Jonathan Dimmock found his life’s calling at age 3, listening to organ music at a New Jersey church.
“I turned to my mother and said, ‘That’s what I want to do when I grow up,’ ” recalled Dimmock, now a Grammy Awardwinning concert organist based in the Bay Area.
On Jan. 13, Dimmock will share his love of the instrument with local audiences with a concert at the Cohan Center. “Dance Through Time: Six Centuries of Dance- Inspired Organ Music” features selections by J.S. Bach, Felix Mendelssohn, Heinrich Scheidemann and more.
“The thing that attracts me in most of my work is doing something that’s ever so slightly different,” explained Dimmock, who will sit down at the keys of the Forbes Pipe Organ for the first time. “I like exploring things that haven’t been tapped over and over things that create conversation.”
The youngest of four siblings, Dimmock has long shared his family’s passion for music.
“We used to fight over who got to practice the piano at home,” said Dimmock, who began tickling the ivories at age 4. He took up the organ a decade later.
A graduate of Oberlin Conservatory, Yale School of Music and Yale Divinity School, Dimmock has held musical posts at cathedrals in New York City and Minneapolis. He was the first American to attain the position of organ scholar at Westminster Abbey.
Dimmock currently serves as the organist of the San Francisco Symphony and St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco. (He appears on the symphony’s 2009 recording of Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, which won a Grammy for Classic Album of the Year.) He also directs Cathedral Camerata, a mixed choir at the city’s Grace Cathedral.
Dimmock said he’s always been drawn to the size, sound and complexity of the organ.
“(The organ) is the original multitasking instrument,” he said. “Your entire body is engaged in the process of making music. It’s not just your hands. It’s not just your lips. It’s your whole physical body.”
As for the sound, he said, “It can be almost inaudibly soft, and so massive that your body shakes, and everything in between.”
Dimmock also appreciates the fact that the organ is strongly associated with sacred music.
“It seems to lend itself to the expression of something that is beyond words something that’s cosmic,” he said.
“Dance Through Time”
recalls a time when organs were more closely associated with a secular setting.
During the Renaissance, Dimmock said, organ music was used primarily to accompany courtly dancing. Later, in the 19th century, organs became a way to rally crowds and introduce new secular music to the masses, he said.
Dimmock’s century-spanning concert will include Bach’s “Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor,” Aaron Copland’s “Billy the Kid” ballet suite and Anton Heiller’s “Tanz- Toccata.”
“It’s all based on the notion of a body moving through space and time,” Dimmock said.
According to Dimmock, the organ’s role in society is once again evolving, thanks to young, tech-savvy adopters. “It seems to attract the nerd factor,” he said.
“Young people are finding the capabilities of the organ and the way the organ works extremely fascinating,” he said. “When they hear a pipe organ most young people think, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ ”