John Nagy | February 23, 2017
Craig Cramer, professor of organ, sits on a bench seat in the Grace Hall café, hands extended gracefully above the table, feet elevated several inches off the floor, offering a sobering first lesson in the athleticism of his art.
“You have one fixed point when you’re an organist, and you’re sitting on it. So, just sit like this,” he begins. “Do that for a half-hour. Then do that for an hour.” Then two. Then four — limbs hovering all the while. Don’t lean forward: You’re sitting before a sensitive and powerful musical instrument.
“It’s tremendously physically demanding,” Cramer adds, replete with neck and lower-back pain. And, despite a lifetime of this kind of exercise, those core muscles atrophy as you get older.
How about the hands?
“Well, I’m very fortunate so far at age 62,” says the internationally celebrated musician and scholar who has spent his entire 35-year professional career at Notre Dame. “I haven’t had the horror of arthritis visit me.”
Cramer’s good fortune is a blessing for the revival of congregational singing that he and his colleagues in Notre Dame’s multidisciplinary sacred music program are working to inspire — especially in the notoriously closed-mouthed Catholic Church. At a time when dozens of collegiate organ studios have lapsed into dormancy or operate with less than a full slate of students, Sacred Music at Notre Dame has vaulted the University into the upper echelon of schools training musicians for church service by offering a master’s degree in voice, and both master’s and doctoral degrees in choral conducting and organ. Graduates have no trouble finding good jobs in a high-demand market, says music historian and theology professor Margot Fassler, the program’s director.
Now, with the installation of the Murdy Family Organ in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Fassler says Notre Dame can compete for the best graduate students in the country “even more successfully . . . [and] with a collection of instruments we didn’t have before.”