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A Birthday Celebration for a Very Special ‘Mama’


A Birthday Celebration for a Very Special ‘Mama’

Article by Alejandra Enciso Guzmán

Walt Disney Concert Hall organ ‘Hurricane Mama’ turns ten. An elite group of organists, each of whom has been a part of the young organs life over the past 10 years, will celebrate this Sunday November 23rd.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic rings in the 10th anniversary of the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s magnificent pipe organ ‘Hurricane Mama’ as Terry Riley dubbed it in 2008, when he gave his first recital on the instrument with a modern French fry type form, designed by Frank Gehry and surround-sound acoustic by Yasuhisa Toyota.

America’s finest city–represents- in this amazing celebration thanks to San Diego Civic Organist Dr. Carol Williams who will join the elite group of international organists, showcasing Hurricane Mama’s power, depth and versatility.

As the last true Civic Organist in the country, Carol embodies the City of San Diego’s commitment to upholding the performing arts as an enduring community legacy. Dr. Williams, has been elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music in recognition of her contributions to music. As she is the Civic Organist of the City of San Diego, she also serves as the Artistic Director of the Spreckels Organ Society, where she presents an annual summer international organ concert series on the Spreckels Memorial Organ in Balboa Park. In addition, Carol serves as Organist in Residence at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego. Offering a fresh take on the classical organ concert, weaving pop, classical and jazz selections into her artistic programs. With her signature humor, she engages audiences with fascinating anecdotes and intriguing informational tidbits, always seeking to bring the organ to new audiences.

Happy Birthday, Hurricane Mama: Pulling Out All The Stops will unfold the evening of Sunday, November 23rd, beginning at 7:30 PM, at Walt Disney Concert Hall (111 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012). “There will be 8 organists performing in this concert celebration. I feel privileged to be selected and have written a composition for the occasion named “Freedom” and is dedicated to Frank Gehry, the architect of the building and organ facade. We did a “Tour Bus” episode of the Disney Concert Hall Organ and I interviewed this wonderful man and love his free thinking. The eight organists will each contribute a different aspect to the making of a memorable evening” shared Dr. Williams who I had the opportunity to interview for Vanguard Culture. As well as her amazing role on this Sunday’s celebration, we also had a chance to talk about the notes that have been composing her melodic career…

Why (how) did you start playing piano? And, when did that transition into organ playing as well?

At age 5 I was sent to dance class but, would stand by the piano so, my lessons got changed to piano. My aunt was an organist at our local church and at 7 I decided to take on the organ.

How did your destiny come about in San Diego?

I was finishing my doctorate at Manhattan School of Music in 2001 and read about the job. I applied with 100 other applicants. I was in the final five selected to perform an audition performance at a typical Sunday concert on the Spreckels Organ and, I’ve been doing it ever since. Destiny it was. I knew this job was for me the moment I first read the advert.

Tell me about your roles as the Civic Organist of the City of San Diego and as the Artistic Director of the Spreckels Organ Society?

When I got the job in 2001 there wasn’t an actual description of my duties other than basically perform Sunday concerts @2pm for the City and find and book artists to perform in the Spreckels International Summer Organ Festival. What I have since done while growing into these positions over the years, is develop and document specific responsibilities for these jobs. A few years ago the City Council was voting on whether to keep funding the organ and my job. The City could not find an official document of my job description or qualifications for their review on voting so, they asked me if I had one. There was no description or contract. The Civic Organist job had been floating alone with no official documentation, year by year. I virtually had to write the qualifications and duties of the San Diego Civic Organist for the first time since 1914.

How do you curate the festivals?

I have always been a concert organist. This continues to coincide with the jobs I have here in San Diego. I personally know or know of the professional organists of the world. That gives me a clue as to who I want to perform here. There is a program committee but, ultimately it’s my final choice so, I either get the accolades of reward or the grumbling objections of our audience. You usually get both but, it will lean mostly one way or the other. I’ve been told that I have been doing a great job.

What would your advice be for aspiring professional musicians as yourself? Specifically piano/organ?

Remain a student. I mean that in a philosophical way. Obviously you’ll need to get out of school and get a job but, I always have a need, some kind of desire to challenge myself. Explore new musical adventures and collaborations. I love all kinds of music even though I was classically trained, I grew up being caught and scolded occasionally for playing jazz on the chapel organ. In school I was told that organists always got church jobs. Again, my destiny had me believing I would be successful going against the grain. I strive to learn new and unfamiliar music and that excites me.

A city/country you have not played in yet that you wish to?

I would like to perform in the White House.

For her featured role in the concert program, Carol will play three of her original compositions:

Freedom, Op. 12 — Dedicated to the organ’s architect Frank Gehry

Venus Toccata, Op. 9 — Dedicated to the organ’s designer Manuel Rosales

A Walk on the Wild Side — Reflecting her love of jazz organ, Carol will dedicate this piece to American Jazz sensation Jimmy Smith.

The ‘Tour Bus’ video series where Carol visits the large and small, famous and unique pipe organs of the world, its music, people and places can be seen in as well as her Facebook page and YouTube channel.

For tickets to Happy Birthday, Hurricane Mama: Pulling Out All The Stops click HERE

Vanguard Culture

Vanguard Culture is an online media entity designed for culturally savvy, socially conscious individuals. We provide original interviews and reviews of the people, places, and events that make up San Diego’s thriving arts and culture community, as well as curated snapshots of the week’s best, most inspiring and unique cultural and culinary events. We believe in making a difference in the world, supporting San Diego’s vibrant visual and performing arts community and bringing awareness to important social and community causes.

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