On a Sunday in mid-May, I went to the weekly organ recital at Westminster Abbey in London. On a Sunday three weeks later, I went to hear a trio on fiddle, drums, and guitar play Nordic, Celtic, and Old-time music at the Apostolic Lutheran Church in Embarrass, Minnesota. I do not have a religious bone in my body. I enter houses of worship for weddings and funerals if I must and of my own free will for music.
Both Sundays I was lifted by the music and touched by the people who made it.
The churches could not be more different, one renowned by millions, the other beloved by a few hundred, one a majestic, massive 800-year-old Gothic cathedral in the throbbing heart of London, the other a simple century-old white frame church in the hushed woods of northern Minnesota. Each in its own way offers acoustical space where music soars.
The musicians were superficially different. They were playing different instruments: a soaring, immovable 94-stops-5-manual pipe organ built in 1937 for the coronation of King George VI versus portable troubadour instruments. And they were playing different genres: classical works by George Frideric Handel versus the music trove of country people and the working class, farmers, miners, merchants, teachers, traders, sailors, soldiers, fisher folk—one piece was the haunting Finnish waltz Metsakukkia.
They are, however, deeply alike in their tenacity and talent and willingness—call it a gift if you will—to make and share music. They are equals in another way that is significant to me. I am wary of fame as it manifests in the hothouse of 21st-century media and culture. They are not famous and their lack of fame bears no relationship to the degree of their talent. They do possess rich orbits of friends, family, loved ones, colleagues, students, fans, followers, and fortuitous listeners who, like me, are lifted by their music. I contend their achievement is better than fame.
Here are their names: Matthew Jorysz, assistant organist at Westminster Abbey, and the members of the trio Whirled Muse, violinist Eli Bissonett, percussionist Robin Anders, and guitarist Joey Kenig, who play as a group and solo mainly around northern Minnesota. I want to thank them for the music I chanced upon in two churches on two continents on two perfect summer Sundays.