June 20th, 2012
02:28 PM ET

Turning the 2,600-year-old organ into a modern, rocking instrument

By The Next List Staff, CNN

(CNN) – As Cameron Carpenter walks down Venice beach wearing leather pants, a loose-fitting Slayer shirt and a bleached blond mohawk that sports the spirit of David Bowie, you might think the guy is a rock star. Or a fashion designer. Or maybe even an actor. What you might not guess is that Carpenter is a classically trained organist with a super-conservative pedigree.

His ideas, however, are anything but conservative.

While his profession might seem to clash with his look, rest assured his renegade spirit and controversial ideas about modernizing the organ, 2,600-year-old instrument, are in lock step with his persona. Carpenter fiercely, unabashedly and unapologetically wants to change the way the organ is played, and the way the audience experiences the music.

Carpenter wants to build a lasting career around the digital organ, which many classical musicians think of as a lesser instrument compared to the pipe organ. But Carpenter has much different ideas.

“The pipe organ is seen as the Jesus Christ savior and the digital organ is seen as the anthem of Lucifer or the thing to be feared and loathed,” says Carpenter. “I’m really convinced the pipe organ is totally finished... what we need to do is get behind the digital organ. ”

Carpenter sees promise in the digital organ, and plans to build his own, that he can take with him around the world as he travels.

“The entire organ is packed up and can be put on a stage. And its massive infrastructure of speakers can be deployed anywhere – outdoors, in schools, in festivals, concert halls or in prisons,” says Carpenter.

Most organists never develop a relationship with just one organ. Carpenter plans to change that.

“That’s where the organ will have a vibrant future, that will allow it to speak with a voice to people who never thought to listen” says Carpenter.

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soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Bill

    There is one substantial factual error in this report: Cameron Carpenter is NOT the only organist to be nominated for a Grammy. And we're not speaking of the long past era of Virgil Fox and E. Power ("Jimmy") Biggs. Paul Jacobs recently WON a Grammy for a solo Organ recording.

    July 23, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Reply
  2. Scobos

    I am thoroughly teased and therefore ready to go "inside the mind" of THIS virtuoso, ashamed that I was just looking for Christmas Playlist Music when I discovered him on YouTube with "Sleighride". Astonished is a rare state for me, but this young man has proven himself by astonishing all kinds of people the world over and I can't wait to see more – and for him to accomplish his goals. So far, so good Next List!

    June 27, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  3. Steav Bates-Congdon

    Cameron Carpenter's musical brilliance is only matched by his incredible musical brilliance.

    June 27, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Reply

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