The Organist Plays the Piano

On Friday, October 3rd (Germany Unity Day, as it’s known), Sarah and I went to see world renowned organist-virtuoso Cameron Carpenter, except after intermission, he switched to playing the piano… While that may seem trivial, asking an organist to play the piano in the middle of his concert is like asking a guitarist to play the ukulele. I mean, have you ever seen Jimmy Page or Jimi Hendrix rock out on the ukulele in the middle of their concerts?

It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. The concert was at the Berliner Philharmoniker, which is a unique venue of its own (see picture below).

Berlin Philharmoniker venue

The performance was great and Sarah, the audience and I were enjoying the show. After intermission, Cameron played one song, and Cameron stood to bow in thanks. However, I could see on stage that he noticed something was awry. Once the applause died, he scurried off stage. The audience quickly understood why: the organ was broken.

While Cameron Carpenter makes himself out to be the rockstar of the organ (he has a mohawk, dresses unconventionally, wears bedazzled organ shoes, draws on his sex-appeal, etc.), he can’t break the organ. But here it was, a single note continuously reverberating throughout the music hall.

While the audience waited for the technicians to diagnose and fix the organ, Sarah and I got to witness the sense of humor of the audience, and possibly, of Germans. The video below illustrates some of that sensibility.

You can see that the audience finds the inability of the technicians to correct the organ as quite comedic.

After awhile, the technicians gave up. Fixing the organ was going to require more time than the audience had. So an announcement was made, and the organ rolled to the side. The house piano was raised on an elevator from below the stage and wheeled into place. It was a spotless, full size Steinway & Sons. Cameron tentatively took stage, made an announcement, and then sat at the piano. He stared at the keys, seemingly filled with doubt, fear, and concentration.


At last, he began his performance. He even incorporated a song by Gershwin, because, as Cameron said, he needed something to soften the nightmare that was ahead of him by trying to play an organ piece by Bach for the piano. The audience loved the jazzy tune, and the piece Cameron performed by Bach. The audience loved it so much that Cameron played two encores as well.

All in all, a lovely night.

Sarah and I went to see Cameron perform because of our indirect connection to him. I’ve known about Cameron for a few years now, because I lived with his brother in Ann Arbor, who is still a good friend of mine (and a brilliant engineer, mechanic, scientist, and botanist in his own right. He operates a small-scale powder coating operation in Ann Arbor, MI called Bean’s Best LLC). I haven’t seen Cameron perform, because he routinely plays in Europe, where he lives. Ironically however, Sarah and I got to see Cameron perform before he left for his tour in the US, where he will showcase his talents on the touring organ built for him specifically. Normally, an organ is so massive that it is incorporated into the building’s structure. Nonetheless, this organ can be disassembled to fit onto one semi truck to transport it. If you are interested, you can see Cameron at the DSO in Detroit in February, 2015.

I suppose the lesson here is know your craft, though be willing to admit your weaknesses, and embrace them. And I hope to see Jimmy Page perform on the ukulele soon.

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