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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'National' organist

Funeral playing strikes a chord with TV viewers

As organist and associate director of music at Washington [D.C.] National Cathedral, Erik Wm. Suter fields a few various phone calls and e-mails each day. But on the afternoon of June 11, when Suter returned to his office from playing for a funeral, he found 150 messages — most from people he didn't know.

The calls and e-mails complimented his performance at the organ for that funeral, which had been broadcast on TV: It was for President Ronald Reagan.

Playing for the service was a special honor, said Suter, who has been at the cathedral for six years. "I could feel the gravity of the event," said the member of Irving Park Lutheran Church, Chicago, where his
father, Kendrick Suter, is pastor. "This was a piece of history in the making."

Suter had been prepared for the funeral for more than a year, ever since the Reagan family had chosen the music that would accompany the event. And about a day before the two-term president died, the cathedral received a call that he was gravely ill.

This isn't the first major service for which Suter has played. He was the organist for the nation's Sept. 11 memorial. Also, he could be called again to perform at a funeral for a former head of state. All former U.S. presidents have requested a service at the cathedral.

Suter's interest in the organ started when he was about 8. That's when he first heard famed Lutheran organist Paul Manz perform at Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago.

Although he hopes to return to the Midwest at some point in his career, for now Suter will continue gracing the country's most famous cathedral with his playing. And he will be prepared should another historical event require his services.


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