The Dutch organist

Emma Bennett— Staff Writer

On Sept. 17, renowned Dutch organist Arjan Breukhoven came to Dordt University. He performed a concert and shared some of the European tradition of using organs to express the grandeur of the Lord and bring people to worship.

On the night of the concert, Breukhoven took a step toward connecting with his audience by standing at the doors to greet people as they came in. Between pieces, he told stories and gave context for why he chose a particular song.

His lineup ranged from Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 to the theme from Mission Impossible, to a self-arranged medley of American tunes. At the end of the concert, he received a standing ovation.

Hailing from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Breukhoven is known for his technique and skill in improvising. He received a medal from the Society of Arts and Sciences in Paris in 2014 and recognition in the name of the King of the Netherlands in 2020. He knew of Dordt because of its prevalent Dutch population, and has distant relatives who live in Pella and parts of Northwest Iowa.

Breukhoven became acquainted with the Dordt alumni choir, specifically Director Ryan Smit, when they performed for the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dordrecht. He has performed once before at Dordt, and had set dates for a second tour in 2019, but COVID-19 delayed his return.

In a further effort to connect with the Dordt student body, Breukhoven held a master class for music majors and minors to learn about improvisation on the organ. The organ is a complex instrument, making it a daunting medium for experimentation.

Breukhoven emphasized the art of improvisation and showed his listeners what they needed was repertoire, literature, and lots of practice. He gave examples of historical pieces he studied to improve his technique (citing specifically the Chorale Partitas by Pachelbel) and demonstrated the tips he shared by playing over the film The Phantom of the Opera.

“As a musician, I was never taught much about improvising and I think it should be taught more,” Music Education Major Karli Vanden Brink said. “It encourages creativity and flexibility.”

According to Carrie Groenewold, associate professor of music, some organ students have showed more interest in practicing improvisation during their lessons.

“The organ in essence is like an orchestra and do things that an orchestra can do because of the wide spectrum of sound. So that makes it kind of exciting,” Groenewold said.

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