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Norwalk teen organist earns 1st place in scholarship contest

Cary Ashby • Nov 17, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Not only is Norwalk resident John Depinet the rare teenager who plays organ, he now can add award-winning musician to his resume.

Depinet, 16, has won the first-place $500 Mary Anderson Award after he auditioned for the Toledo chapter of American Guild of Organists Scholarship. It will go toward his organ lessons.

“I think it’s my first competition of any sort in music,” said Depinet, who was excited when he learned about the honor.

In applying for the scholarship, he had to play two “contrasting pieces” and a hymn.

“That took several months to get ready,” said the teenager, who chose music that accentuates his skill and talent. “Also I wanted do the absolute best that I possibly could, so I challenged myself when I picked them.”

Depinet and other student-winners will perform in a recital at 3 p.m. March 10 at Hope Lutheran Church in Toledo.

He takes private lessons from Mark Niese, director of music and liturgy at St. Paul Catholic Church. Niese, who has more piano students than organists, started doing private lessons when he was in college.

“He’s very exceptional actually. He just has a natural ability for music, I think,” Niese said, referring to Depinet. “We first started on the piano and I could see right away he was very gifted. He is always prepared for his lessons. He reads very well; he performs well. He has great facility; he’s musical in his playing. He has a very natural talent.”

Depinet, originally a pianist, became fascinated with playing the organ about four years after going to an “organ camp.”

“I kinda fell in love with it there,” said the home-schooled student, who enjoys “all the different combinations that you can do with all the different sounds and all the uses it has in the liturgy.”

One of the things Depinet said he had to learn in going from playing piano to organ was “definitely all the amount of things I have to do at once — (using) all the different keyboards and pedals at the same time.” He estimated it took a year before he “could play them pretty well together.”

His teacher was asked about the challenge of moving from piano to organ.

“Actually, the best pianists make the best organists,” Niese said with a short laugh. “All you have to do is learn how to use your feet.

“They also have to learn how to play legato at the organ, which is a little bit different. On the piano you have the damper pedal, which blends everything together and on the organ, you have to do all the work.”

Legato is a musical term for playing smooth and connected.

About a year ago, Depinet started playing at Mass as a substitute organist.

“I’ve been doing that more and more since (then). I’ve done it at a couple local parishes,” the young musician said.

Niese was asked how unusual it is to find a teenager who is as enthusiastic as Depinet is about playing the organ.

“It seems somewhat odd, doesn’t it? Today, most kids are interested in cell phones and video games than they are practicing piano and organ, as well. It is a bit unusual,” Niese said.

In order to foster a new generation of organists, Niese said it will take acquainting young people with the instrument.

“Sometimes the American Guild of Organists will have (program) they call ‘Pizza and Pipes,’” he said, referring to a party based around the instrument. “They actually crawl up into the organ chambers and look at the pipes and they get to sit down and actually play the instrument.”

Niese is confident in Depinet’s potential.

“I think John has a rare gift and I think that if he keeps studying, he will go far; I really do,” he said.

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