SYCAMORE – Craig Fritz describes himself as a one-man orchestra when he plays the organ.
Easily transitioning from high flute to brassy trumpet, Fritz said he loves the variation in sounds that can fill the entire church.
Fritz has been an organist at Sycamore United Methodist Church for 35 years.
The congregation recently celebrated the occasion with a concert and program that featured the church’s adult choir and various singers and musicians from different decades of his life.
In addition to his music duties, Fritz has been active in youth group and young adult ministries at the church, including leadership roles on multiple mission trips in the United States and abroad, and served in many other capacities.
Fritz also works full-time at Northern Illinois University as an applications developer on the PeopleSoft Team within the divisions of Information Technology.
Fritz met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss his 35 years playing at SUMC.
Katrina Milton: How did you become the church’s organist?
Craig Fritz: I was originally hired to accompany the choir and play for one of the church services. Helen Dean, the church organist before me, was ill and couldn’t make nighttime services. She passed away six months later, and I took over all of the organist duties. Helen’s family donated her piano to the church, and it’s still used for choir practices. Her legacy still lives on at the church.
Milton: How old were you when you first became the church organist?
Fritz: I was a senior at NIU at that time, with an accounting and computer science double major and a music minor. I started playing the piano when I was 7. I always wanted to play the organ, but the keys were harder to press. My organ teacher played at my church, and it was always inspirational to me. To have everyone join in singing along to the music is one of the reasons I learned how to play the organ.
Milton: Has organ playing changed much in the last 35 years?
Fritz: I grew up in Wheaton and became a member of [SUMC] when I started attending NIU. At that time, most churches had organs, but not all were pipes like ours, some were electronic. I think there’s a different sound between pipe and electronic organ. A pipe organ can easily fill a big room with sound. We have a medium-sized organ, so there are about 1,200 individual pipes.
Milton: What is your role as church organist?
Fritz: I am a church staff member, it’s a paid position. I have eight weeks off a year, and the choir director or two others in church can play the organ. Once a month, a contemporary band comes in, and I play the keyboard with them. I accompany the choir for the 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. Sunday services. On Saturdays, there is contemporary music, no organ. We celebrate the holidays with a big cantata at Christmas and Easter. They’re similar to concerts, but with a theme, Gospel readings and three to four other instrumentalists featured on different songs. I also play weddings and funerals.
Milton: What response has the congregation had to your music?
Fritz: Sometimes people sit and listen to me perform a postlude after a service, or they relax and listen to a prelude before a service. People often come up to me after the service and tell me that a song I played really touched them or it made them cry. Others say it reminded them of someone or of when they were younger. That really means a lot to me.
Milton: Do you have to practice before each Sunday service?
Fritz: It takes a couple hours a week to practice and prepare. There are always new songs, something new. A new Methodist hymnal is published every 25 years. The beauty of an organ is that it can be very loud and majestic, or it can be soft and quiet. There’s so much variety.
Milton: What songs do you play on the organ during church services?
Fritz: We play mostly traditional Christian songs like “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Either the pastors or the music director chooses the songs. The congregation and the choir sing along to the songs.
Milton: What makes the organ a unique instrument?
Fritz: As I’m playing the organ, I can speed up, slow down, play louder or play softer. I play along with the singing and help set the mood and spirit of the service. It helps people participate in the worship. It sounds amazing when the entire congregation joins in to sing, and we usually have 25 to 30 people in the choir. I love to play when people are singing. It’s a way to glorify God. An organ can make a variety of sounds and variations, like a trumpet or flute. Playing the organ is like being a one-man orchestra.