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No need for Twitter: Teen finds her fit playing organ

SAN ANTONIO — Margaret-Mary Owens doesn't say much. She's a rare 17-year-old who neither tweets nor texts.

But put her behind an organ, and she's loud enough to shake the floorboards and drown out a room. Her hands jump around as she frowns in concentration. Then she's Irish dancing over a row of foot pedals, bringing thunder down from heaven to vibrate the choir loft and fill the simple, unassuming church.

Margaret-Mary is an organist in a generation of bloggers, YouTube rock stars and screen-time addicts, and she wants to make a career out of playing centuries-old compositions.

After playing the organ for about a year, she landed a spot at Florida State University's music school and has earned five music scholarships.

She just graduated from high school after being homeschooled by her mother. Margaret-Mary will leave her Carrollwood home for college in the fall.

She wants to teach or be a church organist after she finishes college, she said.

Sometimes she fills in for the organist at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in San Antonio, where her family attends. They usually go to the Latin Mass, which does not typically include music. So she didn't know many of the hymns or when music was played during the Mass.

"I just needed to learn when to play and what kind of hymns to play when," she said.

In other words, no problem.

But learning the organ is inherently difficult — organists play a pedalboard with their feet and combine complicated sounds with keys, pistons and stops, sometimes mimicking other instruments. Each organ is unique.

Margaret-Mary practices with her organ teacher, James Carmichael, every other week for two hours. They move around the Tampa Bay area to get used to organs she plays for different occasions.

They will probably practice at a downtown Tampa church this summer, Carmichael said, because the organ there resembles what she will play at FSU.

When she isn't practicing organ or piano, or doing schoolwork, she likes to cut layers of paper and make three-dimensional art scenes with them. She also reads science articles.

Now she's registering for her college classes, and she looks forward to all of them.

"I like doing school," she said.

She also likes spending time with her friends. But social networking? Not so much. She only recently set up a Facebook account, after an FSU student told her professors use it for classes.

Still, she isn't worried about leaving homeschooling and a small church for a university with 40,000 students. She knows a few people in the music school already and will spend most of her time there.

That's just fine with her, and she likes the music school dorm as well as the overall campus.

She also likes all the pieces she plays, going to church, organ lessons that challenge her and teaching piano to children.

She doesn't demand much — only the best in herself.

Her father, Richard Owens, said that when she was a new piano student, she would turn away from the instrument, and her teacher would play something short. Then 6-year-old Margaret-Mary would turn back and repeat it, note for note.

Carmichael said she is one of the best organists he has taught.

"I mean way, way at the top of the heap," he said.

That showed at a June 12 concert for the Saint Anthony's feast day. She played for 20 minutes, storming through heavy sounds and skipping across light ones. The pastor surprised her with a music scholarship at the end of the night.

After she performed, she held her hands over her lap, and they shook slightly. But as the other musicians played, she was still.

Clare Lennon can be reached at clennon@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6262. Twitter: @clarelennon.

No need for Twitter: Teen finds her fit playing organ 06/17/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 8:08pm]
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