After 51 years of being a regular church organist, Ed Duling will play his last regular service with First Presbyterian Church of Bowling Green on Sunday.
“There is a call, just like a call to the ministry,” Duling said. “The call may manifest itself in many ways. I think for a traditional church organist, the call manifests itself in being located and asked to play.”
A lifelong United Methodist, Duling began, in the late 2000s, to step in at First Presbyterian as an irregular substitute for longtime organist Vernon Wolcott. In 2012 he was hired to be interim organist and hired on full time in 2014.
The First Presbyterian church has been Duling’s home away from home since then. In addition to playing the sanctuary’s two-story-tall Opus 2 “Christ the King” Leek pipe organ, he will play piano, the occasional trombone or tuba piece and sing, sometimes leading the church as the backup choir director.
“You have to be willing to fit where you are,” Duling said. “Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, I think churches should use their denominational hymnal, because that is where your theology is embodied, in your hymns.”
Christmas Eve of 1969, a 14-year-old Duling sat down for his first public performance at an old Baldwin organ in the Canal-Lewisville United Methodist Church and played the postlude to “Joy to the World.”
“The reason I’m a peppy organist is because when I first started play, the pastor, who ended up serving there 33 years, Russel Hoy, would lean over and say, “Louder. Faster,” so I’m far from a half-fast organist,” Duling said. “Some people would say I play too fast. So that’s why I often — in the middle of choir rehearsal — I will ask if you want this in a normal tempo, or the Canal-Lewisville tempo.”
To this day Duling wears one of Hoy’s robes, which he received after the pastor’s retirement and has now been repaired many times.
Duling said that lively music is always swirling through his mind, and you can hear it in his voice and the way he moves. It’s something that he enjoys and it’s the way he communicates happiness to the world.
Duling is a formally trained music educator. He is formally a low winds player, with trombone and tuba. The church organ, piano and vocals are additional skills he picked up along the way. He did have two formal semesters of organ classes while a student at Ohio State University, where he received his doctorate.
“I was trained in undergrad as a band director. Although I took some voice lessons and enough piano lessons to pass in a music ed degree,” Duling said. “So I’ve had some formal training, but not much. A lot of it has been stuff I’ve sat down and taught myself.”
He moved to this area as a professor of music education at Bowling Green State University. He then transferred to the University of Toledo, where he retired early, to take a position at the Ohio Department of Education in Columbus. He has since taught online music education classes for Kent State University. He has mentored many young music educators.
He is an active member of the Toledo Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, but the level he has achieved is known throughout the organ community.
Duling regularly plays public organ performances as accompaniment for soloists and for choir’s performances of choral masterpieces. It’s the extra work he does as a church organist that makes Duling stand out from the crowd, including funerals and weddings.
The most unusual was a favorite wedding of his which called for music from “Star Trek.”
During Christmas Duling will play piano during the First Presbyterian Deacon’s Christmas party, taking requests from young and old alike. His knowledge of old sheet music and show tunes is vast.
He will even work in the occasional secular piece, such as the Dean Martin version, of “A Marshmallow World.”
Then there is the Christmas tree. He has a table-top lighted Christmas tree that is part of his tuba mute, which will occasionally match the outfit he has on for the event. It brings smiles out of even the most serious in a crowd.
He has traveled by Amtrak to play on the ice at Rockefeller Center, for what he calls “the mothership” of “merry Tuba Christmas events.”
“I haven’t run all over the country to play at merry Tuba Christmas events, just Columbus … and at Rockefeller Center,” Duling said.
Duling does plan on occasionally returning to First Presbyterian, but he is moving back to his family home in Coshocton.