William Roslak began learning the pipe organ when he was just 11 years old.
It was a unique hobby his friends at Southold High School supported, but as he got older,
Mr. Roslak, now 25, rarely got the chance to meet other young adults who also played the imposing instrument.
“People have this preconceived notion that all organists are old,” he said, adding that it’s difficult for organists on Long Island to meet because the area is geographically so large.
So when Mr. Roslak, now an associate director of music at St. Louis De Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach, was among seven young organists invited to the “Rising Stars” recital presented by the Suffolk County chapter of the American Guild of Organists, he jumped at the chance. And as luck would have it, another performer, 13-year-old Juliet Rand, didn’t just share his love of the pipe organ. She also shared his hometown of Southold — and his pipe organ teacher, Ann Welcome of Cutchogue.
“It’s nice to see that the torch is still being passed along, especially in my hometown,” Mr. Roslak said.
On Nov. 13, Mr. Roslak and Juliet performed on the “mighty Casavant organ” at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City in a recital intended to highlight talented young organists and encourage their training, according to the organization.
This week, Juliet said she, like her mother, Heather Rand, has always loved music, especially singing. A few years ago, she had the chance to perform at a First Communion Mass at her church, St. Patrick’s in Southold. The pianist there was so impressed, he offered to let her come sing any Sunday she wanted.
Juliet said she’d be there the following week.
At his suggestion, Juliet began taking piano lessons to better perform during the services. About a year ago, the eighth-grader — who also dances and plays violin — picked up the organ. She said she fell in love with the instrument immediately after playing “Away in a Manger” for the first time.
“It fills the church with beautiful music,” she said. She also likes the movement involved in playing the organ; her hands pull and push at buttons to evoke new sounds and her feet glide over the foot pedals to activate the deep bass notes.
“It’s like dancing,” Juliet said. “Sometimes you just want to get up and move around a little bit.”
Her mother said the organ has a spiritual resonance as well. “God is in the church when the organ starts playing,” Ms. Rand said.
Until recently, Juliet practiced on the organ at Mattituck Presbyterian Church. But over the summer, the Rand family decided to look into buying an instrument of their own.
“When we saw how much joy it brought her, [her grandparents] and I … said, ‘What the heck. Let’s see what’s out there,’” Ms. Rand said. The family found an electric Allen organ that a church had recently sold to a music shop. From the moment Juliet played it, they knew it was the one to buy.
Now, Juliet practices every day and mostly keeps the volume low, her mother said. But as she prepared for the “Rising Stars” concert, she cranked up the volume; the floor would rattle as she played, Ms. Rand recalled.
“It can get pretty loud,” she said.
Juliet said she’s the only one of her friends to learn the pipe organ.
“It’s kind of nerdy,” she joked. “[My friends] say it’s kinda cool. Then I’ll play something and they’ll say, ‘Whoa!’ ”
Juliet had previously earned a $400 scholarship from the American Guild of Organists to help pay for lessons. As a result, she had the chance to play in the “Rising Stars” event. Juliet said she wasn’t nervous playing in front of a crowd and was impressed by the other organists’ skill.
“Most of the other people who played were playing Bach pieces and all these [complicated songs],” she said. “You can definitely tell they’ve been playing for a long time.”
Mr. Roslak studied the pipe organ for more than a decade during his journey toward becoming a professional music educator and organist. He is also director of the Corchaug Singers, a semi-professional choral group that performs a yearly holiday concert on the East End. This year, it will take place Friday, Dec. 23, at 7 p.m. at Our Lady of Ostrabrama R.C. Church in Cutchogue.
He came away from the recital impressed by Juliet’s performance, especially considering she’s been studying for only a year.
“It’s a pretty hard instrument to play,” Mr. Roslak said. “I thought she did really well … She actually was one of the best out of all the kids.”
The two caught up at the performance and took photos together. Mr. Roslak offered Juliet some advice: Listen to Ms. Welcome and practice your scales.
“Ann is pretty strict about the scales and it drove me nuts,” he joked. “Now I see how important it was. I channel my inner Ann with my own students, and I’m a lot more strict than Ann was.”
He also had a request for Juliet for when she returned to school later in the week.
“He told me to say hi to some teachers,” Juliet said, smiling.
Top caption: Juliet Rand plays the organ at church. (Credit: Paul Squire)