Church rector turns to musical roots

March 27, 1998


Staff Writer

The Rev. Kenneth Dorsch is as comfortable seated on the organ bench as he is standing behind the pulpit.

The rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Hagerstown, Dorsch is also an accomplished organist, harpsichordist and conductor who has performed in the United States and Europe.

At 7 p.m. on Sunday he will hold a free public recital at the church at 101 S. Prospect St., to celebrate the restoration and expansion of the parish pipe organ. The music will span three centuries, ranging from the baroque period to the 20th century. Dorsch, 52, said it is designed to showcase the new capabilities of the Moller organ, which was renovated by Hagerstown Organ Co.

Dorsch's musical career has its roots in his childhood in New Jersey. He began taking lessons when he was 5 years old and his mother, who was a pianist, made sure he practiced whether he felt like it or not. The hard work paid off.


Dorsch went on to get his bachelor of arts degree in music and organ at Rutgers University. He did graduate work at the Yale School of Music. In 1967 he won a Fulbright Scholarship for the study of the organ, harpsichord and baroque performance practice with Gustav Leonhardt in the Netherlands.

Dorsch began his career as director of music, organist and choir master in several churches, but his heart was in the ministry, and it wasn't long before he entered the seminary.

Since his ordination, Dorsch has led Episcopal churches in several states. He has been at St. John's for six years. He and his wife Joy live in Hagerstown with their three girls, 16-year-old Louisa, 13-year-old Anneke, and 4-year-old Lilian.

On Sunday, Dorsch will begin his program with a Paul Hindemith sonata that resonates from 30 years in his past when he studied under Samual Walters, professor of organ at Douglas College, Rutgers University.

"He was a wonderful mentor for me, as a musician and a person," Dorsch said. "He was like an adopted father. When I practice this piece I can sense his spirit there ... I can remember hearing him play. In a sense this will be a tribute to Sam."

Dorsch has been practicing three to four hours a day in preparation for Sunday's recital.

With Dorsch at the organ console, the sound that emanates from the pipes in the church is both strong and graceful. It's a voice he loves to hear. It's a voice in harmony with a church that emphasizes the Incarnation, and believes that the senses, including sound, are important to the faith.

"I want to be the vehicle by which the audience hears Hindemith or Bach," Dorsch said. "I want to allow the person who has written it to speak through me. Of course, it involves a resonance with my own experience and passions."

When he plays, Dorsch steps out of time.

"Once you've gotten through playing the notes - the nuts and bolts work - the experience of playing is one of being transparent," he said. "You are aware of the experience, not the clock. You tend to move out of time. It's great. I love it. It's like taking a wonderful breath of fresh air. It's like reading a good novel, and you're part of the action."

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