Program Gives Students Some Keys to the Organ

With music instruction diminishing in the public schools, local musical organizations continue to find ways to take up some of the slack. This year, the Spreckels Organ Society is sponsoring biweekly performances on the Balboa Park organ for fifth-graders. According to San Diego civic organist Robert Plimpton, these outreach concerts were designed to fit into the San Diego Unified School District’s program of providing all fifth-grade students with a weeklong exposure to Balboa Park’s museums and other cultural institutions.

On alternate Friday afternoons, Plimpton meets with 300 students and their teachers, demonstrating the unique outdoor Spreckels Organ and playing a program designed to appeal to their musical predilections. Each program lasts just under an hour. Lyle Blackinton, the organ’s curator, brings out some of the pipes from the organ chamber to show the students what they look like and how they produce their individual sounds.

“On a typical program, I’ll play Bach’s Toccata in D Minor because they have heard it and associate it with ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ I then play the end of the ‘William Tell’ Overture so I can explain a little about opera and tell them that the piece is more than the ‘Lone Ranger’ theme song,” Plimpton said.

Because movies form the youngsters’ basic shared experience, Plimpton has arranged a medley based on John Williams’ scores to “E.T.” and “Jaws.”


“I also made a big pedal solo from the ‘Star Wars’ theme. If my friends in Pennsylvania could see me now,” Plimpton quipped. Before coming to San Diego and taking the civic organist post, Plimpton was the music director of a Presbyterian church in Bryn Mawr, a Philadelphia suburb.

The fifth-graders ask Plimpton the expected questions: How much did the organ cost? How long did it take to construct it? Their comments, however, are not always as predictable.

“One student wore a flowing black cape to the program because she assumed she would be playing the park organ that day,” Plimpton said. “And another bounded up after I was finished and told me that she wanted my job when she grew up.” Undaunted by such potential competition, the civic organist will give his next demonstration at 1:30 p.m. Friday. He noted that park visitors of all ages are welcome to sit in.

To L.A. with love. Local soprano Virginia Sublett has signed another contract with Los Angeles Music Center Opera. In February, 1990, she will sing the role of Nanetta in four performances of Verdi’s “Falstaff.” She made her debut with L.A.'s bustling new company in its inaugural season’s production of Handel’s “Alcina” and returned last season to appear in Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”


Local fans of Sublett can hear her in a lieder recital at St. James Episcopal Church, La Jolla, at 4 p.m. May 7. She will be accompanied by former San Diego Opera chorus master Clay Pendergrass, who now holds a similar position at Cincinnati Opera.

They’re looking for a few good men. The Pacific Men’s Chorale is recruiting members for its May concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. The 2-year-old chorus is also offering a $300 scholarship to the winner of its young male vocalist scholarship competition, which is open to singers from the ages of 17 to 20. Interested vocalists should contact chorale director Robert Boucher (943-0106).

Have concerto, will travel. Speaking of competitions, the San Diego Symphony’s annual young artist concerto competition took place this weekend at Symphony Hall. About 21 applicants, all under the age of 19, played on Saturday, while the finalists gave a 2p.m. concert Sunday afternoon. First-place winner Lin Hong will receive a $500 cash prize and the opportunity to perform with the San Diego Symphony on its two Young Peoples’ concerts at the end of March and on the Family Concert on April 1. Hong, a 17-year-old pianist from the Peoples Republic of China, is a freshman at San Diego State University, a student of Karen Follingstad. Cellist Felix Fan, the Bishop’s School eight-grader, took second place, and pianist Hiroko Kunitake, a student at Muirlands Junior High School, won third place.

How about calling it the Chameleon Room? Although the downtown Omni Hotel’s City Colors Room regularly plays host to the popular Lites Out jazz program Monday nights, its Monday noon-hour concerts take on a significantly different hue. San Diego Mini-Concerts abandoned the Lyceum Theatre after a single season, and is now offering its classical chamber music programs above ground at the Omni.

On Monday, Mini-Concerts will present virtuoso recorder player David Bellugi, accompanied by harpsichordist Nelson Huber, in a program of Baroque recorder gems. Bellugi, a native New Yorker who now teaches at the Florence (Italy) National Conservatory, has made extensive early music recordings on European labels.