Cameron Carpenter brings style to the organ

Musical genius is in the air this spring as Nashville celebrates Mozart and the world awaits the release ofBehind the Candelabra, a new film about pianist/showman Liberace. Adding to the spirit of the moment, virtuoso organist Cameron Carpenter visits Music City to perform at The Schermerhorn on Sunday, April 14 at 2 p.m..

Carpenter’s second Nashville appearance is just one stop on his spring 2013 schedule which includes performances in Savannah, Ga., Heidelberg, Germany, Olympia, Wash., Kitchner, Canada, Toronto, Wilmington, N.C.,, Houston, Texas, Rockville, Md., Los Angeles, Luxembourg, Zurich, Switzerland, Bamberg, Germany, Manchester, England and Auckland, New Zealand - in that order, with some of the greatest jumps being a mere 24 hours apart.

Like Mozart and Liberace, Cameron was a child prodigy. Born in 1981 and growing up in the rural town of Meadville, Pa. (population 400), he began playing the family organ at the age of four and first attracted attention at the age of eleven with a complete performance of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier.

Of early influences Carpenter said, "It was precisely the lack of early influences that encouraged me to think as I do, or have learned to do, and which means that I find myself deeply grateful to a situation born of chance - that is, to have grown up in a rural environment before the Internet, and with limited exposure to the outside world. Later, coming to the study of music history - in which one realizes that, for most of history, the easiest and often only way to hear music was to make it yourself - I realized that this was largely the case in my own childhood. I did not have much exposure to radio or television during my own childhood; we had only a very few LP records of John Cougar Mellencamp, Cyndi Lauper and the occasional Scott Joplin album."

Despite these cultural limitations, he knew from an early age the path he would follow. “I have always been intensely careerist in my relationship to music in the sense that I never gave any remote consideration to anything else."

"The most formative aspect of my childhood, as well as the most important value of my present, is my ability to see the organ as a secular instrument - perhaps as less religious than the digeridoo," Carpenter shared. This philosophy is reflected in the performance persona that he brings to the stage, which has been described as a fusion of Horowitz (for skill and technique), David Bowie (for showmanship) and Fred Astaire (for fancy footwork.) His mentor, James Litton of the American Choir Boy School, remarked, "I don't know how it's humanly possible to do what he does."

What he does has brought him the first ever Grammy nomination for a solo organist and recognition as "the Bad Boy of the Organ" and "the most controversial organist in the world". In this regard, Carpenter has become an ambassador for his instrument and an iconoclast whose contribution to the art form is shattering perceptions that stuffiness should be the trademark of organists.

Even so, he disavows any personal mission to keep the organ fresh and exciting for future generations. "This trio of assumptions—that the organ is already ‘fresh and exciting’, that it could be kept so for ‘future generations’ like an embalmed loaf of freshly baked artisanal bread, and that some activity to this end should unquestioningly be undertaken—must all be put to the sword,” Carpenter said.

“Nothing could be less fresh and exciting than trying to make an historical institution hip and appealing to ‘young people’, an expression which should always warn that there is desperation afoot. Organs are a medium, a means to an end - never an end in themselves. Organists are at their best when they forget the instrument and merely play. To lose sight of this for the sake of a roomful of pipes is to insure that the organist will always be a slave to the deplorable, pedantic idea that the instrument is king. Furthermore, it's obvious that what classical music most needs is persona - not ego, but strong, genuine identities. A great on-stage persona requires - as any drag queen will attest - a deeply simultaneous sense of personal security and freedom."

Seeing this in action is something we can all look forward to when Cameron Carpenter comes to town.

For more information on Cameron Carpenter be sure to check out his website.

Additional reporting by Kevin James

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