Young organist likes this instrument’s almost endless variety
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – You might not guess it to look at her, but Chelsea Vaught likes “the fast, loud, showy stuff the best.”
She’s talking about organ music, and by now she should have a pretty good idea of what’s out there. Chelsea just finished her fourth year at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan. (she will go a fifth year in order to get a degree in education along with music), and she has been playing the organ now for almost eight years.
Chelsea, the daughter of Cheryl and Rick Vaught of Henderson, started out playing piano at age seven. When Chelsea was still in 8th grade, Kathryn Goertzen, a member of the church in which Chelsea grew up, Bethesda Mennonite in Henderson, “heard me play piano and decided I needed to play organ. She told the [Bethesda] organist, Laura Steingard, and I started taking lessons my freshman year of high school.”
It wasn’t long before Chelsea herself was playing in church about once a month—by her sophomore year in high school, in fact, she could do “the entire service, not only the prelude.”
She’s been playing in churches ever since. Since she came to Bethel, she has played regularly in several churches in the Newton area and has even been known to make two services at two different churches on the same Sunday morning.
Chelsea says organ was “scary at first, with those three keyboards [on the Bethesda organ], but I don’t remember being frustrated, and I was pretty excited about it once I got going.”
Starting out at Bethesda helped, she says, because “there was a lot of affirmation—notes in my mailbox, lots of positive comments and encouragement to keep going.”
Chelsea’s organ instructor at Bethel College, Roseanne Penner Kaufman, is equally thankful for that church support. “Thank goodness for it—it helped Chelsea grow into [her organ playing],” Kaufman says.
“Chelsea has been a joy to have as a student,” Kaufman continues. “She has such facility in her fingers. She comes to playing the organ with such enthusiasm.
“The organ really took hold of her. I don’t think anyone in her family expected her to become an organist.”
Chelsea herself seems to have had little doubt. She came to Bethel because the director of admissions at the time, Shirley King, was also an accomplished organist and Chelsea expected to study with her. However, King left Bethel only days before Chelsea started her freshman year.
She came anyway, and has flourished under Kaufman’s tutelage. Nor has she lacked opportunities to play, church work aside.
She has played regularly in Bethel’s weekly chapel services for the past several years. She plays in Bethel College Concert Choir venues when the choir is on tour (she also accompanies the choir on piano) and this May played the organ in a performance of Brahms’ Ein Deutsche Requiem with the Bethel College Oratorio Chorus and Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra.
This past January, Chelsea was part of the college’s Europe Concert Choir, whose itinerary included a stop in Leipzig, Germany, and the very church where Johann Sebastian Bach, famous for his organ compositions among many other things, played organ, directed choirs and wrote music.
She wasn’t allowed to play the organ there, but she did get to go up in the organ loft and look at it close up.
Although she enjoys the classics such as Bach’s works, “the fast and loud, showy stuff is what I’ve always liked best,” she says. For her senior recital this spring, she particularly enjoyed playing several pieces from 20th-century organ composer Calvin Hampton’s (1938-84) Five Dances for Organ, which she calls “fun and unique.”
That’s what she likes about playing the organ in general. “Essentially no two organs are exactly the same—the stops, the touch, they’re all going to be different,” she says. “The full organ sound is what excites me.”
It excites her listeners as well. “The crowd at her [senior] recital was a testament to Chelsea’s genuineness,” Kaufman says. “There were more than 100 people who came out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to hear an organ concert.”
As for what’s next—first, to finish her education degree; at some point in the future, graduate school and a church organist position, she hopes. Chances are she’ll be teaching organ herself someday.
But even more than that, “there’s a whole world of [organ] music yet to do,” Kaufman tells her. “There’s a lot of fun stuff yet.”