June 15th, 2012
01:55 PM ET

An unreasonable man (or organist)

Editors Note: Cameron Carpenter is a world-renowned, Grammy nominated organist who plans to build his own touring organ. Watch CNN’s “The Next List” this Sunday at 2 p.m. ET to hear his full story.

By Cameron Carpenter, Special to CNN

(CNN) – I'm unreasonable - as most organists will tell you. (My agent would agree).

If you play the guitar or the violin, or if you're a singer - or if you play any reasonable musical instrument that can be moved from place to place without a five-figure tab and a debate-ridden crew of experts; if you play any reasonable instrument that you can mention to your friends without invoking images of "The Abominable Dr. Phibes," "Phantom of the Opera" (and "Dr. Phibes Rises Again") – if you play any instrument that doesn't cost millions of dollars to build - then you are LUCKY. Because you sure don't play the pipe organ.

Even the Brobdingnagian double bass is Gucci-bag fashionable and portable in comparison to the pipe organ. There's something ominously metaphorical about an instrument that literally isn't going anywhere. One has to wonder: does this earthbound immobility extend to the attitudes that surround the instrument? Does it influence the mentalities, the expectations, the ambitions of the people who play it? Does it shape our expectations as listeners?

Well, why wouldn't it?! We're talking about an instrument with some 2,600 years of history, depending on who's counting. That's a long time for stereotypes to emerge and bias to fossilize, and when the history of your instrument is longer than Christianity's, that's a lot of baggage with which a young musician must come to terms. (A bit like that last sentence).

Add to the picture that simply practicing involves a commute, a cold empty church to which the keys might be taken away at any time, and a total lack of ownership of the instrument itself, and you can see why "the young people" – that catch phrase of which we should always beware – aren't exactly lining up to play the thing. Sometimes I wonder what makes me do it, and what's driven me to do it since I was 4 years old. But then I remember: I'm totally unreasonable.

Because I'm unreasonable, I have no problem demanding, and trying to create, total change. For me, organ music isn't about the organ. It's about performance. Except for one thing: I still love the organ. So I want to do everything I can to make sure that it doesn't remain an immobile, overlooked curiosity – the Instrument of Kings, a culturally stalled relic, a multi-million-dollar backdrop in churches and concert halls that are themselves struggling for relevance.

By now we know something doesn't have to literally disappear to be culturally dead. That happens quite nicely when it's left to the preservationists and historicists, bowing and scraping in showy genuflections of respect. (Make the organ digital? What an insult to the pipe organ, what an affront to taste! It might help an organist to actually board the fast-paced train of musical commerce in our own time, instead of living in the past).

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world.
The unreasonable man adapts the world to himself.
All progress depends upon the unreasonable man".
– George Bernard Shaw

It's not where you take things from. It's where you take them to.

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Filed under: Music • The Next List • Video
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. wvopnutrae

    So no problem what the twilight shenzhen massage paddle one's own canoe gloaming shift

    September 20, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  2. Mercedes

    The album, Proposal: Ivan and Johanna, was beautiful so very thhouutfgl of Ivan to plan everything for Johanna, in the romantic way he did, and to have you photograph their special day! You are a very talented photographer, Brian. Nice website I found out about your photography & website through your friend, Wilson.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  3. Mary Ann Saunders Marin

    Cameron should meet and collaborate with Arno Patin. I met him more than 30 years ago and he was already performing throughout Paris and other European Countries. Back then I knew him as someone who crafted organs. Today, he is a remarkable artist who has moved to Michigan where he maintains his studios and business.


    June 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  4. Cal Anthe

    Sir, that is a death threat and is being reported as such to the authorities.

    June 16, 2012 at 1:32 am | Reply
  5. Mark Watkins

    For those of us who have spent years practicing, the essence of our instrument is sacrosanct. More to the point, it is not the appearance of the thing that we love, although the sight of a majestic church organ is a sight to behold; it is the music that we create with it that ensnares us.

    June 16, 2012 at 1:07 am | Reply
    • tanni

      Whatever. It's super boring to the rest of us. You're an organ player, of course its interesting to u. Now Cameron can make it interesting for everyone else.

      June 16, 2012 at 8:18 am | Reply
      • jeff

        Speak for yourself... if you don't have appreciation for music thats your problem. I'd like to see you try to do something creative, so why don't you just go back to doing what you and so many other losers do - talking trash about people on the internet. When you're bored, you're boring and I'm going to guess your bored all the time, lame-o.

        July 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  6. Greg Rister

    Well geez, Robert, do you propose to liquidate him? You should hope that people who disagree with YOUR point of view don't start coming up with solutions for you.

    I am an organist, and I hold the acoustic instrument, the pipe organ, in high regard. I hold digital imitations of acoustic instruments of any sort in somewhat lesser regard, but see their value, and I do use synthesizers that create these "ersatz" sounds. While I may not be in agreement with Cameron Carpenter regarding the digital organ versus the acoustic organ, by the 21st Century it has become an old argument, and will likely never have a resolution.

    I DO think that it is worthwhile to discuss the issues, however - we don't have to fall into lockstep behind anyone in order to consider the practical or impractical aspects that are raised by the development of good digital instruments. I will keep playing pipe organs, Cameron will keep advocating for his digital dreams, and the world will just keep on turning.

    Chill, Robert. . .

    June 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  7. Jack

    Good evening. Everyone is graciously invited to visit... thestarofkaduri.com

    June 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Reply
  8. Iridium Red

    What a self-serving gasbag! Look at me! I'm over here!

    June 15, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Reply
    • fireandair

      He's a musician. Of course he wants people to look at him or else he wouldn't be on stage. If he doesn't want people to look at him, he's in the wrong place.

      October 23, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  9. Tana Watkins

    What a breathe of fresh air! Bravo, Mr. Carpenter. Play on!

    June 15, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Reply

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