BANGOR, Maine — If Abraham Ross were an athlete instead of a musician, his prestigious scholarship would have made him quarterback for Notre Dame’s football team.
Come fall, the 18-year-old home-schooled Holden resident will be the organ scholar playing the 1985 four-manual, 50-stop, mechanical action organ, made by Taylor & Boody Organbuilders of Staunton, Va., at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. The four-year scholarship is awarded just once every three years and applicants must audition live in the St. Joseph Memorial Chapel on campus.
“I was fascinated by the instrument,” Ross said Wednesday about why he began playing the instrument. “The organ has such a different variety of colors. It can be a solo instrument or accompany voices and other instruments. That versatility is really what draws me to the organ.”
He auditioned in November for James David Christie, distinguished artist-in-residence at Holy Cross and organist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Ross performed a Bach prelude and fugue, a chorale prelude by Dieterich Buxtehude and a movement for a symphony by Charles-Marie Widor.
Ross learned he’d won the scholarship in January. He did not apply to any other colleges.
“I wanted to stay close to home and, for organ studies, Holy Cross is the best opportunity in New England,” he said. “I’d visited the campus before my audition and liked the sense of tradition there.”
It also was a Catholic school, the faith of tradition of Ross and his family. He said that his parents, Levi and Jennifer Ross, 46 and 47, respectively, do not play musical instruments but his younger sisters Rose, 15, and Adelaide, 10, both play violin.
Abraham Ross, who also plays cello, said that being able to play the piano gave him a good foundation in keyboard skills for learning to play the organ in his early teens. Anyone interested in the organ really should study piano first, the musician, who began playing piano when he was 5, advised.
“Abe is a rarely gifted young musician who has made extraordinary progress in just a few years,” Ross’ teacher Kevin Birch said Thursday in an email. “His growing repertoire includes major works of many style periods.”
Ross regularly fills in for Birch, organist and music director at St. John Catholic Church in Bangor, during Masses when he is not playing at Sunday services at Grace United Methodist Church. He has been the organist at the Protestant church on Union Street in Bangor for four years.
“I’ve developed a real affinity for liturgical music and the organ as a solo instrument,” he said Wednesday. “I’d be happy to be doing this my whole life.”
The teenager reluctantly admitted that he’d like his current teacher’s job, or one like it. Ross has been taking lessons for the past five years from Birch, who is recognized internationally for his expertise in the playing and history of the instruments made by E.&G.G. Hook of Boston. The firm crafted the organ in St. John’s.
“Abraham handles the complexities of the pipe organ with grace and composure that is startling for someone of his age,” Birch said. “A relaxed and focused performer, he is devoted to the whole process of music making.”
Birch said that his student has other qualities that allowed him to win such a prestigious scholarship.
“He is humble, hardworking, generous with his time and talent, collaborative, responsible and dependable,” the teacher said. “Abe demonstrates a rare combination of gifts — ideally suited to the demands of high-level music making in liturgy and in concert. Further, these qualities are rooted in an admirable integration of musicianship, faith, vocation and a supportive family.”
Abraham Ross will perform a recital on the E.&G.G. Hook Organ at 7:30 p.m. June 12, at St. John Catholic Church, 207 York St., Bangor.