Student organist symphonically rocks his senior recital

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The majestic William K. Coors pipe organ. (photo taken by Donovan Rice)

A student organist masterfully rocked the Hamilton Family Recital Hall at the University of Denver last night, performing his senior recital for his degree.

Josiah Hamill, a senior pursuing a bachelor’s in music performance for both the violin and organ, performed six classical and challenging compositions, testing his limits as an organist.

“I’m really proud of him,” said Tia Adcock, a childhood friend of Hamill. “We used to play violin as little kids and do piano duets together. Just seeing him progress so much to play organ and how far he’s come — even just from last year’s recital, there’s a big difference.”

I had never attended an organ performance before, but Hamill took my expectations and symphonically blew them away.

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The manuals and pedalboard of a pipe organ. (photo taken by Donovan Rice)

A constant river of harmonious sound ran through the room, as Hamill’s dexterous fingers glided along the manuals (i.e., keyboards).

At times, Hamill hammered the keys, engulfing the room in furious sound. At other points, his fingers gingerly kissed them, creating a soft, subtle symphony.

So many notes soared through air simultaneously, I stopped to ask myself, “How many fingers does this kid have?”

That was when I realized that he was playing notes with his feet too.

Unlike a piano with its three pedals that sustain or soften notes, the organ is equipped with a full pedalboard for the musician to play notes with his or her feet.

And boy did Hamill’s feet dance.

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Josiah Hamill, a senior studying music performance in organ and violin at the University of Denver. Interviewed at the Newman Center for Performing Arts on Wednesday, May 4, 2016. Question: Why did you choose the organ? Answer: The organ does everything I wish that the piano could do. It has color changes and a dynamic range of how soft and loud I can get. (Photo taken by Angel Gonzalez)

The most impressive moment of the night was Hamill’s performance of George Thalben-Ball’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini. Rather than playing on the manuals, Hamill played the entire composition with his feet.

He played multiple notes at the same time by using both his toes and heels. The resulting solos were so skillful and speedy that they would put Eddie Van Halen to shame.

Another highlight of the night was Hamill’s encore, where he unexpectedly performed the Throne Room Theme from Star Wars. After a night full of classical compositions, it made a humorous counterpoint.

It also happened to align with Star Wars Day, May 4.

“I did not have that in mind when I signed up for my recital day, but when I realized it matched up… It just seemed like a fitting end,” said Hamill.

When asked why he preferred classical music, he answered that he enjoys its inherit complexity, something that modern music misses, in his opinion.

“When it comes down to performing something, to living with something for six months — it took six months to learn these compositions — it’s nice to have that variety of harmony and different colors, melodies, and themes that make a nice counterpoint,” he said.

Two overarching themes emerged in Hamill’s recital: finding joy through suffering and purpose through religion.

Hamill reflected how he struggled in his transition from homeschooling to college, especially when he found himself in a notoriously rowdy hallway in his freshman residence hall.

Through violin, organ, and grace, Hamill was able to find his solace.

“I’m Christian, and everything I want to do, I want to do it for God’s glory,” said Hamill. “I’ve always been able to find peace and purpose, and I think playing for His glory, it keeps me upright and helps me deal with stress. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

As Hamill’s undergraduate career comes to a close, he called it bittersweet. On one hand, he is leaving his friends, family, and even the state of Colorado. On the other hand, he is off to Connecticut next year to continue his organ studies at Yale University.

He also plans to take violin lessons with the professors there.

The future is bright for this kid.

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One thought on “Student organist symphonically rocks his senior recital

  1. Really good piece, Donovan. I like your use of analogies, active verbs, and descriptive sentences, which helped me envision Hamill’s performance. The organ is also a very unique instrument that few in our generation take up, so I admire that, and I’m impressed at the use of the feet to play the instrument. That’s gotta be extremely difficult to solo with your feet like Hamill did!
    Thanks for the enjoyable read!
    George

    Like

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