Bio – Chris Cook

Christopher Cook’s February 2017 retirement From Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church as Director of Worship, Music, and the Arts capped a forty-six year career in church music. During his career, he served in a variety of denominations, primarily Episcopal, Lutheran, and most recently, Presbyterian. He studied organ performance at the University of Tulsa under the direction of Dr. Thomas Matthews. Arriving in San Diego, he continued studies with former Civic Organist, Robert Plimpton. For more than ten years, he served on the staff of the Spreckels Organ Society, where he presented its weekly Youth Concerts. Upon his departure, SOS trustees awarded him with an honorary lifetime membership.
In 2006, he was appointed Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church’s Director of Worship, Music and the Arts, where he had been serving as its organist since 2003. Responding to a call to explore the foundations of the arts’ role in worship, Chris earned a Doctor of Worship Studies degree from the Robert E. Webber Institute of Worship Studies in 2011. For many years following, he led the church’s large, creative worship ministry, with a special concentration on training the next generation of worship leaders. Upon retirement, the church conferred upon him Director Emeritus status. He continues to serve in the department as an enthusiastic volunteer.
As a member of the American Guild of Organists, he serves the San Diego Chapter as chairman of its Investment Committee. On the national level, he is past chairman of the National Committee for Professional Career Development and Support. Currently, he writes a monthly column, “The Practical Organist,” for its national publication, The American Organist.
In retirement, Chris remains active as a performer, music ministry consultant, workshop presenter, and teacher of organ and music theory.

Comments ( 6 )

  1. ReplyWiener

    I enjoyed your article in 1/16 TAO. I would add that "people music" is good to include in recitals as well. Back in the 1970s, after hearing one of my recitals, my dad said, "Why don't you ever play anything I know?" My immature and smarty-pants reply was, "Why don't you ever know anything I play?" Later on I realized the importance of what he was saying: just a piece or two based on familiar hymn-tune(s) would help him "get on board" and be able to connect with the pieces unfamiliar to him. We organists, our art, and our instrument would all be more appreciated by the general public if we'd practice that bit of "customer hospitality." BTW, I'm not familiar with "blogging" so I'm not sure if I'm doing this right or if I'll be able to see your response. Wayne Earnest, DMA 724-206-8854

    • Replychriscook

      I don't know how many recitals I have endured where a display of the organist's virtuosity was more important than the audience. We can't afford to leave them behind any longer. People music is simply music that communicates with those in the audience. How hard is that?

  2. Replyglenn

    I totally agree about the importance of including "people music" in service playing and recitals. At some AGO chapter meetings, it is looked down upon if one plays a new hymn arrangement or piece that might be suitable for a service. I think that in order to advance organ music and students of the organ, we have to reach out to where the audience is----and listen to what they truly enjoy. Perhaps this depends, somewhat, on the personality of the organist and their philosophy about the role of organ music in the church. (Recently I was asked to play, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," so that the person could hear how it sounded on our organ. I did it---but not after the Christmas Eve service! It was in a Lutheran Church!!)

    • Replychriscook

      I am sure there are many who can share stories on how they made people happy by playing what they wanted to hear. I will never forget the wedding of two collegiate volleyball players who asked me to play their school's fight song as their recessional. As far as I can tell, most people want to hear what they know. One of the organist's paradoxes is that few people know what WE know. Frankly, I regret not having learned more about how to play theater organ style. Somewhere in their music is a lesson for us. Another positive model for blending might be "evangelical organ" stylings. Clearly, reaching the heart of the people is the purpose. The challenge for us AGO types is to let this value be the priority over "philosophy of the organ" concerns. We are close to snobbing our way out of a job.

  3. ReplyJonathan

    I just ready your "Practical Organist" column in the January (2018) TAO. I share your concern, however.... I share your concern that degreed candidates could not effectively lead congregational singing, follow the direction of the choir director, or sight read. I agree that these are pretty basic skills needed in a church music setting. Personally, my reading is probably what holds me back most. I continue to work on it and find that the more I play (even practicing things I'm preparing to play for worship) the better my reading gets. This leads me to my "however": However, my chief concern comes with the paring of two of your comments: 1) your agreement with the committee "that the choice of an organist is key to the spiritual health of the congregation, so hiring someone is a significant decision with long-range implications." and 2) when referring to the only candidate worth hiring, "Too bad he was about to be transferred out of town for his day job." His day job?! If the organist position is so important to the church (and I agree that it is!), then why do we expect organists to hold down multiple jobs? How is an organist supposed to nurture his/her skills when they are dog tired after a full day of work? I am blessed to be full-time in my church and still I play at a second church and teach 8 students to make ends meet but I can't imaging having to work a full-time job and then adequately prepare for worship. When and, just as important, where would I practice? Unless I was gifted with a practice instrument for my home, I'd have to drive to the church multiple times every week! I'm sure that my skills would deteriorate as quickly as my health would. I'm afraid that until the organist position becomes a full-time position in our churches, the skill level of our organists will continue to decline.

    • Replychriscook

      Jon, thank you for your honest, heartfelt expressions of concern for the welfare of those who people the church's music department. I couldn't agree more! I am afraid that you have caught me in an obvious paradox, so I confess that, after many years of working in both part= and full=time positions, I have adapted to the state of church music as it is. I doubt there has ever been a time when the disparity between work and wages in the church was not so. It is apparent that many churches participate in the magical thinking that "God bucks," i.e., money from the church's coffers, are worth more than money from worldly treasuries. Every once in a while we are given an opportunity to explain the predicament you have described so vividly and to advocate for better working conditions. Let us do so at every opportunity! I wish you the best, plus extra energy to maintain your work load!

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