John Lempke – Karen Taylor

John Lempke and Karen Taylor are one of four student-composer pairs that were selected for the 2017-18 academic year. Lempke has created a work for solo, mechanical-stop-action organ, Death \Rot\ (Bach Está Muerto).

Since childhood, Lempke always found himself tinkering on different instruments, and the organ proved, for him, a great place to tinker.  Death \Rot\ is in temporal graphic notation accompanied by explanatory prose both in the preface and throughout the score. Lempke achieves his desired sound primarily by having the organist subtly manipulate the mechanical stop action while holding different keys which results in a variety of unfamiliar tones and harmonics. Lempke’s compositional philosophy centers around the idea of disruption. Though Lempke says this piece does not typify this concept, quick changes and unexpected turns in the use of the organ’s wide frequency range certainly characterize disruption. However, despite his effort to “throw something unexpected into the mix,” his pieces still develop.

Prior to this piece’s conception and execution, Lempke had almost no experience with the organ, but now he is excited to continue to experiment with the organ. Lempke enthuses that the organ “is a super powerful behemoth of an instrument that has the ability to do so many things—the organ is awesome.”

Regarding the piece’s unconventional use of partially pulled stops, Taylor gently smiles and says, “normally, when you sit down at the organ, you’re usually going to pull the knob all the way.” The primary goal of the commissioning project revolves around collaboration of student composers and organists, and Taylor proved to be an essential resource for Lempke. She was both the starting and ending point for the notation of the score. While Lempke was concerned about communicating his musical ideas accurately through abstract notation and prose, Taylor has the problem of realizing them. Without hesitation Taylor says, “technically, it is not hard to play,” but that accurately portraying abstract ideas from another person can be a real test. She cites time as the most imposing and unexpected challenge of this piece. With all the subtle registration changes, the composer and organist worked through the piece together, learning to feel time without the use of a watch which is too mechanical and restrictive. As a performer, Taylor had to learn to let go of familiar performance elements to focus on timbre and time. She says that in many ways, the specificity of this piece to the Paul Fritts instrument in the Organ Hall at ASU makes the organ an equal partner with both Lempke and herself—composer-performer-instrument.

Taylor’s thirst and energy for new knowledge is fueling her plans to pursue her DMA in organ at ASU starting in the fall of 2018. After graduating from ASU, Lempke will seek a PhD in music theory. Please explore the composer’s website and hear a recording of the piece.

Death /Rot/ (Bach Está Muerto) was premiered at Karen Taylor’s Master’s Recital, “Recital Chromatica,” on Saturday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m.