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San Diego Is Now Hiring: Civic Organist

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

San Diego is looking for someone to play the world's largest outdoor pipe organ. Musical repertoire must range from Bach to David Bowie. San Diego is one of two U.S. cities with a civic organist. The other is Portland, Maine. And now, as Claire Trageser from member station KPBS reports, the city is hiring a new one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORGAN MUSIC)

CLAIRE TRAGESER, BYLINE: Every Sunday at San Diego's Balboa Park, a musician takes a seat at the 101-year-old Spreckels organ. Music fills its more than 5,000 pipes and spills into the air. It isn't any ordinary pipe organ, and the person playing it can't be any ordinary organist.

JACK LASHER: I think the word that I'm really looking for is spark.

TRAGESER: Jack Lasher is the president of the Spreckels Organ Society. He's looking for an organist who can command the venue, a wide-open public park.

LASHER: This organ job I would say more than any other organ job in the country needs that personality because you have to, as I said, bring people in, keep them here.

TRAGESER: One way to do that is by playing a variety of music, not sacred music and not just classical pieces either. Case in point - outgoing civic organist Carol Williams played hour-long tributes to David Bowie.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROL WILLIAMS' "SPACE ODDITY")

CAROL WILLIAMS: Closing night has always become a tradition to let the hair down and do something like gospel, Broadway, rock 'n' roll.

TRAGESER: Williams was San Diego's civic organist for 15 years, and loved the chance to show her range, including her version of "Phantom Of The Opera."

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROL WILLIAMS' "THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA")

TRAGESER: Williams says her replacement should want to help people have fun.

WILLIAMS: It's vital that somebody is not stuck up and just only wants to play baroque or romantic music.

LASHER: She has to be able to make it interesting by talking about the music, maybe throwing in a joke or two here and there.

TRAGESER: The Oregon Society's Jack Lasher defines this quality as stage presence.

LASHER: A liveliness about it so that it's not just a cardboard figure sitting at the organ.

TRAGESER: Lasher is hoping for at least 150 applicants for the civic organist job and plans to make the decision in the coming year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORGAN MUSIC)

TRAGESER: Then residents of San Diego will hear a new voice coming from the city's organ pipes. For NPR News, I'm Claire Trageser in San Diego.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORGAN MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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