It’s hard to imagine many Midwestern teenagers having Christ Cathedral and its Hazel Wright Organ as a must-see stop on their first trip to California, but that is exactly how Hektor Pitstick felt. So, when the 19-year-old visited Disneyland on a family vacation, he made sure to convince everyone — mother, father and four younger siblings — to embark on a side trip to Christ Cathedral.
HEKTOR PITSTICK IS ONE OF A SELECT FEW CATHEDRAL ORGAN SCHOLARS AT CHRIST CATHEDRAL PARISH, A SPECIAL INTERNSHIP PROGRAM UNDER THE TUTELAGE OF CATHEDRAL ORGANIST AND HEAD OF MUSIC MINISTRY DAVID BALL. PHOTOS BY EVERETT JOHNSON/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
“They enjoyed the tour, but I was ‘nerding out’ and asking too many questions,” Pitstick recalled. “It was cool for them to ride the elevator to the top of the building, but they wanted to go back to Disneyland.”
It would be a fateful visit, leading Pitstick, now 20, to become one of a select few Cathedral Organ Scholars at Christ Cathedral parish, a special internship program under the tutelage of cathedral organist and Head of Music Ministry David Ball.
HEKTOR PITSTICK TAKES IN A SPECIAL HAZEL WRIGHT ORGAN PERFORMANCE AT CHRIST CATHEDRAL WITH CATHEDRAL ORGANIST AND HEAD OF MUSIC MINISTRY DAVID BALL (LEFT) AND DR. EMMA WHITTEN, ASSOCIATE ORGANIST.
The young musician joins the ranks of previous Organ Scholars who have gone on to Juilliard and Yale, among other prestigious campuses. The Organ Scholars program puts young people “right in the thick of it,” Ball said.
The students are part of the day-to-day activities, the choral programs, the administrative tasks, and all the behind the scenes work that goes into running a music program.
“Anytime a young person is interested in how a church music program runs, that’s a huge step in the right direction,” Ball said. “It’s obviously something that we want to nurture and to see if there is potential there to become the next generation of church musicians.”
Lauren McCaul, cathedral music administrator, knew that Pitstick showed a lot of potential during his eventful cathedral tour in February 2022. He asked thoughtful questions, she said. He didn’t just want to see the 17,000-pipe Hazel Wright Organ; he wanted to learn about liturgical music, the cathedral music ministry and the Diocese of Orange, said McCaul.
“He had such an active interest in what we do here,” she continued, “so I thought, ‘Well, that’s interesting for a young person to have so much maturity and such an engagement in liturgical music.’”
Pitstick reached out to McCaul via email before his family’s Disneyland vacation to “meet Hazel” and talk with the music ministry team.
Unfortunately for Pitstick, the Hazel Wright Organ was not yet unveiled to the public after its $3-million restoration. But McCaul and Ball coyly mentioned to Pitstick that he should come back the next day for the World Marriage Day Mass.
“We can’t tell you why,” McCaul recalled telling him, “but you really want to be at this event.”
So, Pitstick showed up not knowing exactly why. It soon became apparent. For that Mass on Feb. 7, 2022, Hazel, newly restored and ready for her soft-opening debut, was publicly played for the first time in nearly a decade.
“It was pretty thrilling,” Pitstick said. “It seemed too good to be true.”
DISCOVERING AN ICON
Pitstick discovered Hazel and her Christ Cathedral home during the pandemic. After finally gaining access to an organ at a church in Montana, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so he spent his time at home instead, researching music online and watching YouTube videos. They led him to Hazel.
YouTube recommended “Psalms at the Organ with David Ball.” Pitstick found it “epic.” From there, YouTube continued recommending more and more videos from the Diocese of Orange’s channel.
“I remember just thinking then — and this would have been in 2020 — ‘Oh, man! It would be my dream to work there some day,’” Pitstick said.
Thanks to Ball and McCaul, his dream became a reality. But even though the Organ Scholar program had an opening, it would take some doing.
Pitstick was majoring in organ performance at the University of Montana in Missoula. Ball and McCaul made a by-the-scene plan for Pitstick to transfer and continue his studies at Concordia University in Irvine while also getting real-life experience interning at Christ Cathedral.
“This is where we come back in, manipulating things,” Ball said laughing.
Ball and McCaul put the idea together and presented it to Pitstick, but he had already looked into transferring music programs and knew it was not quick or easy.
“When they first said that,” Pitstick said, “I was like, ‘Well, that’s a nice dream, but it’s not going to happen.’”
But with Ball and McCaul’s guidance and contacts at Concordia, Pitstick was able to transfer without starting back at square one in his music studies. The first hurdle of school figured out, Pitstick said he was excited, but also nervous.
“I was born in one city in Montana and then lived there until I was 18,” Pitstick said. “And then moved to go to college in a different city in Montana, so I knew it would be a pretty big change. I ultimately decided that even if I was going from the big fish in the small pond to just another fish in a larger pond, I was OK with that because I love the music program here so much and just really wanted to participate in it.”