Organist Katherine Meloan is unlike any organist I had previously encountered in a typical church setting. Other than myself, she was the youngest person in the large, wooded hall of Brevard-Davidson River Presbyterian Church. Dr. Meloan is a native of Miami, Florida, and holds her Master of Music and the Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in organ from the Manhattan School of Music, where she is currently on the faculty. Her striking presence, with her long red hair and tall, dancer-like physique, exuded poise and brightness which carried a breath of fresh air into the room. She began the concert by changing out of her black patent leather heels into silver, low-heeled Mary Jane organ shoes which are not to be exposed to any surfaces that may damage them or hinder their ability to glide smoothly along the pedals. This choice in color – shiny silver – initially surprised me, as most concert attire is subdued, so that the listener may focus on the music itself. However when she began playing, I realized they helped me focus more on the intricacy of the music.
Dr. Meloan glided over to the organ and pulled her long red hair back, extending her fair fingers onto the keys. She inhaled, focused and composed, and began Eugene Gigout’s “Grande Choeur Dialogue” with a confident series of fanfare-like chords. The sections of music alternated between alarmingly loud and pianissimo, keeping audience members on their toes throughout the opening number. Her feet and hands danced up and down the keys and pedals with ease. The dialogue aspect was very clearly demonstrated throughout the piece, as the soloist defined the parts with their distinct dynamics echoing each other in a conversational-like manner.
The concert continued with several other quieter pieces, including the Symphonie pour Grande Orgue No. 3 by Louis Vierne, and an Emma Lou Diemer setting of Psalm 130 – “Out of the depths I cry to Thee, O Lord!”; a livelier piece, Psalm 126 – “The Lord Has done great things for us: We are Glad”; and “I need Thee Every Hour.” The psalms in particular highlighted Meloan’s ability to summon gentle fluidity from the sometimes-stark sounds of the organ, swaying into each phrase as if the notes were crafted from her breath and poured out from her fingertips.
Some listeners felt truly baffled by her mastery of the organ in the closing number of the first half: Variations sur un Noël, Op. 20, by Marcel Dupré. This piece exhibited jazz-like and uniquely dissonant harmonies throughout the typical Christmas tune. Meloan’s ability to juggle four limbs all at once, each playing their own intricate melody, brought audience members to a point of bewilderment. Smiles spread throughout the room during a movement where her sliver-shoed feet played the melody and her hands and fingers continued with rapid-fire notes among all the levels of keys. There were several moments where her right hand alone extended upward with spider-like motion and played both the topmost and middle set of keys.
After a brief intermission, the second half of the program opened with a traditional organ piece by Bach: Prelude and Fugue in G, S.541. It began with the right hand alone, typical of a Bach melody, which was then joined by the left hand, and later, by the feet. The rhythm in the footwork seemed to be syncopated with the melody of the hands, the precise execution of which was clearly crafted by skill and years of practice. The concert continued with more modern and upbeat works: an energy-infused “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin, “The Liberty Bell” by John Phillip Sousa, and Scherzetto, Op. 108, No.1, by Joseph Jongen. The final piece, a toccata, also by Joseph Jongen, truly exhibited the technical aspects of organ-playing. A focused and more rigid Meloan seemed to dive into this last work with all her remaining energy, giving deliberate attention to the rhythmic intricacy for the entirety of the piece all the way until the final resounding fortissimo chord.
Dr. Meloan carries the ability to couple precision with emotion. There was never a moment when one felt detached from her interpretation of any of the pieces. Part of Meloan’s charm is her ability to draw in listeners to be part of each piece as she played, never once excluding listeners from her passion. Residents of Brevard and fellow community members were blessed with an incredible opportunity to hear a virtuosic organist perform a rare and beautiful concert on a newly rebuilt and truly lovely Zimmer organ (Opus 21-A). A photograph and the complete stop-list are here.