Organists rarely make a living just playing the organ; most make a career by doing a variety of different things. Jared Jacobsen plans to find humor in this with this week’s Tallman Organ recital.
The recital will be at 12:15 p.m. Monday in the Hall of Christ, instead of on Tuesday, because there will be a community band concert during its usual timeslot. The recital’s theme is called “An Organist’s Survival Kit.”
Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, said people used to commission organists to write short pieces for their household musical clocks. The organ is unique because it’s a mechanical instrument, similar to a clock, but it also makes art.
“Because it’s a mechanical gadget, there’s always been an interest in how the gadgetry part of this works,” Jacobsen said. “It was kind of a given that an instrument that was so dependent on mechanical gears of wires and things would be first cousin to a clockwork mechanism, so there’s been an interesting parallel track in the organ world [and] musical clocks.”
At his recital today, Jacobsen will play two “little miniature pieces” that were originally written for household clocks: “Fantasy for Musical Clock” by Mozart and “Suite for Musical Clock” by George Frideric Handel.
One of his favorite pieces of the recital is “Sheep May Safely Graze” by Johann Sebastian Bach, and it comes with a backstory. Apparently, Bach was hired to be the organist for a wealthy family, but tried to sneak his way into more money by getting the even wealthier duke next door to hire him. He wrote the duke this piece for his daughter’s birthday party, hoping to end up with a higher-paying job.
Jacobsen said Bach’s plan backfired, and he ended up without either job because of it. But regardless, “Sheep May Safely Graze” became beloved by choirs all over Europe, and today remains Jacobsen’s favorite road trip tunes: He sings it every time he sees a sheep.
The Tallman recital will end with a piece Mozart originally wrote for a glass harmonica, an instrument based off the playing of musical drinking glasses, and beloved by Benjamin Franklin. Jacobsen said he likes to play pieces on the organ that were originally written for other instruments.
“You can get a sense of the flavor of the piece, and sort of match that with the verbal description of its original origin,” Jacobsen said. “So I think there’s value in doing this [concert].”