Poster Michael Barone
Michael Barone has been the host of 'Pipedreams' for four decades.
YourClassical MPR

Reflections of a Pipedreamer: Michael Barone looks back on 40 years of 'Pipedreams'

It is with a mix of amazement and pride — although we are reminded that pride is sinful, so I tend to tamp down that aspect — that I confront the inescapable reality that Pipedreams has been in continuous national syndication now for four decades. Although 14 Pipedreams programs were sent to stations between January and early April 1982, those were offered with no real plan of continuity, and there was an uncertain lapse between April ’82 and October ’83 during which the possibilities of a prolongment were contemplated. But then we set off again and now confront our 40th anniversary. Who would have thought?

I’d been doing The Organ Program on Sunday nights on our Minnesota Public Radio network since 1970. Auspiciously, an American Guild of Organists National Convention held in Minnesota provided us with a week’s worth of excellent taped concert performances worthy of “prime time,” and the then-new NPR satellite distribution system made for a much more efficient transfer of programming to other stations. My boss in those days, MPR program director Nicholas D. Nash, came up with the program’s name (I had not thought that far ahead!) and through his sister and brother-in-law, Cinda and Wes, obtained underwriting for unbudgeted distribution costs. And away we went! (By the way, Lucinda and Wesley Dudley have continued to provide important support in memoriam through their children, for which we are grateful.)

In a media environment where organ music has never been considered the flavor of the month, the modest success of those first 14 programs in 1982 seemed to hint that there might be a market for more, and so we made plans. One thing led to another, and 40 years later here we are. Beyond the MPR network, a dozen other stations have carried Pipedreams from its origins, and a sufficient number nationwide still think it an important component in their schedules.

Along the way, I’ve been able to hear and share countless hours of wonderful performances, get to know famous artists and young talents at the beginnings of their careers, explore the sounds and mechanisms of instruments large and small, historic and brand new, and revel in a repertoire of unmatched quantity and quality.

But what does it all mean? Comments from listeners (below) offer some clarity. But the reflections of two younger musician colleagues might give me (and you) an idea of what Pipedreams means and how important it is in maintaining a public presence for this once-ubiquitous instrument.

Musicians reflect on ‘Pipedreams’

Organist Monica Czausz Berney
Monica Czausz Berney

Monica Czausz Berney is a graduate of the Curtis Institute and Rice University, director of music at St. Paul’s Church ‘K’ Street in Washington, D.C., and a “true star among young classical musicians.” Here are her comments to Michael Barone on the legacy of Pipedreams:

“The merits of Pipedreams lie as strongly in documentation/preservation as they do in promotion. The plethora of recordings, interviews and commentary [found in the online archives] has become a priceless resource for scholars and organists. This is particularly because of the pains you have gone to over the years to seek out and promote the “unofficial” stuff. It’s not really about featuring commercial recordings. It’s about the live moments you have found something special in and saved for posterity.

“In showing up with your 20-foot tripod and “doing it yourself,” in writing to folks that might have recorded an interesting project or concept, and in keeping your ear always to the ground, you’ve captured honest and important moments from the greats. You have shared and celebrated so much tremendous music, and captured the spirit of wherever these players happened to be at that particular time of their lives. One can track the careers of many of the masters and follow their musical development in a way that is unmatched elsewhere. You have preserved gems that would likely have been lost had it not been for your work.

“Your good humor and spirit reach out to folks who have no reason to care. You continue to advocate for this instrument that more should love, and you do so tirelessly. This cannot be overstated: You have brought many people to know of and appreciate this instrument, a pursuit that is more important than ever, as fewer folks might naturally encounter it in a worship service.

Pipedreams has continuously opened my eyes and ears to new players, new repertoire and new instruments. Given that our profession is, frankly, really lonely, it’s more important than ever to celebrate the good work our colleagues are doing around the world. It sure makes me feel more supported in my career, which is a circular phenomenon. If I didn’t get the weekly email, I bet I’d feel like even more of an island, and my music would suffer. There’s one of me, week in and week out, and the way I'm uplifted and encouraged by hearing what others are up to is a beautiful thing. Why should it continue? Well, if it doesn’t, I daresay fewer children might be infected with a desire to learn, fewer adults might be willing to try out a local concert, and fewer students might be pushed to do even better. Scary.”

Organist Jan Kraybill
Jan Kraybill

Jan Kraybill, recitalist and recording artist, is organist for the Kansas City Symphony and the Community of Christ in Independence, Missouri. She shared his reflections on Pipedreams with Michael:

Pipedreams is different things to different people, of course, but no matter what, a major part of the magic is your ability to make it so appealing across a wide range of audience interests and education. I am always so impressed that you manage to hit the right mix of down-to-earth and expert, familiar and new-to-most, famous performers and people like me, traditional/classical repertoire and theatre organ styles, composers familiar to most and composers writing today, etc. And your speaking voice hits just the right tone, too — you sound like an expert, but you don't come across as condescending as you share what you find fascinating about each piece, person or instrument. That's why you'll be so hard to replace!

“The program inspires me to practice, gives me new ideas to apply to familiar repertoire, educates me regarding new-to-me repertoire and composers, encourages me as I hear what my performer colleagues are up to, is a resource for program notes to share with my audiences, and is an example of creative programming that I aspire to follow. Others who listen have told me their reasons include these and more, such as that they're new to the world of the organ and want to learn more, or that they're geographically far from places that host organ concerts, or that they're loyal listeners to MPR and NPR, in general.

“I also value the extras you provide on the Pipedreams website, such as your list of ‘organ plus’ repertoire, links to organ specs and organists' websites, photos and narrative from your organ tours, etc. I visit the website often.

“Why is Pipedreams important, beyond its importance to me? Because the voice of the organ needs to be heard on our airwaves (and whatever you call the internet access by which I listen to the program). Most people will not come to an organ concert on their own without some introduction or enticement beforehand. You provide a friendly introduction — Pipedreams is a gateway drug! Some might never have the opportunity to come to an in-person event, in which case you are the only access they have to our instrument, its repertoire and performers. Our art form is vibrant and growing, despite the perceptions of many (including, sadly, many organists). Your program illustrates that!”

Listeners celebrate ‘Pipedreams’

Listeners share their enthusiasm for Pipedreams:

Carrie Terrell, Minneapolis: “I am not musically trained. I am not Christian. I wake up early and listen to your Pipedreams show every Sunday (when I don’t work). Love it! Your No. 1 ob-gyn doctor fan.

Ron Berresford, former corporate VP for New York Life Insurance Co.: “I’ve been listening to Pipedreams since the ‘80s. Every week. It’s been better than a graduate course in organ literature and performance practices.”

Elaine Mann, organist in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin: “I listen to Pipedreams every week. I appreciate always having it with me in the car at any time day or night. Michael brings me organ music from all over the world along with information about the instruments and performers.”

Rachel Adkins, Fairbanks, Alaska: “I listen to Pipedreams when I'm cleaning house and when I am walking on my treadmill. Sometimes I find myself just sitting down and listening. I love every single program. I'm always learning something new and being thrilled by hearing this most magnificent instrument, the organ. Thank you.”

Linda Fulton, Holland, Michigan: “Always interesting music, always entertaining commentary — the only place where the pipe organ is the star!”

Alan D. Martin, retired organist, Wichita Falls, Texas: “While the last Pipedreams of the year is a combination of happy and sad, I have been following them ever since they started. I have friends and acquaintances in the world of the pipe organ from Boston to San Francisco and from Yale to Southern Methodist University and a few worldwide. Thank you, Michael, and may God continue to bless you and yours and your work for the coming years.”

Donna Dalton, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Georgia: “I really enjoy listening to Pipedreams and Michael Barone’s pleasant and always informative voice!”

Benjamin Minick, Philadelphia: “I absolutely love Pipedreams!”

Neils Haun, Philadelphia:Pipedreams and Michael are awesome — or, with less hyperbole and more substance, I honestly believe that Pipedreams is one of the highest-quality programs in any medium and has been so for many decades. The content is masterfully curated by an insightful and knowledgeable host who has quite the gift for communication, and, of course, the music is superb. Bravo.”

Thomas Marshall, Williamsburg, Virginia:Pipedreams has been an education in itself to soak up all your programs you have given us all over the years! We still miss Cinda and Wes here in the area; they went so fast it seems! Glad the family still hangs on to this great idea of supporting great organ music/performers. Keep up the great work.”

Stephen Tharp, New York City: “You have made two generations’ worth of difference for the organ because of the existence of Pipedreams . Tony Newman (age 83) and I will have lunch next week. I knew of him because of Pipedreams!”

Kola Owolabi, professor of organ, Notre Dame University:Pipedreams is an invaluable resource for the organ community.”

Jim Strawhorn, Jackson Heights, New York: “I enjoy your show and your freedom from all the snootiness that many organists have about music or instruments they don’t like. That is one of the things that makes Pipedreams a great success. You have made a great contribution to the world we live in!”

What does the future hold for Pipedreams? We’ll keep on keeping on in order to find out, hoping that you can spread the word. While broadcast on more than 100 stations across the country, Pipedreams also is available 24/7 online. So, if you haven’t yet, give it a try. And, most importantly — thank you for listening!

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