The organ at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Roswell is a Baroque-style tracker organ built by the Bedient Pipe Organ Company in Nebraska. A tracker organ has mechanical linkage between the keys and pipe valves, so for the musician the key pressure changes as stops are added or subtracted. (Timothy P. Howsare Photo)
By Shannon Seyler
Special to the Record
The pipe organ at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Roswell is a unique instrument, one that has long been entrusted to the capable hands of Cleis Jordan, a professional organist with 59 years of experience.
Such a complex instrument requires the expertise of a highly skilled musician. Jordan holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from Northwestern University, and a Master of Arts degree in organ performance from the University of Houston.
“For a small church in a small town, we are doubly-blessed,” says Janet Macaluso, choir director at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. “Not only do we have a unique and beautiful organ, but we have an amazingly skilled and knowledgeable person to play it for us every week of the year. Cleis is one-of-a-kind.”
Jordan is always glad to discuss and promote pipe organ music. Describing the St. Andrew’s organ, Jordan says, “this Baroque style tracker organ was built by the Bedient Pipe Organ Company in Nebraska. It has two keyboards and a full pedalboard. There are a variety of musical tones and textures, from soft flutes to bombastic, reedy trumpets.
“The organ pipes are located in a beautiful handmade wooden case directly above the console, and require one pipe for each note in each family of sounds on the organ. As a result, there are hundreds of pipes in the case.”
Because Jordan is concerned about organ music, she can’t help but lament its decline.
“The cost of a pipe organ and its upkeep are beyond the reach of many churches,” she says, “so they’ve chosen electronic organs or other resources, including guitars, amplified pianos and instruments, bands and recorded music. Also, the newer congregational hymnbooks use simple tunes and contemporary language to appeal to the masses, with music more adaptable to piano or guitar accompaniment. There has also been a de-emphasis in schools on music education. This has hurt not only church music, but attendance at symphonies and other classical venues.”
A Lincoln resident since 1981, Jordan has a pipe organ in her home.
“I have a small two keyboard and full pedalboard Holtkamp pipe organ, the ‘Martini’ model. The pipes are in a case partially enclosed by glass directly in front of the console. There are metal pipes as small as a tiny pencil, to the largest pipes, which are wood and 12 feet long.”
Jordan has played for many churches, including the First Baptist Church of Salt Lake City, Utah, Transfiguration Episcopal Church in Evergreen, Colo., the First Presbyterian Church of Huntsville, Ala., the First Baptist Church of Berkeley, Calif., and the First Congregational Church of Houston, Texas. And despite having retired twice, she’s served off and on as the organist at St. Andrew’s for the past 20 years.
Jordan’s career serves as testimony to the fact that it’s possible to play the organ not merely as a hobby, but as a professional vocation.
“Full-time career opportunities still exist in the form of organist and choral director positions. One can also teach organ, voice, and/or piano to supplement one’s income.”
But church music isn’t the only possibility.
“An electronic organist can play in rock and pop bands, although that’s completely different from the classical style,” Jordan said.
“Occasionally, one finds a pizza parlor hiring an organist for their Wurlitzer pipe organ, which may have come out of some theater.
“Roswell has the good fortune to have one in the Pearson Auditorium at the New Mexico Military Institute.”
Jordan said she knows of an organist who also does recitals, recordings and TV documentaries.
“She’s the full-time organist for the city of San Diego, but such jobs are rare. If one has a doctorate in organ performance, there are university teaching opportunities, but that demand has declined in conjunction with the changes happening in the churches,” Jordan said.
When asked about her favorite organ compositions, Jordan says, “I have numerous favorite compositions, but am really drawn to the music of J.S. Bach, Buxtehude, and Jean Langlais, as well as some 20th-century American composers like Leo Sowerby and Wilbur Held.”
She has advice for aspiring pipe organists.
“Have a solid background in piano first. Then find a teacher who’s been trained as an organist, because the technique is different. Listen to recordings from pipe organs around the world, and attend organ concerts. Have a passion for playing the instrument, because if you pursue this field, you might need to supplement your modest income.”
Jordan also has some thoughts about how to popularize organ music among youth.
“Exposure to organ music would be a good start, including listening to recordings. Re-instituting daily music programs in the schools from kindergarten through high school would help create an interest in quality music,” Jordan said.
If children are raised in an environment that includes music, there will come a desire to hear and participate in all kinds of music, including the organ — the king of instruments, Jordan said.
“Educators and the public have forgotten the great value of the arts for both individuals and society. Studies indicate that music education is not only good for the soul, but for the brain and well-being. It’s truly something that can be valued and enjoyed for a lifetime.”