By Taylor Edwards
If you are lucky enough to know Christopher Daly, you already know he is an incredible teacher, intellectual and friend. What many of you may not know is that Daly is also a supremely gifted organist.
This past week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Daly, who has been teaching sections of Augustinian Cultural Seminar for the past 18 years, to talk about his time here at the University and his work as an organist.
The Villanovan: What brought you to Villanova University?
Christopher Daly: I needed a job. I had been teaching at St. Joseph’s University when Alexander Varias told me that there would be a Core Humanities program developed at Villanova. Then I got the job.
TV: How were you introduced to playing music on the organ?
CD: I started playing the piano in the second grade. My parents, especially my mother, felt that it would be an important part of my education to play the piano. Somewhere around sixth or seventh grade, I heard the organ while I was in a church. I had never given the instrument much thought but decided to pursue it after seeing how very strange it looked. After that, I switched loyalties from the piano to the organ.
TV: How long did it take you to get comfortable with playing it?
CD: I didn’t have any fears whatsoever when it came to the organ. When I was just beginning to learn the organ, I played at our church’s Midnight Mass, not very well, but played it because I was young and without inhibitions.
When I went away to graduate school at William & Mary, I had a really exceptional teacher that corrected all the things that I had been doing wrong.
There I was able to become grounded in the very basic technique of organ playing.
TV: Did you have many musical influences growing up?
CD: At one point while playing the piano, a teacher of mine was trying to teach me a very small piece by Bach. I was getting it, so she told me to go out and buy a recording of it. I bought a recording by Marie-Claire Alain, which opened me up to a world that I had never known before, which was the world of J.S. Bach.
While at Oxford University, I ended up meeting her and almost had an organ lesson with her, but she broke her foot before we were supposed to get together.
TV: What is the most difficult aspect of playing the organ?
CD: There are a lot of different aspects. Obviously the coordination between hand and foot is difficult. Another aspect is phrasing. An organ is an instrument where if you hold down the keys and notes, it will play forever until the electric supply goes off. Knowing how to play notes with a proper sense of portion and breath, that is very, very hard.
Additionally, every organ and every room an organ is in is very different. Going from one instrument to another, with different acoustics, figuring out the touch of the organ, if it’s light, subtle, brash, that can be very nerve wracking, especially if you are playing a recital and have to become friends with the organ with not much time.
TV: How have you been able to intertwine playing the organ with the University community?
CD: Fifteen years ago, Marylu Hill, who is now the chair of the ACS program, asked if I would play a recital for the University community. Since then, she, Nancy Kelley and Kaley Carpenter have been enormously encouraging about becoming a part of the ACS Cultural Series.
I get a wonderful turnout from teachers, former students and even members of the parish community at St. Thomas, which means so much and is something that I am incredibly grateful for.