Daniel Jacky has long been carefully preparing to showcase his professional level of organ playing to the Oberlin College campus and community at his senior recital. Jacky’s program — which includes works by Heinrich Scheidemann, Michael Praetorius, César Franck, Hubert Parry, Johannes Brahms, and Max Reger — will be held on March 19th at 12:30 PM in two locations. I sat down with the Hillsboro, OH native in a Wilder Hall booth to discuss the program and his musical journey at large.
Note: the following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
NA: What led you to playing the organ?
DJ: I got into the organ because my piano teacher was an organist and he was like “it’d be great for you to learn some organ too!” So then I got an organ job in high school and ever since then, I just kept on playing and here I am now. I sort of just slid into it.
NA: Did you come from a musical background?
DJ: My parents actually met at a music camp in Massachusetts. My dad was in the Washington State University marching band and my mom studied music. She was also my first piano teacher when I was really little and then I just kept on learning more and more.
NA: And then you honed in on the organ?
DJ: Yeah! In fact, I specialized in it. (laughs)
NA: What made you decide to double major in math and organ? Was there a certain calculus at play there?
DJ: Well kinda. (laughs) I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to major in music. I knew I always wanted to study something else; I wasn’t really sure what it was, but it was important for me to do something other than music also. At first, I wanted to be a politics or econ major, but then I tried those and I didn’t really like them as much. Ended up taking a math class and I really was into it. I think I’m indoctrinated because my dad was a math teacher. It makes sense in hindsight, but it wasn’t directly in my mind at the time.
NA: It wasn’t as if your dad was saying, “you should do math.” So you’re saying it’s likely a genetic thing?
DJ: It must’ve been. He’d always teach me math stuff when I was a kid. It was already built into me to do it. It became natural doing it when I got here. It’s weird in hindsight, but it just randomly happened.
NA: Has there been a defining moment in your music career?
DJ: When I first started playing the organ, I remember taking a trip to New York City with my high school choir, and we were in this big cathedral. I forget which church it was, but it was on the south side of Manhattan. It was my first time playing on that big of an instrument. Before I was just playing on a very small, dinky organ so when I heard the sound of this one, I was like “wow! I have to do more of this.” I didn’t even know that I could major in organ, but I was like, “I have to do something like this. It’s just so much fun.” I have a video of the experience. I was shaking because, you know, it’s so loud.
NA: It’s so powerful.
DJ: Yeah! It shakes the whole room, and especially when you’re the person controlling it, you kind of have an out-of-body experience. I remember the first time I felt that way, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
NA: I was just checking out the program arrangement for your recital and I was curious if there was any reasoning behind the first two pieces being from 16th-17th century German composers and the rest being from 19th-20th century non-German composers.
DJ: The concert starts in Fairchild Chapel and ends in Finney. Fairchild has an organ designed in the late 16th, early 17th century so I’ll be performing some Renaissance and early Baroque music there. Then it moves on to Finney where I will be performing music from the romantic period. The reason I will be doing this switch is partially because of convention — actually mostly because of convention. That’s what most people do for their senior recital. They’ll do more specialized works in Fairchild and then more general stuff in Finney. The idea is to demonstrate that you have an appreciation for a large variety of styles and that you can master a large period of time or even multiple time periods.
NA: So it wasn’t your decision to program your recital this way? It was all convention?
DJ: No, my pieces follow the Lutheran chorale, which is a form of hymn singing that started with the Lutheran Church in the 16th century. My program has a nice juxtaposition because it ends the first half with a Renaissance piece by Praetorius and the whole program ends with a piece by Max Reger, which includes a more romantic take on this 16th century hymn. You get to hear this way that composers looked at it and treated it throughout time. It’s just an evolution of the chorale. You get to evolve through time with the music as it happens, which I think is pretty cool.
NA: Indeed it is. Has your time as music director for St. Peter’s UCC had any effect on this arrangement process? Do you get to arrange services for the church?
DJ: The order of the service always stays the same, but there are these little chunks where I get to decide what music to put in. Oftentimes, I will try to match the music with the readings or theme for the day. There are also different church seasons, and they call for different types of music. Programming in that way where you’re just trying to tie things together is really important because it’s what they want you to do as music director. Sometimes you pick it randomly. (laughs)
NA: I guess you’re like an organ performance major with a concentration in musical programming. (laughs) Do you feel as though you’re a professional in that regard at this point as well?
DJ: Oh yeah! Tying together pieces of music is hugely important. I mean programming doesn’t have to form a story or anything, but sometimes it can be more captivating when it does. I just know personally. I design my recitals as if I were somebody listening who didn’t really want to be there because in the past, I’ve been there. I’ve been falling asleep, knowing the people who are performing are more into it than the people watching. I am very aware of that. I try to make it interesting for people and make them feel like they’re a part of it.
NA: I saw you hosting Organ Pump last semester. It seems like you represent the event in a way. I presume being a part of the church helped with that?
DJ: I like to use Organ Pump as a way to show Obies that the organ is not just a church instrument — it’s beyond that. Obviously, it serves a purpose in the church, but it’s also just cool. I treat it as an opportunity to show people that performing the organ can be a little rough around the edges. If it’s too perfect, then it loses its sense of authenticity. People go every semester just to hear its uniqueness.
NA: It can be secular and religious.
DJ: Exactly. That’s what I really like about it.
NA: Regarding authenticity, is that something you want to convey in your recital or is that more of a perfected thing?
DJ: Obviously, I want it to be good, but at the end of the day, perfection doesn’t exist to the extent that we think it does. You can play it like a robot, but I’d rather play passionately and engagingly with several mistakes than be chasing an unrealistic ideal. If you want that, you can just program a computer to do that.
NA: So you want the most human performance.
DJ: Yeah! I want a human experience where people feel like they’re actually connected with it. That’s what it’s all about. If you hear a mistake followed by a beautiful passage, you forget the mistake, but if you’re somehow not hearing mistakes or beautiful passages, then it’s just boring playing the whole way through. That’s a bigger, more long-term mistake in my view.
NA: Are there any organists, performers, or musicians who inspire you?
DJ: There are definitely organists that I look up to, but I tend to think of artists outside of my craft to make me want to better my own. Billy Joel and Elton John are some examples.
NA: Before we wrap up, do you have a favorite piece of music or something you would recommend to me?
DJ: You should listen to the opening of the St. Matthew Passion by Bach. It’s not an organ piece, but it’s really beautiful and striking.