberlin!

The time that I spent in Nashville was truly without price. The perfect weather held through the entire weekend and the many hours I spent practicing on the 1986 Casavant were punctuated by runs and walks enjoying the sunlight, excellent food, and visits with friends and colleagues, especially those who work and frequent St. George’s. Dr. Wilma Jensen, the organist and choirmaster emerita, was an exceptional resource, particularly in her willingness to discuss the many unbelievable experiences with which she has been honored throughout her still blossoming career.

The concert Monday evening was a thrill to play as all who attended had such energy and enthusiasm for both the instrument and the music. With a primarily French program that included Widor, Alain, Tariverdiev, Franck, Langlais, Brahms, and Tournemire, I found great pleasure in matching the music to the organ and in attempting to find all of the right colors for each style. What an instrument, what a church, and what an opportunity! I am grateful for every individual with whom I was able to speak both before and after the recital that weekend.

The next morning, April 9, I flew back to Cleveland and returned to Oberlin to repack and recharge for my flight the next afternoon. The next adventure was to head off to Lawrence, Kansas to compete in the North American Round of the 8th Tariverdiev International Organ Competition. I was thrilled to be able to compete and excited to have the opportunity to play the fantastic organ in the Bales Organ Recital Hall of the University of Kansas.

Of course, since flights never do exactly what one wants and since Cleveland is especially known for its flighty weather (no pun intended), a huge rainstorm was bound for the entire Midwest on the afternoon of April 10. Chicago was shut down, a rather unfortunate occurrence as I had a connection through O’Hare. My first flight was cancelled. Thanks to some quick rescheduling, however, I was rebooked onto a direct flight to Kansas City, Missouri. I certainly prefer direct flights to running through packed airports in an attempt to catch a flight in another terminal seemingly miles away.

Arriving at the Cleveland airport around 4PM for the 5:30PM flight, I watched in horror (along with the thousands of other passengers) as the flights kept getting further and further delayed. My flight finally left at 9:30PM, 4 hours late, landing at midnight in Kansas City. Thankfully, the rental car kiosks were still open, as there appeared to be no taxies or shuttles available at that time to take one to Lawrence, an hour’s drive away.

I will be eternally grateful for loud music, windows, windshield wipers, and portable GPS systems. I’m not sure I would have made it to Lawrence without any of the above as I was both exhausted, it was raining, and I had no idea where I was going. The ride to Lawrence proved to be one of the most hectic and surreal driving ventures I have ever experienced as I could barely see the road and was fighting sleep the entire drive. The important point is that I made it, somehow! Furthermore, due to the wonderful efforts of another competitor and the professors at the University of Kansas, I was able to switch my 8AM practice time the next morning to a more humane 12PM practice time. With this in mind, I finally fell asleep at 2AM, thankfully on a bed instead of in a car or in a plane terminal.

The organ in the Bales Recital Hall did not in any disappoint my already raised expectations. In fact, it surpassed them. What an extraordinary and refreshing pleasure to play an organ that is not only a dream to play but is an instrument that resides in the hall that was b

Making the whole experience even better, I was able to reacquaint myself with organists whom I haven't seen in several years. I had not even known that they would also be in Lawrence! These sorts of coincidences don't happen terribly frequently but I am always thrilled when they do. Both meeting new friends and colleagues as well as re-meeting old ones makes any trip just that much more memorable and enjoyable.

As for the competition itself, I would never have guessed that I would enjoy myself so fully at a competitive event. Every single competitor was welcoming, encouraging, and simply a joy to get to know. I am honored to have been able to meet and speak with these exceptional individuals of the organ world.

Speaking of the competition, I am thrilled to say that I will be heading to Russia in September with Samuel Gaskin, Jonathan Gregoire, and Song Yi Park for the second of three rounds of the Tariverdiev Competition. It will be a fantastic learning opportunity for me and I look forward to meeting the plethora of musicians that will also be in attendance from around the world. I am still shocked to have been included and invited to go to Russia but I know that I will enjoy the adventure to the fullest. I hope to return to Oberlin enriched and encouraged by the many phenomenal musicians attending the competition, despite having missed the first 2 weeks of school!

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© 2020 Katelyn Emerson.