Organist, 14, displays talent at area churches


August 20, 2002|By Nancy Gallant | Nancy Gallant,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THURSDAY NIGHT, hundreds of local Catholics attended a special evening Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church because it was the Feast of the Assumption.

At the end, I was walking out of church, listening to the majestic organ music, when I turned around to see who was playing. To my surprise, the organist was not the church's music director, nor one of the usual instrumentalists. Instead, he was a teen-ager, barely beginning high school. But, boy, could he play!

His fingers flew over the keyboards, his feet controlling the pedals as he played the Toccata from Widor's 5th Organ Symphony. The music was fast, powerful and passionate.

I turned around and took a seat, just to enjoy. And I wasn't the only one. Scores of parishioners stopped to listen to his performance, until they could thank him with heartfelt applause.

The talented organist is James Brostrom, 14, of Odenton. James first learned about the keyboard when he was 5. His grandmother gave him some basic piano lessons, and his mother also shared her skills as a music educator. In a short time, it became clear that James had a special musical talent.

Robert Brostrom remembers his son learning the basic chords - such as C, F and G - and instinctively being able to build on those chords to create all kinds of music, leaving his parents "in the dust."

A few years ago, James discovered the organ. The Brostroms lived on the Eastern Shore but attended church in Seabrook. Barbara Brostrom decided to bring a picnic to church so that the family could eat lunch before making their way back home after the morning service.

While she was preparing lunch, James sat at the church organ and tried it out. He was "fascinated" by this instrument. He loved the sounds and the power and the foot pedals. And it was clear that he had a natural "ear" and talent.

He took a few organ lessons. But the Brostrom home had no organ, and he wanted to practice.

By this time, the family had moved to Odenton. James and his father decided to ask churches in the area if he could use their organs. That might seem like an intimidating task for a fairly shy teen-ager.

But, as James remembers his father saying, "The worst thing they could say is `no.'"

As it turns out, Crofton's Seton parish said yes. Years ago, James' great-uncle, Chapman Gonzales, helped install Seton's pipe organ, working with Jeanine Case, who was music director at the time. The Brostroms called Case, and James soon began practicing at the church.

A few weeks ago, Brendan Walls, Seton's new music director, heard James playing and asked if he would like to take part in the Assumption feast day Mass. James began the service with a Bach prelude, helped accompany the Communion hymn and ended the celebration with the Widor Toccata.

Three days a week, James practices at Seton for about two hours each day.

Do those long practices get tedious? "No," James says. "In fact, at the end of my time, I realize there's more I want to do. It's really fun."

When James gets home, he continues practicing on the family's piano every free minute he has, his father says. In fact, says the father, James sometimes likes to practice even when he doesn't have the free time. He often has to be called away from the piano to do chores or classwork.

The oldest of seven children, James has a whole group of friends within his family, he says. The teen-ager likes to spend time bicycling and "hanging out" with neighborhood and church friends. And he also enjoys cooking.

James is entering his freshman year of high school.

But his true passion is music - especially the organ. He returned last week from a summer camp sponsored by the American Guild of Organists. Next week, he will have the opportunity to play the organ at the Naval Academy chapel.

He also serves as pianist and substitute organist at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Odenton.

And James practices every chance he gets. He is preparing for his next performance at Seton, where he will participate in a ceremony of remembrance for Sept. 11.

Library groundbreaking

On Friday morning, the Anne Arundel County Public Library will break ground on the new West County library branch. County residents are invited to attend the ceremony at Route 175 and Baltimore Avenue in Odenton, across from the Exxon gas station. The event will take place at 10:30 a.m., rain or shine.

The 40,000-square-foot branch will replace the current Odenton library, which has 9,000 square feet. The $13.5 million cost covers construction, books and other supplies. The project is to be completed in the fall of 2004.

Information about the ceremony or the new West County Library: 410-222-7371.

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