When you get your Ph.D. in the organ, you’re left with two career options: professor or church accompanist. Dr. JeeYoon Choi, music director and organist at First (Scots) Presbyterian Church, says that decision for her was easy. After moving to the U.S. from South Korea to attend Boston University, Choi was working on her doctorate of musical arts in organ performance when she heard of an open position in Charleston. Once she saw the instrument at First (Scots) — “one of the best in the Holy City (a city which has a lot)” she says — she knew she should take the job. With four keyboards, 48 registers, and 4,126 pipes, the million-dollar piece of equipment is something to behold. But Choi’s musical skill is equally remarkable, making her Piccolo’s L’Organo Recital Series performance a must-see.
For this year’s show, Choi has selected five composers, César Franck, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, Sigfrid Karg-Elert, and Johannes Matthias Michel. “I try to combine diversity into one concert. The French romantic piece by Franck shows an oboe kind of a sound — triumphant, and then Bach is a more contrasting section back to the German tradition,” she says. (Bach is actually what Choi is known for, at least locally. The organist founded the annual Bach Festival of Charleston in 2009.)
But the concert won’t just be a medley of music. Choi, who has lectured and played internationally, shares factoids and bits of history throughout her show. “You have to have some kind of interesting factor for the audience,” she says. For example, the Karg-Elert piece she plans to play, “Improvisation on ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee,'” some believe was inspired by the Titanic tragedy.
Some of the stories are as unknown as the works. “Not a lot of composers wrote music for organs, so this is a way to show audiences pieces they may not hear,” she says.