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(RNS) For six seasons, Ed Alstrom has performed regularly as organist for 50,000-plus fans at weekend games in one of the nation’s highest-profile baseball venues — Yankee Stadium.
Now, he’s got a second gig where crowds usually top out at about 200: Morristown’s Episcopal Church of the Redeemer.
The New Jersey native began his job at Redeemer on Nov. 1, a week after his organ music accompanied the Yankees’ clinching victory over the Los Angeles Angels in the American League Championship Series, and four days after he played for Game 1 of the World Series, which the Yankees went on to win.
It’s a rare mix of the ethereal and the hardball worlds but, Alstrom said, there aren’t that many jobs for organists: You have to be flexible and you have to hustle, he says.
“I was looking, the church was looking, and we liked each other and we agreed on it,” said Alstrom, 52, who found the job posting on Craigslist. “I’m a freelancer who stockpiles work when and where I can get it, regardless of where it is. I’m fortunate in that I can do a lot of different things.”
His Yankee Stadium experience dates to 2004, but his church experience is far deeper; he has more than 30 years of playing at churches across northern New Jersey.
Alstrom said organ music has been magical to him most of his life.
He recalls hearing the Yankee Stadium organ as a child in the late 1960s, when the legendary Eddie Layton was just starting the job he would hold at the keyboard for most of the next 37 years, until he retired in 2003.
Alstrom auditioned for Layton in March 2004.
“There was snow on the field, we were in parkas,” he said. “I sat at the Yankee Stadium organ with Eddie Layton at the doorway requesting songs. He asked for `New York, New York’ and the national anthem and the Canadian national anthem and `Happy Birthday’ and `Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”‘
Alstrom said his favorite memory was playing the final game at the old Yankee Stadium, on Sept. 21, 2008. “I actually … played `Goodnight, Sweetheart,”‘ he said.
Alstrom says organ music at Yankee Stadium may seem spontaneous but it is really tightly directed and scripted.
“It’s a regular production up there,” he said. “I generally only play when the Yanks are batting, and it depends if there’s a rally going.”
The two jobs — and Alstrom’s versatility — offer tantalizing possibilities. He can go from “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on a Saturday evening in the Bronx to playing church standards the next morning.
Alstrom has a new jazz organ CD being released next month, “Gettin’ Organ-ized.” It is his third, after “The Record People Are Coming” and “Acid Cabaret.”
Asked if he’s ever been tempted to break into jazz, Sinatra or baseball music during church services, he said, “I don’t tend to genre-hop up there. I do some spiffy chords that dress things up harmonically, and they (members of Church of the Redeemer) may construe it as jazz, but it’s not intended that way.”
Terry Perkins, who was on the church search committee that selected Alstrom, said he was attracted to Alstrom’s versatility.
“He does beautiful jazz and contemporary. He’s got a very, very eclectic background,” Perkins said. “He’s a composer in his own right.
He has a wealth of experience being an organist in churches, so he knows the drill, but he’s also very accomplished with people.”
Alstrom’s hiring has sparked excitement on the listserv of the Newark Episcopal Diocese, where even the bishop, Mark Beckwith (a Boston Red Sox fan), has contributed, writing, “It is with great (and perhaps reluctant) charity that I (an ardent Red Sox fan) welcome the Yankees’ organist, Ed Alstrom, into our diocese.”
c. 2009 Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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