NPC staff in focus: Paul Vander Weele
Meet NPC Organist Paul Vander Weele in his own words:
Let me start by telling you some things about me you may know, but probably don’t. I started piano lessons at age six and organ lessons at age 12. I began playing for church services in my home church, Third Reformed Church in Kalamazoo MI (talk about strict Calvinists!) at 13.
For my college training, I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the Eastman School of Music and received a Bachelor of Music. I studied with David Craighead -- probably the finest organist I have ever heard. While in Rochester, I was assistant organist at Asbury Methodist Church, a large beautiful church on East Avenue just down the street from the George Eastman mansion. I was the assistant to my teacher’s wife, Marian Craighead, and she taught me how to play for a church service.
I played a concerto with the Eastman Philharmonia ("Symphonie Concertante" by Joseph Jongen), with Walter Hendl conducting (Hendl was appointed the Eastman Director following Howard Hanson, and was formerly an assistant conductor for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra). After Eastman, I went to Northwestern University for a Master of Music degree, studying with Karel Paukert, and playing recitals in Millar Chapel and Lutkin Hall.
At both of these schools, I took classes in accompanying, which have served me well. I had always been a good sight-reader, but these classes increased those skills and gave me the sensitivity to be able to work with singers, instrumentalists, and choirs. While at Northwestern, the professor of accompanying, Laurence Davis, sent me to do something he had done many times before -- play for a internationally known tenor of that generation, Richard Tucker, for a WTTW auction.
That appearance on television was a highlight for me. In the early 1990s. I played for Donald Kaasch, a tenor from Colorado, who was getting degree at Northwestern, and in the school at Lyric Opera. When I met him, he had already sung a very large role at the opening of Opera Bastille in Paris. My task was to coach him in the title role of "The Voyage of Edgar Allen Poe." After that he sang many lead roles internationally.
While I was his coach, I went to hear him sing in Wozzeck by Alban Berg, conducted by Daniel Barenboim at the Chatelet in Paris. While at the Chatelet, Don and I met for a coaching session on some other roles he was singing, in the studio of Barenboim, whom I met there. I would say he was a fine opera conductor and an even better pianist, with no taste in clothes.
I was appointed organist for North Shore Congregation Israel, Glencoe in 1972, and have been there ever since. A list of church organist positions follows: First Presbyterian in Evanston for one year; Glenview Community Church for eight years; Elgin First United Methodist for ten years; First United Methodist in Crystal Lake for three years; and Northminster for almost 18 years. I also play for choral department rehearsals and concerts at Libertyville High School.
Essentially, my job description at Northminster is to play for church services, working with the director of music and accompanying the choir and soloists. I think the most important thing I do in the service is leading the congregation in the singing of hymns.
Along with a good sing-able tempo, I believe one has to breathe with the congregation and pay close attention to the punctuation in the text. When I was on a vacation in New York City some years ago, my former teacher(s), David and Marian Craighead were playing an organ duet concert at Riverside Church. They invited me to hear them practice. During a break in their practicing, Ms. Craighead asked me if I would like to play something. The organ is a twin of the organ at Mormon Tabernacle. I played "The Church's One Foundation" and Mrs. Craighead told me I played the hymn like a true Methodist. I was honored that she said that, and I hope I have transferred that to true Presbyterian.
Of course, I do like to play the other service music -- accompaniments, preludes, and postludes. Sometimes I like to challenge my ears and those of the congregation with new and/or different music. I work closely with our vocal quartet, meeting with them monthly, doing concerts with them this past spring at Presbyterian Homes and this summer at Northminster.
I think Northminster is very fortunate in having a tradition of fine music throughout its history. I like to think that tradition continues today, and believe a big part of this is the director of music and the organist. But, a large part of the excellent choral singing is due to our professional quartet. Not only are they wonderful singers, but I believe the volunteers in the choir sing and sight-read better because of the leadership and confidence they receive from the quartet.