Archive for March 2011

Recital!   Leave a comment

I’m excited to be playing at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown LA again, after several years’ absence.

I’ll be playing on Wednesday April 6, beginning at 12:45 pm, following the noon Mass. Here’s the playlist:

The slow movement from a sonata by Rheinberger (a contemporary of Brahms);

Two enchanting settings of Amazing Grace by contemporary American composers Dennis Janzer and David Cherwein; and

Two rarely heard pieces by Bach, including his lesser-known Fugue in D minor – Bach himself transcribed it from his violin partita, making it doubly interesting!

The instrument at OLA is probably my favorite instrument in the city, and certainly one of my all-time favorites anywhere. And it is in a wonderfully resonant acoustic, a perfect match for such a distinguished instrument. French music seems to work especially well there, though I have played Bach, Copland, and much other non-French pieces over the years – almost anything sounds good.

It all looks good, too – you can read more about this striking building and its organ at

My program will be about a half hour long. Do come!

Posted March 30, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

Happy Birthday JSB!   Leave a comment

Can’t let today go by without a big nod to Johann Sebastian Bach! What to say about one of the handful of truly transcendent musicians! I’ll let him speak for himself. Here’s a quote:
“The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the
glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. If heed is not paid to
this, it is not true music but a diabolical bawling and twanging.”

Posted March 21, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

Singing Together as Community   Leave a comment

Here’s a short excerpt from a wonderful interview by Terry Gross of NPR. What he says about singing is so on target! I’ve made those parts bold…


If you’re just joining us, my guest is Henry Quinson. He’s a monk who used to be a currency trader. He is the monastic adviser for the new film “Of Gods and Men,” which won the Grand Prix, the second-highest prize, at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. And it’s based on the story of French monks in Algeria who worked with poor people in a rural Algerian village. Seven of the monks were kidnapped in the monastery by Islamic extremists in 1996, and were later beheaded.

So you spent six years in a monastery in which the monks were expected to spend a lot of the day in silence. But about four hours a day were spent singing as a group, singing hymns and spiritual songs. What is the importance of singing in that order?


Yeah. Four hours is a lot. Some people told me that people who – singers, professional singers do not actually sing four hours a day. Something like – I think it’s 15 percent of the words that you can actually hear in that movie are songs. So I think it’s an experience, a human experience – not necessarily a religious one, but a human experience that people can actually share in, that if you sing together, there’s a harmony, there’s a unity that is physical. I mean, you are actually breathing together. And so a community is going to be stronger if every day, you’re able to sing together. Of course, in the case of monastic life, singing together is also a prayer. But the fact is that it’s at the same time, a human experience. Singing together is a human experience and the same time, it’s sharing in what really brings you together. And that’s, I think, one of the major points, both in the real life of the monks of Tibhirine and also in the movie.

The full interview is at :

Posted March 21, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

Small World   1 comment

In past years the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists has toured the instruments at such places as Disney Hall, or the Westwood area – a day that is interesting and fun, both for the music and the camaraderie!

Though I was ill, I went anyway. This year was no exception, as we toured instruments in two churches and the chapel at Whittier College.

Whittier is a charming little town, first settled in 1887 and named for the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier, and indeed had a large Quaker population for generations.

We heard lots of great social history: food writer M.F.K. Fisher grew up there, as did Herbert Hoover’s spouse – but its most famous (or infamous) native son is Richard Nixon, who was born in nearby Yorba Linda but lived in Whittier and attended the town’s high school and Whittier College (mascot – “The Poet”). Nominally a Quaker, he also studied piano at the college.

The writer Jessamyn West, a second cousin of Nixon, also grew up there and attended a Sunday-school class taught by Richard’s father, Frank.

But the best part of the day was the music.

Pieces by Whittier composers Williametta Spencer, Orpha Ochse, and Neil Stipp (currently College Organist at Whittier) gave us not just the expected solos, but also a little choral music, and music for organ with other instruments..

The most intriguing music for me was a flute/organ piece by Ochse, an excellent new and prize-winning anthem by Stipp and a partita for English horn and organ by the Dutch composer Jan Koetsier – some of the best organ/instrument writing I’ve ever heard, played on an organ ideally suited for its clean, dry style.

The organ was a full partner rather than the accompaniment, making the pieces really duets – not always the case with such writing.

At the final concert in the First Friends Church, I saw a familiar-looking hymnal, took it out, and saw it contains my hymn tune Thomas Merton (679 in the Episcopal hymnal, “Surely it is God who saves me” if you haven’t got the numbers memorized yet).

This tune has been reprinted in two or three denominational hymnals and supplements both here and in Japan, but I was not aware that a Quaker church was using one of them!

Small world!

Posted March 15, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

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