The Bad Boy & His Organ
It’s hard for a kid to find glamour growing up in Western Pennsylvania, especially a kid like Cameron Carpenter.
The boy who got started playing at age four was initially transfixed by a picture of someone playing an organ in a cinema.
“I could see it was something very glamorous, coming from a glamour-less childhood in Pennsylvania,” Carpenter says from Berlin. “I saw something different than the dowdy trappings of a church organ, so never a moment was spent on another instrument.”
When he talks about the organ, he uses words like “magnetism” and “ecstasy” and “passion.”
“It’s an all-encompassing reflection of what is good and evil about the human experience. In that way, it has shockingly more intensity than any other instrument.”
Carpenter will bring that intensity to the Byrd Theater on October 7th at 8 p.m. for “A Night with the Mighty Wurlitzer,” a benefit for the Byrd Theater Foundation.
But there’s no telling what Carpenter will play that evening because, unlike most classical performances, he does not release what he will play ahead of time.
“My policy is not to announce the program,” he explains. “It was quite a hard thing until people came to accept it as a trademark.” He also makes a point to greet attendees before the show to welcome each person to the experience.
And what an experience it is! Carpenter is known for his flashy wardrobe and shoes, much of it colorful, glittery and sometimes self-designed. He’s also a fan of clothing from Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood.
“I always found music to be a visual experience,” he says. “It’s natural for me to want to reflect that in what I wear. It’s about the façade, something that hides the truth. Organ pipes hide the dark, spider-filled chambers of torture. Church organists are in church to do a job: holy, devotional and necessarily subservient. I have no remote interest in that. I find it useful to use my façade to dismiss that notion from the beginning.”
As for playing the Mighty Wurlitzer in Richmond, Carpenter acknowledges that however majestic the instrument may have been at one time, it may or may not be now.
“Invariably, I have to hear the organ to see what it might need. There’s always more trepidation at the unknown experience.” Not that a little trepidation ever slowed him down.
When Carpenter isn’t at the organ composing, practicing or performing, he’s very into fitness.
“My outward appearance is defined by physical fitness and I devote a lot of time and energy to it. I don’t have a lot of interest in food except as fuel. I know that’s an unusual view in the South.”
Claiming that he is a nerd at heart, Carpenter cops to a deep interest in typography.
He rarely goes out for live music, preferring the downloading experience. “I realize that’s somewhat paradoxical.”
Paradoxical is exactly the word he chooses when asked to describe himself.
“I’m self-deprecating and a terribly serious person who doesn’t take himself seriously. Inversion of stereotypes can be a powerful thing to engage in. I enjoy it when it’s positive, but power can be misused. I could become arrogant or brash but I’ve no interest in doing that. I’ll play Bach for three or 3,000.”
Carpenter, who describes his sexuality as “radically inclusive” has said that while he has had numerous male lovers, he also loves women.
Expect to see fans of both sexes at the Byrd Theater when Cameron Carpenter comes to Richmond.
Just don’t expect anything church-like from the guy who continues to smash organ stereotypes.
“Where I play is not significant. What I’m playing is more formative. Don’t people want to see and hear what doesn’t exist in their town?”
Bring it on, Cameron. Richmond awaits your unique, paradoxical, sequined talent.
“A Night with the Mighty Wurlitzer is Friday, Oct. 7, 8 p.m. at the Byrd Theater, 2908 West Cary Street. For tickets, go to http://byrdtheatre.charityhappenings.org/. Photos courtesy Columbia Artists Music.
Karen Newton is a freelance writer and full-time nerd who isn’t happy unless she’s going out every night for food, music or art and blogging it at www.icouldgoonandon.blogspot.com.
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