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Dr. Nathaniel Gumbs elevates the pipe organ

Five Questions

Dr. Nathaniel Gumbs is setting new trends and increasing the profile of an instrument many people associate with history and tradition: the pipe organ. Originally from the Bronx, NY, he now serves as Director of Chapel Music at Yale University. He holds degrees from Shenandoah Conservatory, Yale University, and the Eastman School of Music. In 2017, The Diapason magazine recognized Gumbs as one of 20 outstanding organists under 30. He’s preparing for a recital at The Winspear Centre in Edmonton, and we caught up with him to ask him about the musical path that led him to this point.

How old were you when you started with music lessons?

I was late starting lessons. I’m a self-taught, 1st-generation church musician who started to learn the piano and organ by ear around the age of 10. I eventually taught myself to read music and began learning the hymns and anthems of the church. My church paid for me to take lessons in high school. However, I didn’t have my first formal organ lesson until I was a first-year college student, where I entered as a piano major.

What do you like about the pipe organ? 

I’m always drawn to musical colors by choral and orchestral music. I love to hear various sounds, textures, dynamics, etc. I feel I have the entire symphonic orchestra in the palm of my hands and feet and create those various colors, from a whisper to an ear-splitting roar!

What does your role as Director of Chapel Music at Yale University entail?

I oversee three chapel music programs on campus at the University. I’m in seven unique services a week that engage student organists, conductors, and singers. I also mentor students who have a desire and passion for pursuing church music as a career.

Do you have a favorite composer?

That’s always the toughest question. I have so many favorites for different reasons. I do not have one specific favorite composer.

Would you choose a piece of music for our audience?

Yes! Florence Price’s First Sonata for Organ is FABULOUS and not a work that you generally hear in the organ canon. It’s an incredible piece that shows off her genius and boldness as a composer and musician!

You can hear Nathaniel Gumbs at the Winspear Centre in Edmonton on May 25, performing a program that includes works by Elgar, Bach, Widor, and yes, Florence Price.