Organist and composer Diane Bish has been one of the greatest advocates of the pipe organ in recent history. Not since the time of the so-called golden age of organ building and the “superstars” like Virgil Fox and E. Power Biggs has anyone had more success in bringing the organ to large audiences. Through her development and broadcast of the weekly “The Joy of Music” television series, Diane shared with the world a sort of National Geographic of the pipe organ—taking us to see and hear pipe organs places we will probably never visit.
I have fond memories of watching The Joy of Music broadcasts on Sunday afternoons with my mom, while I still lived at home my first year of college, and I would continue to watch in later years, finding it on at 6:00 a.m. in the morning on TBN, or on EWTN on Sunday afternoons. Diane Bish inspired me to learn more literature, and through her playing gave me suggestions about new pieces to try. I’ll never forget my first Bish recording was on vinyl, 33-1/3 LP, playing the famous Müller organ at St. Bavo in Haarlem, Holland. Shortly after that, (maybe 1987?) I bought a cassette tape which I still own despite it sounding pretty garbled after all these years, entitled “The Joy of Music.” On this recording, Diane played several of her hymn arrangements, including her “Toccata on Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and “Joyful, Joyful.” I purchased several of her hymn arrangement books and started incorporating her settings into my repertoire.
But it was Joyful, Joyful that really had me fascinated. I had to special order sheet music and it seemed like forever until it arrived. When the score finally came, I headed straight to the church and tried to sight-read it… Pretty discouraging. And after a few tries, I put it away, and there it stayed for the next almost 30 years. It moved with my church music from church job to church job. Sometimes I would look at it around Easter, realize I didn’t have time to learn it, and put it away again.
Fast-forward to 2015. I happened across a YouTube video of Diane Bish playing the “Joyful, Joyful” arrangement from a 1982 concert at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and I was immediately caught up again in my love for that piece! I played the video for my wife—who had never heard it before, much less my feeble attempts at it—and she loved it! “You need to learn that!” she said. Then, as the stars seem to align over such things, I was asked to play the closing piece on an American Guild of OrganistsMember’s Recital in Akron, Ohio. The topic being “Outrageous Offertories” I thought well this is perfect.
I began practicing the piece and this time it came. It was really a challenge to learn, and made me use left hand technique that had been too long unused. But it came. I learned it, and what’s more, I found that I learned it so well that it was memorized! In just about three weeks of off and on practice, at long last I could play the Diane Bish piece that for me had been a forgotten dream.
On March 8, 2015 at Bath United Church of Christ, I performed it in public for the first time, on a Schantz pipe organ and in a beautiful sanctuary, surrounded by my AGO colleagues, audience members, and family and friends. Everyone played well on the concert and the pressure was on! Next thing I knew, I was walking up to the console, no score, and started to play. I had a ball. It came off really well, and I've promised myself that I won’t let it out of my fingers or my mind!
I hope you enjoy.
And if by some crazy miracle Diane Bish ever sees this.... Thank you for your inspiration.