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 56 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 was then Director of Music for the historic Saint Louis Cathedral Basilica. By a very curious coincidence Dr. Monrotus 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 own Roman Catholic parish churches, first at SS. Peter and Paul in Waterloo, Illinois and afterwards at historic Saint Frances de Sales, St. Louis, also known to locals as the "Cathedral of South Saint Louis." 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 his organ playing had been set in place by his previous teachers, he resumed private organ study in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with John "Quasi" Weissrock, a grandson of Marcel Dupre, tutorially, at the Roman Catholic Church of the Gesu on the campus of Marquette University.
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. Dr. Monrotus was able to benefit greatly from this teacher's genius, and his work with him put him on the direct teacher-pupil succession 9 generations on back to J. S. Bach through Weissrock, Dr. Wayne Fisher, Dupre, Guilmant, Lemmens, Hesse, Rinck, and finally Kittel who was one of the last students of J.S. Bach. At this time Dr. Monrotus could already trace his lineage back 7 generations to J. S. Bach through Dr. Salvador, Middelschulte, Haupt, A.W. Bach, Fischer, and Kittel. He could also trace a lineage 5 generations on back to Cesar Franck through Weissrock, Dr. Fisher, Dupre, and finally Vierne who was one of Franck's last students. His lineage as a great, great grandson of Louis Vierne, tutorially, was of particular interest to him [See Bio subpage, A Case Study].
Dr. Monrotus could have become bivocational, but instead he chose a career in the health professions until his retirement. For a period of 41 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 made when he was 16 years old to a very dear teacher (DeKeersgieter), 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].
Dr. Monrotus is an active fraternal organist, blogger, and composer of organ music. He has a major collection of Twenty Four Pieces and another collection of Four Preludes and Fugues for the organ to his credit. Ten of the pieces in the major collection may be performed on a one manual pipe organ without pedals, a harmonium (reed organ), an electronic stage piano
with pipe organ samples, or even an acoustic piano [See menu bar, Free Stuff]. These collected works were inspired by the sound of the historic 1924 Kimball Symphonic organ of 143 stops at the Cathedral of the Scottish Rite in Saint Louis, Missouri (photo
below), a fully expressive instrument kept in fully playable condition and voiced to speak with the power of a pipe organ over twice its size. These pieces are a smorgasbord of different types all written in a similar style; some are long, some are short,
they cover the entire range from beginner to intermediate to advanced, 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. They're all written
so that the stretch for the hands is an octave or less. All of these scores, with the exception of those undergoing full editorial board review for possible publication, are available in PDF format as an unusual free download
on this web site.
As a composer he likes to think horizontally, his counterpoint is busy, and he introduces imitations and 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 being 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 Choral) 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 one work (Op. 25 Prelude) he introduces an imitation at the interval of a 5th. In still another work (Op. 21 Fantasia) 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 harmonically, 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 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, or led to believe, that 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 good 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 mostly consonant [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XXI].
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. All of his fugues are written in 4 parts and are a product of his own system of fugue writing [see blog, Ten Steps]; they all have 2 countersubjects and push the 4 standard voice ranges to their limits but never exceed them. These are very busy, lively pieces with a relentless driving rhythm and are nothing like "the insipid classroom fugue" one might imagine as the boring, low point of the art. 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 the 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 (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 D Dorian mode. The brief Prelude from Op. 24 is constructed in 3-part form using both countersubjects from the Fugue (both Prelude themes are worked as countersubjects in the Fugue). The Prelude from Op. 25 develops a single theme in 6-part form which is taken from a free voice appearing only once in the Fugue which follows; this Prelude's theme is thus hidden as a free voice in the Fugue. The Op. 26 Prelude also develops a single theme in 6-part form which is taken from the 1st countersubject of the Fugue which follows; here the Fugue's subject is the inversion of the subject from the Op. 25 Fugue.
We find therefore that there's a lot going on in these pieces of his, and the daring moves they make at times [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Parts I-XXXII] explore the boundaries of the art; this sets his writing apart, makes it different, and gives it an identity, a personal stamp. At the same time they all have singable voice lines with no awkward leaps. The basses are highly animated and, in some cases, romp all over the entire pedalboard [See menu bar, Free Stuff]. His Eb Major Trio is a particularly demanding etude in this respect 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 launching in August 2015 this web site has received over 57K visits and over 96K individual page views of 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 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 over 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 assistant organist at the Cathedral of the Scottish Rite in Saint Louis, Missouri (photo below), 8 years as Director of Music for the Valley of Columbia Scottish Rite choir, and 11 years as organist for the all-Christian Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of the State of Missouri.
His national and international appointments have been to the offices of Grand Organist for the all Christian 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.