Student musicians Clara Gerdes and Chase Loomer won’t be found spending their free time binge-watching television or shopping at the mall.
They will be on their organ bench, practicing.
In the fall, both Gerdes and Loomer, 18, are heading to the best and most competitive organ programs in the U.S. Loomer will be at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and Gerdes will study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, which only accepts one or two students each year and gives each student a full ride.
They both got their start after receiving the Stigall Scholarship from the Charlotte Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, which awards free organ lessons to middle and high school students.
On Sunday, Gerdes and Loomer will perform with other past scholarship winners at Myers Park Presbyterian Church as a part of the guild’s summer concert series.
Combined, Gerdes and Loomer have nine years of organ experience and practice the organ 35 hours a week. Their hobbies range from cooking to playing baseball to reading, but from the moment they sat behind the organ, they fell in love.
A girl with a magic touch
Gerdes of Davidson dove into the music world when she was 8. She started playing the piano and discovered a passion for the organ at church in 2010.
“I started playing during Mass every week, and I liked it,” she said. “But at a certain point, I realized I would need to take lessons to be able to play better.”
She applied to eight schools and auditioned at seven, including all of the top organ schools in the U.S.
Despite the odds, she was accepted to all of them.
“When my colleagues, other professional organists, hear her play, they are in agreement with me that she’s going to go far,” said Jane Cain, Gerdes’ organ teacher, and the music instructor at Davidson College Presbyterian Church. Cain is also a board member of the Charlotte Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
Gerdes and Cain started preparing for auditions in early September. Each program had different requirements for audition pieces, leaving Gerdes and Cain with at least six pieces they had to perfect before January.
“It was almost like the more I practiced, the more I realized that I had to practice,” Gerdes said. “I realized there was more that I should have done.”
Gerdes practiced, day in and day out. Sometimes Cain would walk into the church, where Gerdes often practiced, and find Gerdes had already been there for hours.
“(Great music students) need talent, but they also need passion and they need dedication, and I think Clara has both of those” Cain said.
A boy with two dreams
Loomer, 18, has always been torn between his two loves: music and sports.
He was introduced to sports when he started playing baseball at age 6, and he was introduced to music when he started playing the piano around the same time.
The typical day for the Huntersville resident consists of sitting in classes at Community School of Davidson, swinging and hitting baseballs during team practice, and intense concentration while playing the organ during his daily practices.
The decision to choose music over sports did not come easy, but from a young age, he always knew he wasn’t good enough to have a sports career.
Loomer applied and auditioned at seven schools, as well, getting accepted to all of them. But he wasn’t set on attending a conservatory, like Eastman. He applied to a variety of schools – from the performance-based conservatories at Oberlin College and Eastman to the more academic-leaning programs at Indiana University and the University of South Carolina.
With so many auditions, Loomer had to make sure he remained focused. During the auditions, he continued to think about how it wasn’t as nerve-wracking as he had envisioned, saying that he had visited all of the schools the summer before and took lessons with each of the organ professors.
“They all kind of knew me and my abilities and stuff, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been if I hadn’t met any of them before,” Loomer said. “I was trying to focus on the music, and not on the fact that if I make a mistake I might not get accepted. I’m a lot freer when I’m practicing – no one’s listening and it’s just me – so I just tried to get that mentality for the auditions.”
Cain, who knows Loomer, too, through the American Guild of Organists, said just having talent isn’t enough to succeed in music.
“Talent is no good if you’re not going to work.”