Michael T. C. Hey is a member of the new generation of organists; Millennials? The brilliant organists of this generation combine old-world pedagogy and ability to communicate King of the Instruments to general population.
Michael T. C. Hey serves as Associate Director of Music and Organist at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. He recently won first prize in the Shanghai Conservatory First International Organ Competition. He is an international concert organist who is represented in North America exclusively by Phillip Truckenbrod Concert Artists, LLC.
Below are some Question and Answer between Joe Vitacco and Michael T. C. Hey.
When did you start playing organ?
From my earliest childhood memories, I recall my family consistently arriving late for church and sneaking in the door behind the organist and pianist. We’d sit in a pew there and I’d watch in awe. After church, we would all go to my grandparents’ house for lunch, where I’d unearth the Yamaha keyboard in their spare bedroom and plunk out the melodies of hymns I had heard earlier in the day. Several years later, in elementary school music class, I was assigned to write a report on Frederic Chopin. I fell in love with his music instantaneously, so when I went home that day, I turned on the electric piano and listened to Track No. 35–the Minute Waltz–over and over again until I could play it by ear. My Dad told me that if I played it for the school talent show, he’d buy me a piano bench. So I did! Soon thereafter, I was recommended a local piano teacher and started playing piano preludes for church. The music director at church recommended that I study organ with Mary Jane Wagner so I could accompany the choir for church. So I started my organ studies in sixth grade.
What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?
My three primary teachers: Paul Jacobs, Mary Jane Wagner, and my piano teacher Curtis Stotlar were my biggest influences. Without them, I couldn’t possibly be doing what I’m doing today.
What is the difference between playing liturgical or non-liturgical music?
I play about a dozen services on an average week at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I also play organ concerts and all sorts of other performances throughout the year. When playing liturgical music, the main focus of the music should be the liturgy. It’s not a time to show off how fast and loud you can play. On the flip side, an organ concert does not need to feel like church. Although there’s plenty of music–sacred and profane–that can be used in either setting, the organist must be aware of the occasion and play appropriate music that elevates the listener, whether it be a church service, concert, or what not.
How does church music influence you as a musician?
The sheer quantity and wide gamut of sacred music greatly influences my musicianship in many ways. I play sacred music day in, day out. By playing repertoire, improvisations, hymns, chant accompaniments, and anthems on a regular basis, the musicality garnered from these experiences carry into my other musical ventures, whether it piano, chamber music, or art song. Music is a language, not just a skill.
I feel like organists don’t have the opportunity to take compliments that often, especially during a church service. How do you feel about that?
When I’m up in a choir loft four stories up, far removed from the congregation or visitors downstairs, I don’t expect anyone to know where I am or acknowledge what I’m doing. Although I play the organ to fill the cathedral with beautiful music, brighten someone’s day, or enliven a liturgy, I’m not in it to get an applause or say “look at me!” I know in my heart that I may have impacted someone’s life that day, and even if it’s just one person, and that’s enough to keep me going day after day.
Michael T. C. Hey has recorded his first CD for JAV Recordings. It features repertory by Richard Wagner, Sigfrid Karg-Elert, Pierre Cochereau, Ryan Dodge, Dmitri Shostakovich, Johnathan Dove, Maurice Ravel and Max Reger.