In 2006, when Joshua Stafford left Jamestown to study playing the organ at the Curtis Institute of Music, many people questioned how he could possibly get any better.
Friday evening at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, he came back home and showed us how.
Members of the community filled every seat in the large church to see and hear the young man who had given so much of himself to us while he lived here. In return, he filled the room with every kind of sound imaginable, from gentle and sweet to majestic and magnificent, with every gradation between the two.
The concert was the fourth offering in the 2011-12 season of the Jamestown Concert Assn.
The organist began his program with the prelude to the opera ''Hansel and Gretel,'' by German composer Engelbert Humperdinck, as transcribed by E.H. Lemare. Composition, transcription and performance were all works of genius.
The St. Luke's organ has three keyboards for the hands, called manuals, plus an additional one for the feet, called pedals. Each keyboard is capable of making dozens of different sounds, and of borrowing more sounds from the other keyboards. It was astonishing to watch the organist's hands moving from one keyboard to the other, while his feet performed what looked like flamenco. A melody would begin with a flute's voice, then change to an oboe's voice. A clarinet would join for a brief duet, until a bassoon introduced a darker element, and it all changed in moments.
Both hands and both feet were flying, as well as reaching out to the sides to add or subtract the sounds of other instruments by pulling or pushing large white knobs located there. Occasionally, it was possible to see a thumb snake beneath a manual and press a piston which would change the entire sound of the instrument.
Once, I'm certain I saw him playing rapid and complex music with the fingers of his left hand, then reach down to the manual below the one on which he was playing to play a louder and more dramatic melody with his left thumb, without stopping his fingers, and playing the louder melody in perfect legato, despite being played with a single digit. All the while, his feet flew and his other hand was hard at work. The music alone was thrilling. The registrations were positively brilliant.
His second selection, ''Fantasie en La Majeur, M35'' by Cesar Frank was a dark, poetic work which was made outstanding by his mastery of dynamics. A melody would be shouted by the full organ, then repeated and developed by a quiet string ensemble. Just as one was drawn in to the prayerful and peaceful strings, reed stops would scream an alert.
French organist Marcel Dupre composed the third work, ''Symphonie No.2, Op. 26.'' In his regular spoken commentary, Stafford described performing the work as ''an athletic feat,'' and indeed it was, making an impressive visual spectacle to go with the aural thrills.
Following intermission, he stepped to the church's lecturn and told us that Franz Liszt is famous for his piano music, but that he also had composed a great deal for the organ. There was a pause, and then he added, ''Most of it isn't very good, unfortunately.'' We laughed, but Stafford proved beyond doubt that ''Fantasie und Fugue uber den Choral 'Ad Nos, Ad Salutarem,' S. 259'' was a significant exception to that rule. It was vast in size and dramatic in coloration, and most impressive.
The audience went wild in a lengthy ovation, which he finally defused by razzle dazzling us with an encore of the famed ''Tico Tico.''
We hear many wonderful performances in our little town, but this was certainly one of the best of the past 40 years. Bravo!