On Wednesday 14th June 2023 we welcome Frederick Hohman from the USA to the Cathedral at our next recital of the 2023 summer season. In this edition of ‘Notes from an Organist’ we discover more about him and the recital, including being an instrument designer, playing at the Leeds International Organ Festival, and adding plenty of ‘tweedles’ to pieces!
Could you introduce yourself, how you got into music / become an organist and your musical journey to where you are today?
My parents were both professional musicians, but not in church music or classical music circles. Dad, a very talented clarinet and sax player, led what we refer to today as a “Big Band” back in the 1940s and 1950s in St. Louis. When I came along, I was schooled by two piano teachers, one for studying jazz piano, and one for studying classical piano literature. I was always fascinated with the organ, as it allow just one person to control a vast musical machine, sort of like being a conductor, but a conductor who plays all of the notes himself, instead of allowing the orchestra member to play them. I started to study the organ when I could reach all of the pedals, about age 11.
What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
There is an old proverb that says “Know to whom thy speaketh.” This can apply to musicians, too. Most listeners today still appreciate the basic elements of music, and that means rhythm, harmony, and above all “tunefulness.” While I can play the heavy literature and the organ music of the avant garde, for this type of noon-time occasion, I prefer to reach out with melody.
Why do you enjoy playing the organ?
The organ’s vast variety of tone colors and its wide dynamic range allows a single player the freedom to be highly expressive. It is such an efficient method for making music, but playing the pipe organ is also a spiritual experience.
Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
I should be polite and return with the answer: “My favorite piece of music is the selection I happen to be playing at the moment!” I often use the same response when asked if I have a favourite pipe organ.
This recital season we are celebrating ‘music for royal occasions’. Which of your pieces represents this, and why did you choose it?
The closing work on my program is a highly-embellished, or ornamented, version of the famous Trumpet Voluntary – also known as the Prince of Denmark’s March – by Jeremiah Clarke. It is one of the most popular of selections for wedding processionals, and it is certainly fit for a Prince or Princess. My highly embellished version arose when I encountered a very persistent mother-of-the-bride at a wedding ceremony for which I played organ way back in 1981. She insisted that I make a custom arrangement of the piece, with lots of extra “tweedle-dums” and “tweedle-dees!” I complied happily with her request, giving the Bride and her 10 bridesmaids a total of 187 extra “tweedles!”
Have you ever met any royalty and / or played for them?
Alas, I have not yet met any royalty, but would be thrilled to bits at the chance! The closest I’ve come to meeting or entertaining royalty is when I was asked to perform in recital on May 3, 2019, before an assemblage of many American and British dignitaries and the living descendants of Sir Winston Churchill, held at the Church of St. Mary, Aldermanbury, which is a Christopher Wren church. Sadly, that London church was bombed to bits in the Second World War, but it was painstakingly reconstructed back to its original opulence on the American university campus of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri during the 1960s. At the banquet dinner on that weekend in May 2019, celebrating the 50th year since the opening of the Churchill Museum, I was seated at the same table as one of Sir Winston’s granddaughters.
You are also an ‘instrument designer’. How do you go about designing and instrument and what sort of things make for a good design?
Ergo-dynamics is the keyword in a fine organ console. One must be able to reach all of the stops, keyboards, pedals and other controls without strain, even if one is shorter than average. We’ve come a long way from the days of the wind-pumped pipe organs.
One instrument you have created is the ‘ORGAMUSE’ – could you tell us a little about that?
With my parents as show-business people, I’ve could not help having a penchant for the flamboyant. The ORGAMUSE is an open-frame organ console, with a translucent and light-up pedalboard, and designed to be front and center on stage. The design offers maximum visibility of the organist’s footwork on the pedalboard, from every viewing angle.
You are also a composer; do you have a particular favourite piece that you have composed?
How does one choose a favorite child or grand-child? It is like that with my compositions, in that I love them all! While I have no original compositions on my program at Bradford Cathedral, I am playing two of my embellished arrangements of well-known tunes at Bradford, and in the following Monday at the Leeds Int’l Organ Fesitval, I’ll be playing one of my earliest original organ works, from 1989.
You have done many things over your career, from hosting on television to producing music. What have you most enjoyed or been most proud of?
As much as I enjoy performing, it is the role of educator that will likely be my legacy. My 1990s TV series, Midnight Pipes, which is available free of charge now on-line, takes the pipe organ to an infinitely large audience, and it aims to dispel the mysteries behind the pipe organ as a musical instrument. My work as an organ competition adjudicator is also gratifying, as many of the youngsters to whom I’ve given critical-but-constructive comments have gone on to forge fine professions as organists. About 6 years ago, the American Guild of Organists commissioned me to host a series of 30 on-line lessons for adult pianists who wish to transition with success to the pipe organ. The future of the pipe organ is best assured when we encourage fine keyboard players to also become fine organists.
Finally, how would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
It should be a quick, but lovely hour!
You can join us on Wednesday 14th June at 1pm for Frederick Hohman’s organ recital, with an optional £4 buffet lunch beforehand at 12:30pm. You can find out more about him on his website and Facebook page.
You can discover more about our organ recital season on our dedicated page