For most of us, the organ is that intimidating instrument we see in the Chapel at freshman orientation, but for Patrick Walker ’16, it is musical power at his fingertips. If you are in the Chapel on Friday, April 17th at 5 p.m., you will get a chance to hear Walker make the Chapel organ come alive for his Junior Recital.
A musician his whole life, Walker attributes his passion for the art to his family, who raised him with the deep appreciation for music. “I actually started playing music at a very young age because my whole family plays music. But we all did traditional Celtic and American music at that time. So I started by playing the tin whistle and I played the flute and the guitar and the bagpipes all in the Celtic folk genre,” said Walker.
Although Walker didn’t attend traditional high school, his secondary school time was spent branching out from Celtic music and exploring a new instrument. He said, “Then when I was 15 I started playing the pipe organs. That was kind of my introduction to the classical music genre.”
He continued, “I was home schooled, so in some ways it was really my musical family that was my upbringing. My oldest brother was also a student here, class of 2007 and so I would come and see him at concerts and stuff. And that was really what catalyzed my desire to do classical music.”
Having built a strong background with the organ, Walker came to Vassar ready not only to keep advancing his skills, but expand his musical repertoire as well. He was met with friends and faculty who shared his love for music, including Adjunct Artist in Music, Gail Archer, who worked with him since his freshman year. She wrote in an emailed statement, “Patrick has been a member of the organ studio since his first year at Vassar. We have worked on representative organ literature from the 17th to the 21st centuries.”
Apart from working privately with Archer, Walker advanced his skills through other musical outlets Vassar has to offer. “I’ve been doing private lessons in pipe organ with Gail Archer ever since I came here. And then freshman year I also played organ with a student-run group called Camerata during baroque and early music. Then starting my sophomore year, I’ve been conducting the orchestra. It’s kind of separate though because the organ is really in general a solo instrument and so that is mostly on my own. And then I do the conducting and also I sing in some of the choirs, so that’s kind of how I do music with other people,” he said.
Walker’s friend and fellow member of the Vassar Camerata Luke Kachelein ’15 wrote about how he met Walker through music, “Patrick lived next door to me his freshman (my sophomore) year in Davison. Despite this, I only got to know him well when we realized that we were both in the Vassar Camerata. Thereafter, our proximity and shared interest in Baroque music naturally led to our friendship.”
Walker has been able to form these friendships through the Camerata, even though his instrument begs a solo artist. He commented on this relationship, “Modfest 2014 I played organ with the orchestra because there are a couple pieces that have both. It was a piece by Charles Ives that had an organ with the orchestra, so that was fun because it is fun to be part of an ensemble rather than having to be the whole ensemble by yourself.”
Playing an instrument complex enough to be considered a whole ensemble on it’s own, Walker explained some of the organ’s intricacies, “It’s one of the more technology-based instruments there is; just because it’s so large and complex…I’m very fascinated with how much power you have at your fingertips in a way. Especially with a modern instrument that has electric relays and stuff, no matter how many stops you have on, it’s still a very light touch to the key and so it’s very exciting when you have that light touch–all the sound comes out.”
He continued, “It’s a very absorbing process to play, because you’re playing with your hands like a piano, but you’re also using your feet and then there’s another layer of interest and complexity in the registration with all the stops. You can imagine it like an orchestra and all the players, so which players you’re asking to play at a certain time.”
Kachelein also commented on the complex instrument, and Walker’s skill in maneuvering it, “Patrick is quite adventurous and determined at the keyboard, and on one occasion his determination saved him. Last year, he was scheduled to perform in an organ concert in the chapel along with several other members of the Central Hudson Valley chapter of the American Guild of Organists. However, mere weeks before the concert, he broke one of his hands! Any reasonable organist would have despondently quit, but not Patrick. He rearranged new pieces for one hand and pedals, incorporating another organist for help on only one of the pieces if I recall. It was a success.”
Apart from his skills on the organ, he has advanced his deftness in conducting through practice with the Camerata, and lessons with Lecturer in Music and Director of Orchestral Activities, Eduardo Navega. Navega commented on his experience with Walker, “He is a young conductor so he has this energy that is characteristic of young conductors, but he’s very serious…He understands that conducting and playing the organ and making music in general needs some discipline and some investment of your time and effort.”
As for Walker’s future in music, he hopes to continue and further honing his musical ability after Vassar. He said, “I would like to go on to graduate school, probably I’m going to try to get a degree in sacred music so that would be organ performance, but also choral conducting. And then I would like to eventually get a PHD and hopefully teach someday in music.”
Undoubtedly, Walker has had a successful three years at Vassar in the music department and has the support of his teachers and friends as he continues his collegiate musical career. “As a musician, Patrick is versatile, adept, and informed. He is excellent at sight-reading, understands issues of historical interpretation, and can effectively lead the Camerata orchestra,” wrote Kachelein.