Organist of the Month: David Uschold
My interest in the organ came at the ripe age of three. I remember trips to my grandmother's house where I played on her spinet-model Conn organ. Church also had interesting music, but more intense interest came when I was five. My family attended Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Bedford Heights. My father was in the choir, and when my mother didn't attend, my father would bring me to the choir section of the church to keep better watch of me. Behind the last row of the choir section were the shades of the swell box. I was amazed as the shades opened and closed and even more amazed with the sound that came out. From the first time I sat with the choir, I found myself eager to attend church, unusual for a five-year-old. After several months of experiencing the organ at church, I wanted to learn how to play. Unfortunately, every teacher my parents contacted wanted me to start on the piano. I remember being so upset because I thought the piano was boring and reminded me of folk songs we sang in school.
When I was seven, my family moved to Hudson. Along with all our furniture, we also moved my grandmother's Conn into our new home in hopes that I would find a teacher that would be willing to teach me. After several months my parents found Sarah Bennet, a woman who had a teaching studio at Grechni Music, which is now Steinway Hall. I was so pleased. After several months of lessons, however, I found myself bored. I did not want to play show tunes and pop music; I wanted to play church music. Finally, after much convincing and several years of lessons, Mrs. Bennet let me learn my favorite piece at the time, Trumpet Voluntary. I remember working extremely hard on the piece until it was perfect. I played the piece so well that I performed it on Easter Sunday at St. Mary's in Hudson. I was in the fourth grade then.
After my debut in the fourth grade, I played regularly, alternating between prelude and postlude. I played my first full service on Christmas Eve when I was in sixth grade. Everything I had hoped for was becoming a reality. As I excelled in my organ studies, I decided to thank Mrs. Bennet for her dedicated instruction and continue with another teacher. Teachers following were John Guliano, Gail Jennings and H. Dean Wagner, who was my teacher all through high school.
As my church music experience blossomed, I also became extremely active in the music programs in the Hudson Schools. I played trumpet in the band and later in high school in the orchestra. My most concentrated area of music was choral music. During high school I accompanied all five choirs, including a swing choir that traveled extensively. I also played for the spring musicals, daunting tasks, given the 400-page scores. While on tour with the choirs, in both Williamsburg, Virginia, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I was recognized as outstanding accompanist by the Fiestaval Invitational Competition.
Along with my school experience, I was also Director of Music at Nativity of the Lord Jesus in Akron. While at Nativity, I spent much time building the music program. When I first arrived at Nativity, the music program was one of a typical small Catholic Church, along with a Hammond B-3 on its last legs. After several months of playing at Nativity, I decided to make it a goal before I left the church to oversee the installation of a new organ. During my second year of service for the church, I, along with the parish council, started a campaign for a new organ, new rectory and church hall restorations. The campaign was a success, and on November 3rd of my last year at Nativity, I played the dedicatory recital on the new instrument. In addition to the building of the music program and the new organ, a music series was also instituted, much appreciated by the parishioners. My time at Nativity was instrumental in making my career decisions.
I had known all along throughout high school that I wanted to major in organ. I applied to four schools: The U. of Akron, The Cleveland Institute of Music, Duquesne U. and The Eastman School of Music. I was accepted to all and decided on CIM for the opportunity to study with Todd Wilson. Along with a new school, I was also going to be working at a new church. I was given several choices for my internship, and Fairmount Presbyterian, with its fine new organ and good reputation, was my choice. My first two years at Fairmount were much different than working at Nativity. In a way, I was bored, since didn't get to play as much in the services. This, however, allowed me time to practice and to concentrate on my studies at CIM. At the end of my second year, an unfortunate illness overtook the music director, who took leave. I, being his assistant, took over. At first I felt in over my head, but after a few months of doing the entire job, I became quite confident. At the end of my third year, after some unfortunate circumstances, I was appointed Interim Director of Music.
Although the situation in which I inherited the job was unusual, I must say that assuming the position at Fairmount has aided my musical growth immensely. Not only have I been able to polish my organ performance and service playing, but I have also developed choral conducting skill. In addition to Sunday anthems, I have been able to conduct larger choral works with orchestras. I have certainly benefited from my Fairmount experience.
This spring I graduate from CIM with a Bachelor of Music degree in organ performance. Following graduation, next fall I plan to attend graduate school for a Masters in organ performance. I would personally like to thank my colleagues in the Cleveland Chapter of the AGO for all their support, both moral and financial, through my four years in Cleveland. I would also like to thank the AGO for the opportunity to share with you a story of a person fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming an organist.