R. LUCAS TAPPAN once asked: “Do you invite young children at church push down a few keys on the organ when you’re finished or do you just close up shop? Do you pull out the trumpet stop and tell him to press down the lowest pedal note and hold it? Do you tell him to try out the swell pedal and watch as the shades open and close?” He was talking about how we can generate interest in organ playing.
I thought of that when I learned 1 (today!) that Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen could play the organ:
At Fritz Kreisler’s suggestion, Sheen had taken organ lessons. His first teacher was famed swing organist Ethel Smith. Fulton acknowledged her prowess on the instrument but said that her instructional ability was weak. He then turned to a young friend, Yolanda Tomaiuoli, who was dating a cousin. She was an accomplished musician who would go on to earn a doctorate in music at Columbia University. Tomaiuoli said later that Fulton “could play some” but that “his musical talents were limited.”
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Sheen played an electric Hammond on the main floor of his building for personal enjoyment, occasionally displaying his skill to friends. Indeed, the Cahill family, invited to Sheen’s apartment for dinner, recalls dancing in his front room while the bishop played “April in Paris” on his electric organ.
In one of his talks, Archbishop Sheen made reference to “an organ here in my office”—and now, twenty years later, I understand.
Here are two articles about Sheen and Sacred music you might enjoy:
The latter contains several interesting quotes, such as:
After the consecration [Sheen’s installation Mass in Rochester], Sheen told Ferris that he wanted a classical repertoire at the cathedral, including Gregorian chant. “This was unusual,” Ferris said later, “for all sorts of freaky things were being done in churches at this time.”
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Paragraph taken from Thomas C. Reeves, America’s Bishop: The Life and Times of Fulton J. Sheen (New York: Encounter Books, 2002). Sources: Yolanda Holliger interview, 19 April 2000; Vincent Cahill interview; Joan Cunningham interview, 2 April 2000.