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Acclaimed Organist Holds Master Class on Mobile Organ

International Touring Organ
Renowned organist Cameron Carpenter demonstrates his custom made International Touring Organ during his master class. Carpenter himself designed the organ, which debuted in 2014.

Wearing gold sneakers and grey skinny jeans, internationally acclaimed organist T. Cameron Carpenter led a master class on his digital, custom made, International Touring Organ in Sanders Theater on Wednesday night.

Three Cambridge organists participated in the master class, including one undergraduate student from Harvard. They each played a piece for Carpenter and received advice from him about both their technique and style.

“You do that so well, but it isn’t demonic enough. It wasn’t perverse enough,” Carpenter said of one performer’s presentation.

Some organists said Carpenter directly confronts organist stereotypes, sometimes in ways that are controversial. Laura E. N. Gullett ’16, the former president of the Harvard Organ Society, said that Carpenter wants to break with what he would term the traditional academic organ tradition.

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“In my opinion the fact that he tries to gain a new audience for the organ is at least respectable, but I don’t know if I necessarily agree with all of his tactics to do so,” Gullett said. 

Despite his reputation for confronting stereotypes, Carpenter said that it is a misconception that he has a mission to change what people think about the organ.

Organ Master Class
Organ virtuoso Cameron Carpenter talks to student Noel G. de Sa e Silva '16 before his master class on Wednesday. Silva was one of three students that participated in the master class.

“I actually don’t really give a damn what people think about the organ,” Carpenter said. “I want to play the organ in the way that I feel that it should be played.”

Carpenter said that the traditional organ is difficult to commercialize due to variations across individual instruments. The mobility of the International Touring Organ allows Carpenter to maintain a consistent sound and style across various performance venues.

The event was co-hosted by the Office for the Arts and the Harvard Organ Society through the Learning from Performers program. Established in 1975, the Learning from Performers program hosts 15 to 20 artists annually who specialize in various forms of art.

“The mission of the program is to engage professional artists to come to Harvard and work with students in various educational forms,” said Program Director Thomas S. Lee.

This was the first time the OFA has hosted an organist, and one of the first times that a master class has been held on Carpenter’s International Touring Organ.

“I just knew that this was a very unusual artist doing very unusual things with a very traditional instrument,” Lee said.

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