Power and Artistry: UMBC’s practice organ, donated by Dr. Charles Nicholas, makes its public debut

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If you’ve never heard organ music in person, the first thing that strikes you is the complexity of the sound that comes from within it. At a recent concert showcasing an instrument donated to UMBC by Charles Nicholas, Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, the organ’s power and artistry was on full display for a standing room-only crowd on February 10.

“I was blown away, for one thing,” said Nicholas, following the recital and historical lecture by Paula Maust, an adjunct professor in the Music Department. Maust played an array of pieces to show the range and history of what’s known as “the king of instruments,” including a piece by Frank Ferko played solely with the feet.

The instrument itself, donated in honor of the professor’s parents, Charles and Barbara Nicholas, sits in a practice studio in the Performing Arts and Humanities Building. As Music Department chair Linda Dusman told the crowd, the nation is facing a shortage of trained organists, so having an instrument on which to practice gives students an immediate leg up for employment, post graduation. (They previously had to seek out local churches for practice.)

In addition to the Ferko piece, Maust’s recital covered both sacred and secular pieces, all designed to show the organ’s versatility of sound. The organ has two keyboards: a board-full of buttons (known as “stops”) to alter the sounds made by the keys, as well as a full range of floor pedals that are played with the feet.

Dusman thanked Nicholas and his wife, telling the audience, “Dr. Nicholas’s generosity is going to make this extraordinary music available for generations of students and the communities that they’re going to serve, so thank you so much.”

Nicholas and his wife, Janice, said they enjoyed the show very much.

“I’ve been a fan of organ music all my life and I have never heard any of these pieces before, and I’m very impressed,” he said. “I’m glad that people are getting use out of this, so I’m just delighted.”

— Jenny O’Grady

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