Organ Vespers 2021 Returns In-Person and Celebrates 25 years of Christmas concerts for the Community
Organist Tandy Reussner and Friends Organ Vespers 2021
Annual event celebrates 25 years
For 25 years, Organist Tandy Reussner and Friends have provided a free Christmas concert for the Lawrence community, raising awareness of the versatility of the pipe organ, celebrating the holiday season with fun, nostalgic and traditional music of Christmas, and raising tens of thousands of dollars in donations to benefit local non-profit organizations.
Beloved Event Returns In-Person
“After being “virtual” last year due to the COVID19 pandemic, it is wonderfully exciting to be live again this year, and we will celebrate our 25th year in a glorious way,” said organizer and organist Tandy Reussner, D.M.A. Last year’s video concert was compiled and edited by Reussner, and features a look back over the previous Organ Vespers concerts, beginning in 1996 at Bales Organ Recital Hall attached to the Lied Center on KU’s West Campus, and continuing in 2011 at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence for the past ten years. The video is available for viewing even now on Youtube, (search for “Organ Vespers 2020 with Tandy Reussner and Friends”). This year’s concert will feature the magnificent three-movement work, Gloria, by John Rutter. Joining Reussner will be the Staley (MO) High School Chamber Choir, the Vespers Brass and Tracy Resseguie, directing. Also on the program is the premiere of a song written by Reussner for the 25th anniversary, entitled, “The Whole World is Better When We Sing,” and will feature a virtual duet combined with an in-person Vespers Choir accompanied by the organ.
Over the years, Dr. Reussner has presented a concert of Christmas organ music with a variety of instrumentalists, vocalists, and choral groups based on a specific family-friendly theme for that year. Past themed concerts include: Christmas Pipes, Christmas Through the Eyes of a Child, Christmas In The World, and the Joys of Christmas. This year’s theme is Gloria.
“The musicians we bring together – the soloists (both vocal and instrumental), and the ensembles of brass, or strings, or voices have all added to the wonder and excitement of this concert,” said Reussner. Favorites over the years have included the Medical Men’s Choir of Lawrence, (a group of male healthcare workers who love to sing) and its counterpart, the Women In Healthcare Choir; Chip Buckner as the Grinch who narrated a creative “12 days of Christmas;” the Vespers String Quartet who played Reussner’s arrangement of The Nutcracker Suite for strings and organ; violinist Shan-Ken Chien; and the Reussners’ two daughters, Liesel and Hannah, to name a few.
Lawrence Community Benefits From Concert
The annual concert has been the Reussner family’s gift to the community, with a caveat: they hope the community will, in turn, be generous and donate to local non-profit organizations who lend a hand to help others in need. “The community of Lawrence does a really good job of caring for those in our midst who are hurting or struggling, so it is not difficult to raise the money for local organizations such as Family Promise of Douglas County, KU International Friends, Blue Santa, or the Helping Hands Fund at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.” This year’s designated beneficiary will be the Lawrence Winter Shelter Fund through the Douglas County Community Foundation. The goal of the Lawrence Winter Shelter (LWS) is to provide a safe, warm, peaceful space for people without housing to stay overnight this winter. With the Lawrence Community Shelter at capacity, the LWS will open on nights the temperatures are below freezing. Reussner will make available ways to donate to this fund at this year’s Organ Vespers concert.
It’s About The Organ, Too
But the concert is not only about ringing in the season with beloved Christmas tunes, nor is it solely about raising money for the community. Reussner, who has three degrees in Organ Performance - including her doctorate - and who studied organ for a year in Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship, has a passion for raising awareness about the beauty and versatility of the pipe organ. “I entered KU’s Organ Performance program (decades ago!) as a pianist who had never played the organ before. I knew nothing about the organ, and when I was accepted to the program, my organ professor and mentor James Higdon, took me under his wing, laid out the educational path for me, and off I went. I found much of the pipe organ world to be absolutely wonderful, and yet I was noticing that the general public had a fairly limited view of pipe organs. Organs were often thought of as meant only for weddings, funerals, or traditional church services, or it was an instrument meant only to provide drama, like at Halloween, or in Phantom of the Opera. Those are all good things, in and of themselves. But I am always looking for ways to enhance the perceptions and extend organ repertoire.” Thus, Reussner has made a concerted effort to choose music for her Vespers audiences that is family-friendly, is compatible with today’s typical attention span, and is familiar to audiences, in either the harmonies of the pieces, or by providing music that lets them “see their doctor up there singing along with the organ.” Often, she transcribes music herself that was written originally for other instruments. She also stations cameras on her feet and at the organ console so that audiences members can see her play up close. And, Reussner makes a point of giving spoken program notes between pieces of her concert, explaining what she will play next and what to listen for, either in a repeated theme, or for a part of the organ that will resemble a specific orchestral instrument. “The pipe organ – a really good one – is a ‘one-man-band,’ so to speak. I can play all the instruments of the orchestra from my fingertips and with my feet! Sure, we now have technology available that most any digital keyboard can replicate the same sounds, but the pipe organ is real, not virtual. The pipes have been molded out of specific alloys of metal or wood to create a flute sound, for instance, or a violin sound. Specific reeds are inserted into the metal pipes to create the sound of a trumpet, or an oboe.” Reussner continued, “This is all very organic, very real, and is much different than listening to something digitally produced. The pipe organ is a masterful piece of centuries-old art and technology; there’s just nothing quite like it. And I want everyone to experience the joy I get when playing it.”
Organ Vespers 2021 will be held Sunday, December 12, at 5 pm at First Church Lawrence, (previously known as First United Methodist Church) at 946 Vermont Street, in downtown Lawrence, KS. No tickets are required, but Reussner recommends that you consider the safety of all involved by being vaccinated and masking up. Live streaming will be available for those unable to attend.
Organ Vespers 2021
Organist Tandy Reussner and Friends
Sunday, Dec. 12, 5 pm
First Church, Lawrence
946 Vermont St, Lawrence, KS