Written By Joanne Morvay Weant
It will be a different sort of Christmas this year for organist Tandy Edward Dix.
Dix is a professional organist and professor of music who spent the past decade as the church organist and music director at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Westminster. In addition to performing at the church’s worship services, Dix was also responsible for choosing their musical content.
Christmas and Easter – the liturgical high points of the church year – were always his busiest times, Dix said.
But in April, after much soul-searching, Dix left his dual position at St. Paul’s for an organist-only position at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Taneytown.
He was drawn, he said, by the opportunity to master Trinity’s historic pipe organ (circa 1897) as well as the chance to free up his schedule so that he could devote more time to teaching.
Not that he will relax. Dix said that despite his heavy schedule, he almost always practices for a few hours daily. And during the holiday season, he increases that exponentially; especially as Christmas draws near.
Seated at the organ bench, hidden from the congregation’s view, Dix is not what one might expect. The organist, who has always been called Ted, is a bespectacled, 5 foot 6 inch, 34-year-old (he describes himself as “stocky”), possessed of a sharp wit and a self-effacing sense of humor. He is also heavily booked.
In addition to his work as a church organist, he performs around the country as a solo artist and as part of a bi-coastal organ ensemble. He teaches music theory, musicianship and pipe organ courses at McDaniel and Carroll Community Colleges and is in demand to play at local organ dedications and weddings. In his spare time, Dix plays the E-flat alto horn in the Westminster Municipal Band. His wife, Gretchen, plays the flute in the band.
Dix was born into a musical family. His mother, Lorraine, is a former elementary school music teacher who put her career aside to raise her children, although she taught violin from the family’s former Westminster home for years. Dix’s father, Richard, is a retired Department of Defense employee who has always harbored a musician’s soul.
The entire Dix family belonged to the William F. Myers Band when Ted was growing up. Like his three siblings before him, he began taking violin and piano lessons in second grade.
The violin quickly fell by the wayside. Young Ted was not inclined to practice. The piano kept his interest. But it was the organs at his parents’ churches – Zion United Methodist in Shipley and St. John Catholic in Westminster – that really sparked his interest.
“Just like any other little boy I was fascinated by the machinery; all those buttons and everything,” Dix said, grinning at the knobs and pedals that dot Trinity’s organ.
Noting the youngster’s interest, St. John organist Charlie Swinderman took Ted under his wing. They toured the now-closed Moller Organ Factory in Hagerstown and visited most of the churches in Carroll County, giving Dix a chance to hone his skills on many different types of organs. He began taking formal pipe organ lessons as a freshman in high school. In his senior year at Westminster High he won the school talent show with a performance on the school’s electric organ.
In addition to Swinderman, Dix was mentored by some of Carroll County’s musical elite, including organist Robert Riley and music director Herb Sell. Before he was even out of high school, Dix was associate organist at St. John and interim organist at Grace Lutheran Church in Westminster.
Dix went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in organ performance at what was then Towson State University. He followed that with a Master of Music in organ performance from the Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, NJ. Last year, Dix completed a second Master’s degree in music theory pedagogy at The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.
Even though Dix is the musical equivalent of a hired gun this holiday, he takes his responsibility as organist very seriously.
“It’s kind of an honor,” he said. “A lot of people only get to church on Christmas and Easter. I’m sort of a good will ambassador. I’m hoping that hearing good quality organ music will help them through the holidays and maybe even bring them back at other times during the year.”
Dix is also an avid fan of secular organ music, especially holiday pop standards and traditional Christmas carols. He plans to highlight those songs in a short concert he will offer 30 minutes before Trinity’s two Christmas Eve services.
“For some people, Christmas can be a real dark time,” said Dix. “I’m hoping that through my service to the church and my talent as a performer, I can help them transcend that.”