I’ve been finding some real gems amid the current dustup over how to pay the city’s organist. I didn’t even know the city had a civic organist before. Here are a few details that caught my eye:

• City forefathers John D. and Adolph B. Spreckels gave the city the organ and the pavilion for it in 1915, saying concerts there should always be free. It’s the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ. Pretty much since then, the city has always had an organist and organ curator, who manages and cares for the organ, turns the sheets of music and keeps them from blowing away in the wind.

• It appears for a long time, you had to have a fantastic name to assume either role:


Humphrey John Stewart (1917-1932)

Royal Albert Brown (1932-1954)

Charles Rollin Shatto (1954-1957)

Douglas Ian Duncan (1957-1978)

Jared Jacobsen (1978-1984)

Robert Plimpton (1985-2000)

Carol Williams (2001-)


Roy Tolchard (1915-1932)

Edwin A. Spencer (1932-1947)

Leonard Dowling (1947-1974)

Lyle Blackinton (1974-)

• Carol Williams was picked for the post in 2001 after an “extensive worldwide talent search” that garnered interest from 53 candidates from the United States, the U.K., South Korea, Canada and Europe. She’s the first female civic organist in the country.

• Williams’ pay has been characterized as $555 per hour, which created a fuss. But that per-hour characterization would assume that the one-hour she performs each week (Sundays at 2 p.m.) is the only work she does. Actually, she rehearses, plans concerts, learns new music, meets diplomats, organizes guest artists and greets her adoring fans after the concert. A city report says such duties take about 30 hours a week, about $18.50 per hour.

• I’ve not met her, but Williams appears to be pretty spunky. Her Facebook fan page features a photograph of her posing with attitude on a Harley Davidson, and her YouTube channel includes a video series of performances from some magnificent and unusual organs around the world.

Watch this video where Williams performs “Flight of the Bumblebee” with some amazing footwork on the pedals.

I am the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531. Or you can keep up with me on Twitter @kellyrbennett or on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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