A woman walked into Plymouth Congregational Church one day, and saw Ed Hansen at the organ. She asked if she could hear what the organ sounded like, and Ed responded by playing the entire Chorale in b minor by César Franck, then engaging her in conversation about it afterwards. She was a total stranger, but to Ed, she was someone who might be interested in music, and particular, great music, written for the organ.
Dr. Edward A. Hansen was born in Tacoma, Washington. He received his Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in music from the University of Washington. At the University he met and later married Jeanne Martinelli, also a musician who taught piano and music history at Seattle Central Community College for 26 years.
Ed loved to teach. Early in his career he taught in the Seattle Public Schools and was known as "Mr. Music Man" on the popular local children's television program "Wunda Wunda." In 1970, he joined the faculty of the University of Puget Sound as Chairman of Organ and Church Music Studies; he continued in this position until his retirement in 1993. As Professor Emeritus, he maintained an active schedule both as University Organist and as an organ teacher until 1997. He also led the choir of Plymouth Congregational Church in downtown Seattle from 1957 to 1991.
During his tenure at Plymouth he planned and helped design the installation of a new Schlicker organ. He then instituted a series of weekly Wednesday noontime recitals that brought in thousands to hear the new instrument. As organ professor of the University of Puget Sound, he was responsible for the Paul Fritts organ in Kilworth Chapel.
Some of his most influential work came through service to the American Guild of Organists (AGO). He served that organization at many levels, from local chapter Dean and regional Education Coordinator, to National President. One of his ideas for popularizing the organ was to create “The World’s Largest Organ Recital.” In April of 1996, AGO chapters around the country sponsored free recitals, all starting simultaneously with a performance of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d minor. In the Seattle event, Ed played that work himself. His performance on the four manual Flentrop organ of St. Mark’s Cathedral is included here, along with the Widor Andante Sostenuto from the same concert. Always a champion of new music for the organ, Ed also performed Alma Oncley’s Passacaglia on Billings’ tune, “When Jesus Wept” -- recorded here for the first time.
Hansen enjoyed a wide-ranging concert career, performing throughout Europe and the United States. In August of 1978, he played the closing recital at the International Organ Festival in Bergen, Norway; and in 1980, he played a twelve concert tour in Europe and Scandinavia. Ed loved to talk to his audiences and to engage them in the stories of the composers and the pieces. This was the case at a memorial recital for another organist in 1989. The Mendelssohn sonata on this recording was the final work on that program. Ed was also a featured recitalist at the regional convention of the AGO in Portland in 1995. At the Casavant organ of Lewis and Clark College he performed all three Franck chorales in one program, from which the Chorale in a minor is reprised here.
His passion for music and teaching had predictable results -- children and students who have compiled an impressive list of achievements. Among them are David Yearsley, recitalist, and first prize winner at the Bruges Early Music Festival (see “Music of a Father and Son” Loft LRCD 1010), Douglas Cleveland, winner of the 1994 national AGO Young Artist Competition, and now chair of the Organ Department at Northwestern University; Fred Gramann, Organist-Choirmaster of the American Church in Paris, Roger Sherman, Associate Organist of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle and host of the Organ Loft radio program (see “Recital at Christ Church” ReZound RZCD 5002); daughter Roberta Hansen Downey, cellist with the Seattle Symphony; and son Paul Hansen, prominent freelance percussionist in Seattle.
Like the woman who stumbled into Plymouth church that day, many of us have been instilled with his passion for great organ music. After he finished telling this story to an incredulous, 16-year old student, the student exclaimed “You played the whole thing?”
“Sure!” Ed said with his trademark smile. “Would you like to hear it too?”