The key in which a composer writes a piece is very important, according to Jared Jacobsen.
“He or she has a certain sound in their head and they want to turn that sound into dots on a page,” said Jacobsen, Chautauqua Institution’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. “We turn those dots on a page back into sound, so it’s a circle, and depending on the arrangement of the notes on that page it can be a bright sound, it can be a dark sound, it can be a whimsical sound, it can be a thoughtful sound — but the key in which you write is part of the deal.”
At 12:15 p.m. Tuesday in the Hall of Christ, Jacobsen will perform this week’s Tallman Tracker Organ recital. Themed “In a Lighter Vein,” this week’s concert will feature songs with “brighter and lighter moods,” which are largely the result of their “brighter,” major keys.
The two main temperaments that govern musical composition are major and minor keys. Although Jacobsen said a minor key doesn’t always create a dark and gloomy sound and a major key doesn’t always create a bright and fun sound, it often happens that way.
Because many organ pieces have a serious tone, Jacobsen wanted an excuse to play some “whimsical pieces,” which inspired him to have “In a Lighter Vein” as this week’s recital theme.
Jacobsen will use Johann Sebastian Bach to structure the recital, with three of his pieces ordered at its beginning, middle and end: “Pastorale,” “Fugue a La Gigue” and “Cantata” respectfully.
“Pastorale” is a three-part piece played in F major that’s relaxed and fun. Jacobsen said it’s much lighter than most of Bach’s music, as he is typically the “intricate, puzzle-making composer.”
“It’s just standing out watching a field over there with maybe some clouds going by up above and maybe some sheep grazing and maybe a snoozing dog,” Jacobsen said. “And you’re kind of snoozing yourself, because it’s a warm sunny day.”
The recital’s final piece, “Cantata” is also one of Bach’s “sunnier” works. The title of its opening movement is Sinfonia, which is an Italian word that means “symphony.”
Jacobsen said Bach’s pieces that contain Italian titles are usually lighter and more fun.
“This is one of my favorite pieces, I play it at least once a month somewhere — sometimes just for myself if I’m feeling like I need a lift,” Jacobsen said. “It is a Sinfonia that’s based on the whole idea that we thank thee God for everything that [He] has given us.”
The rest of the recital’s repertoire includes “Rondo” by Alberto Ginastera, “Rialto Ripples” by George Gershwin, “Country Gardens” arranged by Simon Lesly and “Maryette’s Song” by American organist Dick Leibert.
Although all the concert’s pieces are happy and whimsical, “Maryette’s Song” holds an especially sentimental place in Jacobsen’s heart.
Jacobsen was performing at a birthday party five years ago at Radio City Music Hall in the Rockefeller Center, a venue whose organ was originally built for Leibert. During the party, the woman whose birthday it was came to Jacobsen with a special request. The woman was Dick’s daughter, Maryette Leibert, and she asked him to play “Maryette’s Song,” which her father wrote and played for her fifth birthday party.
The piece’s score had been kept in a frame since that fifth birthday, and Maryette hadn’t heard it since. She had come to Jacobsen years later at her 80th birthday party, hoping he’d be able to play this piece she hadn’t heard in 75 years.
Maryette was so moved when she heard Jacobsen play her song that she gave him its original copy, still in her father’s handwriting. She told Jacobsen she wanted him to continue to play the song in other venues.
So Jacobsen brings “Maryette’s Song” to Chautauquans today, with teary eyes whenever he recalls its tender backstory. Its joyful sound is reflective of its young and innocent origins, and what could be “In a Lighter Vein” than that?