Friday, January 28, 2022     Volume: 22, Issue: 48

Santa Maria Sun / Music

The following article was posted on January 26th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 47 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 47

Organist Thomas Joyce to perform century-spanning concert for Santa Ynez series


The organ is a beast of an instrument. Several ranks of keyboards stacked on one another, dozens of stops, and the large floor pedals are all wrestled under the fingers and feet of musicians like Thomas Joyce.

As the featured performer for the Santa Ynez Valley Classical Music Series, Joyce will perform organ classics from the 16th century to the Romantic era on Jan. 27. He’s been practicing with the organ at St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church for weeks, he told the Sun, getting to know the instrument.

The Santa Ynez Valley Classical Music Series features organist Thomas Joyce on Jan. 27 performing a program of music from the 16th century to the Romantic era.

Joyce is a doctor of musical arts and is the minister of keyboard music at Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara. He also teaches at Westmont College and accompanies on piano at Santa Barbara City College. He explained that every organ is different, depending on the church and build of the instrument.

“A pipe organ, there’s nothing digital about it. Everything that is heard is acoustic and produced from the generation of wind being sent into the pipes at a certain pressure,” he said. “I just love the instrument for that, that it’s a kind of living breathing organism, and the organ is working very hard for the organist.”

Organists are faced with a wide variety of options at the keyboards. Rows of stops are used to change the character of the organ’s many voices, transforming the sound of the instrument in moments.

Joyce said that the orchestration that organists arrange when pulling stops is called registration. How organists compose the color of the registers is an art form unto itself, he said.

“That sound can develop throughout the piece itself,” he explained. “In order to do that at the organ, you have to press a lot of buttons along the way, and those buttons are called pistons and they’ll change instantly the orchestration, the timbre of the organ can change, and also the dynamic of the organ can change very quickly.”

The program includes works by various great composers of the classical tradition like William Byrd, Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and Frank Bridge. Composers like Byrd date back to the simple organs of the Renaissance, whereas the works of the French romantics were made for much more sophisticated instruments.

“A lot of the music I’m playing is written for organs with three manuals or keyboards, or four, a much larger instrument,” he said. “So it’s a particular challenge to play some of that big repertoire on a small organ.”

Catch the concert
The Santa Ynez Valley Classical Music Series presents an organ concert by Thomas Joyce on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. at St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church, 2901 Nojoqui Ave., Los Olivos. Cost is $20, $10 for students. More info: (805) 688-4454 or

Every organ is different, Joyce explained, from larger organs in grander churches to the smaller instruments of more humble sanctuaries.

The organ at St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley is a small one, with only two manuals and 22 ranks of pipes, he said. He is already acquainted with the organ at St. Mark’s, and has been practicing with it in anticipation of the concert.

“The trick is finding ways to make a small instrument—like at St. Mark’s in Los Olivos—sound a lot bigger than it is,” he said. “And that’s something I love to do. There’s not a lot of organ there at St. Mark’s, but what is there is very high quality, a very well built instrument, and so it’s been a lot of fun to get to know it.”

Managing Editor Joe Payne can’t play with his feet, yet. Contact him at

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