Guild’s free recital series encourages interest in organs

The Southern Nevada chapter of the American Guild of Organists wants to make organ converts of everyone in the valley.

The latest installment of the guild’s ongoing recital series is scheduled for
7:30 p.m. March 15 at Christ Church Episcopal, 2000 S. Maryland Parkway, where concert organist and University of Michigan professor of organ music James Kibbie plans to perform the works of composers such as Bach and Dieterich Buxtehude on the church’s Schantz pipe organ, said to be the largest in Nevada.

The 55-member guild, which has been active in Las Vegas for more than 40 years, hosts two recitals a year — a members’ recital and a guest recital.

“Our main project each year is the organ recital series,” Paul Hesselink, chair of the guild’s recital series committee, said. “We try to make them audience-friendly by encouraging brief commentary from the performer about the composer or the work.”

It helps people to better understand the instrument, something Hesselink refers to as an “endangered species.”

“Many people in our society no longer have the experience of hearing serious organ music in everyday life,” he said, citing the trend of churches moving to praise bands and abandoning more traditional forms of worship, as well as the affordability of electronic options. “While technology has improved markedly over the last several years, there still is nothing quite like the thrill of hearing a mighty pipe organ.”

The recitals typically take place on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, but last May, according to Hesselink, a fire sprinkler malfunctioned in the school’s Doc Rando Recital Hall, causing an estimated $600,000 in damage to the Maurine Jackson Smith Memorial Organ, a German-made, three-manual 2004 Rudolf von Beckerath organ.

Restoration of the organ is expected to be completed by July.

Hesselink said the “world-class instrument” is an important asset and a “voice” in the community.

Christ Church Episcopal’s organ is in the back of the house, behind the fixed pews. Hesselink said the guild plans to provide three video screens at the front of the house, showing Kibbie playing in the back.

“We’ve got it worked out,” he said.

With a caliber of performer such as Kibbie, guild treasurer David Dorway said it is really only the music that matters.

“We want people to get to know and listen to this beautiful music, some of it hundreds of years old yet more beautiful than ever,” Dorway said. “We also hope to encourage young piano students to consider the organ.”

Dorway, an organist playing at First Presbyterian Church of Las Vegas, said the recitals are an inspiration for him.

“It encourages me in my studies when I hear people playing such beautiful and difficult pieces,” he said. “I always leave thinking, ‘Wow, I need to practice more.’ ”

Dorway said the best part about the recitals is the cost. They are free.

“People can come to one concert and see if they enjoy it,” he said.

In addition to his performance, Kibbie is also scheduled to lead a lecture and discussion on the life and works of concert organist Jehan Alain at 10 a.m. March 16 at Christ Church Episcopal.

For more information about the Southern Nevada chapter of the American Guild of Organists, visit the nonprofit’s website at

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Nolan Lister at or 702-383-0492.

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