Bach lovers find key to happiness

Roland Park church is host to 7 1/2 hours of music marathon

February 14, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Musical notes whispered and chords shouted through the cream-colored sanctuary of St. David's Church in Roland Park yesterday as more than 1,000 organ music fans gathered for the 25th annual Baltimore Bach Marathon.

Some attended for a short while, others stayed the entire 7 1/2 hours listening to the concertos, preludes, arias and fugues written by the 18th-century German composer who died 250 years ago.

"I love Bach," said the Rev. Bruce Wickkiser, a retired Episcopal priest, who with his wife, Mary Jane, traveled from Glen Arm and stayed for an event that lasted from 12: 30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

"Many people have said we are gluttons for punishment," Wickkiser said three hours into the program. "Sure it can be tiring, but we enjoy it. And we don't fall asleep, either."

Jane Payne of Baltimore said she loves Bach so much that she joined St. David's, an Episcopal church at 4700 Roland Ave., after attending the Bach marathon several years ago.

"Grow tired of Bach? Organ music? Never," she said.

With Bach, she said, "I feel loved and forgiven. There's a meaning and purpose."

The Bach marathon began at the now-defunct Wilson United Methodist Church in Baltimore in 1975 and moved to St. David's a year later. The event is held the second week in February.

Yesterday, 15 area organists performed works by Bach, ranging from the well-known "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," to more obscure pieces.

"Bach is the greatest composer for the organ," said Randall Mullin, organist and choirmaster of St. David's, who led the program with the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Of Bach's 250 organ works, between 55 and 70 are usually played in the marathon, Mullin said.

Choirs, a soloist, a trumpeter and a violinist participated in some of the selections, but it was the organ that predominated.

With its three manuals or keyboards, 48 rows of pipes, foot pedals, toe studs, stops and pistons, the St. David's organ demands the musician's full attention, players said.

"Every true organist begins with Bach," said Janet Corson, who has played the organ for 42 years. She attended the marathon to hear other organists. "Bach is deep, profound beyond belief."

Mark Husey, the third performer of the day, said his interest in organ music started as a child, watching "The Lawrence Welk Show." Now music director of the Roman Catholic Church of the Nativity in Timonium, he has performed in the marathon for several years.

"It's an honor to be invited," he said. "It's a hallmark of organ culture."

Some in the audience brought books to read, but most watched with rapt attention as each organist performed for about 30 minutes. Many nodded their heads and swayed to the music. One boy tapped his fingers on a knee, seeming to follow the scales he was hearing.

When stamina lagged, or the straight-backed pews became too uncomfortable, members of the audience could refresh themselves with "Bach's lunches" of chicken salad and homemade cake, which the church sold.

Many at the marathon were longtime fans, but a few were youngsters, such as Dante Nance, an 11-year-old Baltimore boy who was attending the event for the first time.

"The music is like a lullaby," he said.

His godmother, Lucille Coleman, who has been to the marathon many times, said she invited Dante because he loves music. "I warned him it was going to be a long time," she said.

Bill Tamburrino of Rodgers Forge brought his 8-year-old son, Dante, for a couple of hours. "I really enjoy it and it gives him the opportunity to learn some of the things I enjoy," he said.

Sarah Burns, of Guilford, a recent college graduate, started going to the marathon with her mother, a minister, years ago. "It's become a tradition," she said. "It's a break from all the busy stuff in our lives."

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