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When a virtuoso visits

Praised as a brilliant musician, Kenneth Goodman, came to Masterton in 1962 to play his electric organ. MARK PACEY of the Wairarapa Archive looks back on the concert.

The grandson of a slave and son of a coal wagon driver, Kenneth Goodman rose to become an internationally recognised musician. At the age of five his parents took him to a church service in his hometown of Philadelphia, where young Goodman was immediately taken by the organ.

“It was so emotional, and music without emotion is dead,” he said of the experience.

As the youngest of seven children and not from a wealthy family, Goodman did not get the chance to be taught how to play the organ. Instead, he sat behind the keys and taught himself to play by ear.

At the age of 12, however, he got a job sweeping porches in order to pay the 25 cents for organ lessons. He started playing at the local church and caught the attention of a wealthy doctor who decided that this very talented boy deserved a chance to become great. The doctor funded Goodman to have lessons at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. He later won a fellowship to study in Paris under Marcel Dupre, a famed organist and composer.

While studying in Paris, Goodman started playing shows and he performed for Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace in England, and physician, musicologist, humanitarian, and philosopher Albert Schweitzer at his home in Germany.

Schweitzer encouraged Goodman to continue what he was doing, but not to compromise on who he was.

“Many will not understand your genius. They will expect you to do things a European does. You not only have mastered the order and mechanics of Europe – you do not stop there”.

Goodman continued to play shows around Europe and his name became well-known in the region. In 1962 he ventured out of Europe and began a tour of the deep, deep south below the equator, which brought him to New Zealand.

His tour began in January, and he performed nationwide in halls, schools, and churches. On April 1, he played at the Presbyterian Church in Masterton. The following day, he was scheduled to perform in the Town Hall.

The reception he received was very warm and welcoming, and the organist was very appreciative of this.

“There is something very special about New Zealand,” he said.

On the night of April 2, Goodman walked out onto the stage and was greeted with applause from the audience. Flashing a broad smile, he began to play. The first half of his show comprised of classical organ compositions. Overture to Bach’s Cantata No. 29, Francois Couperin’s Souer Monique and the B Flat Major Organ Concerto by Handel were some of the featured pieces.

While Goodman was a brilliant pipe organ player, on this tour he was playing an electric organ due to simple logistics – the much smaller instrument was easier to transport.

During the break, the audience made requests, and in the second half Goodman obliged by playing some of them. He also gave a demonstration of his improvisational skills, playing a series of melodies in a continuous performance.

There was no rest for Goodman on his tour. After finishing in Masterton, he went on to give a series of shows in schools and churches in Napier and Hastings and played in towns in the North Island for the rest of April. The following month he began a tour of the South Island and stayed playing in New Zealand until September, when he left for tours of Australia and Japan. Goodman donated all the proceeds of the tour to charity work in Africa.

After the tour Goodman returned to Europe and then back to his native USA. He settled in Chicago, where he continued to give shows at schools and private parties. At one of these, he was noticed by August Ditzinger, owner of the restaurant The Barn, who offered Goodman a job playing in his establishment. For the next 25 years The Barn was his home, where he was joined in music by many celebrities and singers, with patrons coming to the restaurant just to hear him play.

Goodman retired in 1998 at the age of 87. The following year he suffered a stroke and died in his Rosemont home.

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