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The pipe organ in my living room


Pipe organ music is one of the great pleasures of life
Donald Knuth Scientist
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My father was a church organist and he was... in fact the day I was born he was called to the hospital from the... from the church service. And... and the... part of the training of a Lutheran schoolteacher is also to... is also with music and he's... he's quite good at music. He played in the Chicago World's Fair, he... he gave a recital in the... in the '30s... in 1934, whatever the year was, he gave several recitals I have programs of and I inherited some of his organ music. When I was young I studied piano and... but my... my piano teacher also knew something about the organ so when I was 12 years old I... I had a year of organ lessons instead of piano lessons, and so I learned a little bit about the instrument at that time. I met E Power Biggs, he came to Milwaukee to give a concert that year. I sat in... I rode in the car with him to the recital actually. I didn't know how famous a man he was, but he was the man who brought organ music, you know, to... to recording in America. And, so... so that was it though, I went back to piano, in high school I was playing the piano with the... accompanying the band. In... in fraternity... I... all the parties I was... I was playing piano and we would sing a lot of songs, mostly Broadway shows, tunes. And I enjoyed playing the piano, you know, it took me... we... for example when we went to Norway for my first time away, instead of renting a TV set we rented a piano and... and Jill and I played four hands music with each other every night. So I've always liked piano but in... in the 1960s when I'm at Caltech, somebody... we were... we were singing in the choir and... and somebody called me on Saturday and said, 'Don, our organist and choir director has just come down with a detached retina in... in his... and he's in the hospital.  Is it true that you took organ lessons once when you were a teenager and can you fill in at tomorrow's service?' So I... I went to the church and I... and I tried to remember how to play and... and on Sunday I played the service and then, at that time, in order to recover from a detached retina, you had to sit still for some... for some months with your head in... sort of rigid while the thing was healing, that was the way they did it. So for the next six months I was the organist of a church there. In Pasadena there was a great tradition of fine organ... fine organ playing.  A man named Clarence Mader had... and many of his students were in the churches around there so they had some... some of the best in the country actually at... at the time. And so I... I started attending recitals of... of organists.  They also invited the... the best organists from the east to this chapter of the... of the American Guild of Organists so... and I... I began to realize that there's a lot of really great literature for the organ. It would be... so... so I met a few people who... who had organs in their home and I, kind of thought that was a cool thing. So when I had my... when I had my year in Princeton a... a large number of the best organists in the country were headquartered in Princeton and I had heard some of them in Pasadena while... while I was there so I took classes at Westminster Choir College where these people were associated in... in Princeton. I audited the classes, I found it was kind of strange as a full professor going back to taking lessons again where... where somebody would tell me what to do, this was... this was quite a come down for... for somebody who'd been used to being king of the [sic]... but anyway I... I was... I... I had an excellent teacher in... in Princeton and... and she gave me lots of... of good music to... that I could... that I could begin to learn. So the idea was planted in me that pipe organ music is... is one of the great pleasures of life.

Born in 1938, American computing pioneer Donald Knuth is known for his greatly influential multi-volume work, 'The Art of Computer Programming', his novel 'Surreal Numbers', his invention of TeX and METAFONT electronic publishing tools and his quirky sense of humor.

Listeners: Dikran Karagueuzian

Trained as a journalist, Dikran Karagueuzian is the director of CSLI Publications, publisher of seven books by Donald Knuth. He has known Knuth since the late seventies when Knuth was developing TeX and Metafont, the typesetting and type designing computer programs, respectively.

Tags: Milwaukee, Broadway, Norway, Caltech, Pasadena, American Guild of Organists, Princeton University, Westminster Choir College, E Power Biggs, Jill Knuth, Clarence Mader

Duration: 4 minutes, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008