Biographical

Steven Monrotus BA, DMD is a member of the Saint Louis Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and has been playing the organ for 55 years.  He had the good fortune beginning at the age of 13 to have studied the instrument privately with some very inspiring and encouraging teachers outside his school district.  Organists in the Saint Louis area who helped shape his musical development were Robert Thompson (1963-65), Henri DeKeersgieter (1965-66), and Dr. Mario Salvador AAGO (1969) who at the time was director of music of the historic Saint Louis Cathedral Basilica.  Study with Dr. Salvador placed him on the direct teacher/pupil succession through Wilhelm Middelschulte on back to J.S. Bach.  Additionally, by a very curious coincidence, he happened to be born in Saint Louis on the very day that Dr. Salvador played the dedication recital on the newly built and installed Kilgen liturgical organ at St. Louis Cathedral Basilica on which he took his lessons with Dr. Salvador some 20 years later.

During his high school years at the age of 15, after only 18 months of private study with his first teacher, he performed on stage before a live audience of 500 people in a theatrical show with 22 acts and was awarded a first place for his organ playing.  Under this early influence he progressed rapidly and at the age of 23 he became organist for his parishes, first at SS. Peter and Paul Church in Waterloo, Illinois (1973-1975) and afterwards at historic Saint Frances de Sales Church, also known to locals as the "Cathedral of South Saint Louis" (1975-1977).  During these busy four years he performed weekly for the organ Mass and on feast days, never missing a day of obligation.  After relocating to Farmington, Missouri, and much later in life, after the foundations of playing had been set in place by his previous teachers, he resumed private organ study in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with John Weissrock, a grandson of Marcel Dupre, tutorially, who at the time was principal organist at the historic Church of the Gesu on the campus of Marquette University (1999-2002).  In the same way that Dr. Salvador was a legend in the Saint Louis area, John Weissrock was a legend in the Milwaukee area and the first and youngest ever to win the prestigious National Organ Playing Competition held in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  He was able to benefit greatly from John's genius, and his work with him put him on the direct teacher-pupil succession through Dr. Wayne Fisher, Dupre, and Louis Vierne on back to Cesar Franck, and additionally through Vierne and Charles-Marie Widor on back to J.S. Bach.

Dr. Monrotus could have become bivocational, but instead he chose a career in dentistry which he practiced in the State of Missouri for 41 years (1975-2016) until he retired.  During these years he worked as a trusted and respected doctor of dentistry but still continued his study of the organ and organ playing his whole life, partly because he loved it and partly to comply with a promise he gave when he was 16 years old to a very dear teacher, at his teacher's insistence, to never give up playing the instrument.  He's performed at the organ for many weddings and innumerable worship services and fraternal ceremonies, devoting countless hours of service to this specialized music ministry.  He has arranged for keyboard and recorded on three CDs a large collection of Christian hymns, anthems, and songs for the benefit of Autism Speaks, the Hearing Health Foundation, and to help fund research into the causes and treatment of central auditory processing disorder in children.

In 1982 he successfully unearthed a fresh, new arithmetic code which explains the ordering of pieces which J.S. Bach presumably had in mind when he composed his monumental collection of fugues and canons built upon a single theme which has come down to us under the title Die Kunst der Fuga (The Art of Fugue).  This undertaking of Bach's, which was begun in the early 1740's or earlier, was to create a number of fugues and canons based upon only one deceptively simple 10-second theme in d minor which would demonstrate everything that could be done with it using the craft of counterpoint.  In this project Bach's robust contrapuntal technique and unrivaled control of harmonic and motivic development are quite evident.  Death overtook the composer before he was able to finish everything in it to his satisfaction, but, even in its incomplete state, Bach succeeded in producing an hour and 10 minutes of beautifully intricate music.  The paper which essays this hidden mathematical symbolism has been posted pro bono on this blog [See menu bar, Blog/Archive, subpage The Art of Fugue].

As a composer he's very driven when it comes to composition.  He has a small but significant body of 24 collected pieces to his credit [See photo below], 10 of which may be performed on a one manual pipe organ without pedals, a harmonium (reed organ), an electronic stage piano with pipe organ samples, or an acoustic piano [See menu bar, Bio, Catalogue of Works].  These works were inspired by the sound of the historic 1924 Kimball Symphonic organ of 143 stops in the Saint Louis Scottish Rite Cathedral auditorium [See menu bar, Photos 3], a fully expressive and flexible instrument kept in fully playable condition and voiced to speak with the power of an organ over twice its size.  These pieces are a smorgasbord of sizes and styles; some works are long, some are short, they cover the entire range from difficult to moderately difficult to easy, they stay within the bounds of traditional tonality, they're highly idiomatic to the organ, pay close attention to form, and a lot of it is in 3 or 4 part texture.  These are all available in PDF format as a free download from www.organbench.com [See below].

As a composer he likes to think horizontally, his counterpoint is densely packed in places, and he introduces canons into many of his pieces.  In one of his works (Op. 12) the theme is presented right side up against its inverse which is worked as a 2 part canon at the octave; the theme afterwards appears in retrograde against another 2 part canon at the octave with the theme in retrograde; after a second theme is introduced it's worked in a 2 part augmentation canon at the octave and is followed by a return of the first theme in a 3 voice canon; the final section combines the first theme with a 2 voice canon at the octave which carries the second theme ... all of this canonic writing contained in one piece!  In another work (Op. 16) the theme is presented 4 successive times in 3 voice canon where, in one entry, all 3 moving lines are worked in inverse movement.  In yet another work (Op. 18) a theme returns in the relative minor key as a 3 part canon at the octave, after which a second theme makes another return as a 3 part canon at the octave.  In still another work (Op. 21) an imitation at the interval of a 4th and another imitation at the interval of a 5th are introduced in the same passage.

His writing shows other signature moves:  it's colorful, even spicy at times through the use of altered chords and chromatic harmonies, and his vocabulary is sometimes based on the methods that Louis Vierne had used [See menu bar, Homage/Photos 2]; his 4 part polyphonic writing generally follows the rules [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX] but he also acknowledges the fact that life improves dramatically when someone decides to break the rules and finds beauty when they were told there was none.  When writing homophonically in so-called "keyboard style" (as in Op. 2) he deliberately exceeds the upper limits of the soprano and alto voices (and also the tenor to allow it to be taken by the right hand); save for his Eb Major Trio (a technical study which works the entire pedalboard) he never permits the tenor and bass lines to cross.  The only time he permits adjacent voices to meet at a unison (prime) is when there is no other alternative.  In every piece he composes there's at least one place where the moving lines approach each other momentarily at a "near miss" minor 2nd interval or which form a dissonant major 7th or minor 9th, which adds a little sparkle to the writing while still sounding consonant [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XXI].  At the same time all of his music is written so that the stretch for the hands is an octave or less.

Organists are always looking for new music, and these scores are not the kind of music that's likely to disappear after a few years and be replaced by something more up to date.  As for his 11 fugues, they're all written in 4 parts, all are a product of his own system of fugue writing [see blog, Ten Steps], all have 2 countersubjects, and all push the 4 standard voice ranges to their limits but never exceed them.  One of his Preludes (from Op. 11) is paired with a gutsy, related double fugue worked in quadruple counterpoint with transitions of only 1-2 bars in 4 voices for episodes.  This Fugue contains many bold moves and repays careful study [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part VI].  The remainder of his fugues are worked in triple counterpoint with episodes typically carried by 2 voices.  One of these (Op. 13, the A Major "jig") has another bold opening exposition with a redundant (5th) entry and a second exposition which presents the subject and both countersubjects in inverse movement.  In another (Op. 18) the opening exposition has a specialized redundant entry inseparable from the 4th entry with the subject and both countersubjects inverted.  Yet another Fugue (Op. 6, the D Major "jig") works every episode in 3 voices, another one (from Op. 10) has only one long central episode, and still another (Op. 22, entitled "Postlude") works the Dorian mode.  There's a lot going on in these fugues of his, and the daring moves they make at times [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Parts I-XXVIII] explore the boundaries of the art; at the same time they all have singable voice lines with no awkward leaps but highly animated basses.  His Eb Major Trio in fact romps all over the entire pedalboard [See menu bar, Free Stuff].  This Trio is a particularly demanding etude and addresses one of the most (if not THE most) difficult aspect of organ playing, which is getting the left hand and feet to move independently anywhere on the keys and exactly in time with the right hand [See blog, The Hardest Thing].

Additionally, he's the author of the blog Organ Bench (www.organbench.com), a unique and successful coaching resource of material, information, and encouragement for amateur and professional development and all those interested in the pipe organ and its music.  Since its inception in August 2015 this web site has received over 45K visits and over 77K page views to its blog/archive.  The scores for his compositions and their related descriptions are all posted on this blog for the benefit of his friends for stopping by, and, when cross compared, are a mini-course in how to get started composing organ music.  It very much recalls The Joy of Painting series of public television broadcasts by the late artist Bob Ross who, starting with a blank canvas, takes one by the hand and demonstrates, step by step, in little bits at a time, how to construct an oil painting of a wonderful, imaginary landscape.  Organ Bench takes the reader, step by step, through a very similar process of composing organ compositions in various styles, explaining where the creative ideas for these musical "landscapes" come from and how to overcome the fear of failure.  And, just as Bob Ross said, "The secret to doing anything is believing you can do it.  Anything that you believe you can do strong enough, you can do.  Anything.  As long as you believe."  These same things learned in writing this type of music can then be applied to extemporaneous composition in the practice of improvisation.  A very great deal about writing organ music, among other things, can be learned from the examples (scores) and cross referenced information (blog postings) archived on this web site.

Through his service to his organizations he's become one of the most experienced and versatile fraternal organists actively serving in North America.  This specialized music ministry, extended to include a number of fraternal groups at the state, national, and international levels, includes a combined record of experience with them, in aggregate, of nearly 100 service related years.  He's performed at nearly 40 fraternal venues throughout North America and has served many years as organist for several fraternal bodies in Missouri, including a stretch of 8 years as a choir rehearsal pianist and member of the organist staff at the Saint Louis Scottish Rite Cathedral [See menu bar, Photos 3], 8 years as organist and director of music for the Columbia Valley Scottish Rite, and 11 years as organist for the Missouri Grand Commandery of Knights Templar.

His national and international appointments have been to the offices of Grand Organist for the York Rite Sovereign College of North America (since 2012), Provincial Grand Organist for the United States of America, Masonic Order of Athelstan in England, Wales, & its Provinces Overseas (since 2012), General Grand Organist for the General Grand Chapter Royal Arch Masons International (since 2014), and General Grand Musician for the General Grand Council Cryptic Masons International (since 2014).  He recorded a CD of original music, Christian hymns, and anthems for use in the consecration of new Courts for the Provincial Grand Court of the United States of America, Masonic Order of Athelstan.  He also holds memberships in several invitational Trinitarian Christian organizations and is the recipient of a number of awards and honors for his charitable work and musical service.  Cool