Sunday, at the Community of Christ Temple, in Independence, MO, Nick Mourlam rattled the timbers and tested ears for the softest, highest, loudest and lowest sounds that the mighty Temple organ can produce. An organ performance graduate of the University of Kansas and pursuing a Master of Sacred Music degree at the University of Notre Dame; he is planning auditions to pursue a doctorate, directly after graduation.
The standard Sunday audience and the assemblage of Mourlam's friends, supporters and family were seated in the ideal listening area, center, just behind the horizontal entry aisle. Mr. Mourlam, assisted by Ted Stewart, gave some initial comments about the organ and what the music to be heard would demonstrate of the magnificent instrument and the development of musical styles. Mr. Stewart is a staff organist at the Community of Christ Headquarters, Director of Music at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Kansas City, and Education Chair for the Kansas City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists; his major job Sunday was to provide information about the 102 rank, 5685 pipe Casavant organ. Questions abounded.
The first piece on the program was the Buxtehude (1637-1707) Toccata in D Minor, BuxWV 155. Mr. Mourlam used a great number of sounds, calling on pedal responses and repetitions of themes in the hands. During its approximately seven and a half minutes, many skills and capabilities of the organist and organ were displayed. Active pedal work, the organ active as a full orchestra, soloist, alternating with another solo voice and full orchestra.
Georg Böhm's (1661-1733) Vater unser im Himmelreich was the first piece to use that chorale as a cantus firmus. It begins with an ornamented statement of the chorale, and variations to represent Martin Luther's hymn, taking a little under five minutes. The tune is possibly by Johann Walter, with Luther's input.
The inventions by Böhm were quite varied for the time, but Felix Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) Sonata No. 6 in D Minor is a full four movement concert piece, again with an ornamented cantus firmus in "I. Chorale," but building to a complicated "IV. Fuga," using an augmented bass melody in the pedals as the other parts play faster contrapuntal statements in the upper octaves; challenging for the organist, but inspiring for the audience.
The audience was then given the opportunity to discuss the music with Misters Mourlam and Stewart, leading to a visit by many to the organ console for a demonstration of the various kinds and characters of sounds, particularly the differences in similar instruments: several flutes, trumpets, etc.
Following the informal conversation, Mr. Mourlam played Sonata VI in G Major by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) BWV 530 and Fantasia chromatica a 4, SwWV 258 by the Dutch composer, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621) the latter requiring only supporting pedal playing due to the instruments available in Sweelinck 's day.
Many in the audience have been following Mr. Mourlam's musical progress for several years; he will play a recital this fall on The Gabriel Kney organ at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City.