Against the backdrop of a dimmed Cochran Chapel, the side profile of Somin Virmani ’22 is projected onto the screen in real time as his fingers and feet dance across the keys and pedals of the organ. Performing repertoire ranging from baroque composer J.S. Bach to his own improvisations on the theme song of Interstellar, Virmani delivered a senior recital that concluded with a thunderous standing ovation from the audience on April 29th.
Entering Andover as a pianist, flutist, and vocalist, Virmani’s first encounter with the organ was an eye-opening performance at ASM by Dr. Abbey Siegfried, Chair of the Department of Music, which inspired him to pick up the instrument. For the next few years, his organ lessons with Dr. Siegfried expanded his musical expertise and allowed him to undergo a “journey” of growth, which culminated in his senior recital.
“[Initially,] Dr. Siegfried would tell me [about] a certain piece, and thought that it was something that I could never play myself, but after just learning about the instrument and facing its big sound, I was able to perform at my senior recital a lot of the pieces that I have long admired,” said Virmani.
Because the organ is an instrument that requires coordination between one’s fingers and feet across keys and pedals, Virmani notes that playing the organ demands more concentration and coordination than the piano. Despite the challenges he faced, Virmani quickly learned to love the instrument for its musically unique experiences. He especially developed an interest in exploring Baroque music through the organ’s distinct rings and reverberations.
“There’s such a thrill to playing the organ that I rarely find in other music. There would be certain passages where my legs would be moving independently, my hands are on two different manuals…[When you] hear the massive sound of the organ reverberating around the chapel and coming back to you with so much synergy, [you] can feel the shake in your body…You need the individual mind, a lot of endurance, and a lot of commitment. You have to love the instrument and music,” said Virmani.
Of the six pieces he performed at this senior recital, Virmani says that he especially enjoyed playing “Prelude in C minor” by J.S. Bach as well as “Andata” by Ryuichi Sakamato. Having prepared for “Prelude in C minor” since freshman year, Virmani grew close with this piece, performing it passionately with various themes and phrases throughout. Virmani was also able to show the originality of “Andata” by bringing in his friend, Jacob Kaiser ’24, a fellow dancer, to take on the piano introduction as well as the improvised dance.
“[For the collaboration], [Somin] had talked to me what the music felt to him. We talked about how… the piece andata was just a repeated theme over and over again, you can imagine even though it was a very pretty theme that could get a little boring and simple. And so the differences and the smallest nuances in each of the repetitions had to be something that really carried the piece,” said Kaiser.
Two of the pieces, Interstellar’s “No Time for Caution” and “Main Theme”, were written by Virmani himself, as an adaptation of the movie Interstellar’s theme song. Virmani composed the score himself by only listening to the organ section of the theme song. Furthermore, he mentions that constantly listening to the song has allowed him to create an adaptation to the original song, showing his musical duality as an organist and composer.
“The process had a lot of listening and listening to not only the soundtrack, which got me interested in actually thinking about playing on the organ concert…I thought about creating an arc and the piece really ended up just being an ascension with different sections, but also utilizing different parts of the organ and different sounds of the organ so one section was all a brass section,” said Virmani.
Virmani’s dedication and inspiring passion for music resonates with the music community, according to Cathy Cho ’22, a friend and fellow musician. Cho expresses her admiration for Virmani and his constant efforts to dedicate time for his interests. She also comments on the originality of the performance and how it moved her heart as she listened to the pieces.
“He is passionate and dedicated towards it. Practicing during school time, finding a time to find your time to, during your schoolwork go to the chapel and actually go upstairs [to play]. I think that takes tremendous effort and dedication. Also playing in the chapel, at ASM and playing such a huge instrument that everyone can hear, I think that’s a huge thing, because you need so much confidence to do that, and his determination, his confidence, [and] willpower to push through it really inspires me,” said Cho.
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