Ottumwa organist to celebrate 60 years as a musician


Shadonix will perform a free concert Oct. 30

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

OTTUMWA — Tom Shadonix, director of music at St. Mary Parish, still remembers the day he decided to start playing the organ as a 14-year-old.

By that point he’d been playing piano for 10 years and the organist at his protestant church in Ottumwa needed help. The organist offered free lessons and playing time in the church to anyone who was willing to play during services. “I started then because it seemed like fun, something different to do,” Tom said.

Contributed Tom Shadonix plays organ at St. Mary Parish in Ottumwa (as Larry the Cable Guy).
Tom Shadonix plays organ at St. Mary Parish in Ottumwa (as Larry the Cable Guy).

To celebrate 60 years as a keyboardist — and 50 as an organist — Tom will perform a free concert at St. Mary’s on Oct. 30 at 3 p.m. He will play a variety of “fun” pieces, including Stars and Stripes Forever and the Bach Toccata and Fugue that “everyone associates with Phantom of the Opera.” The Seton School Angel Choir will join him in a performance of “Ave Maria” in Latin. String players from the Ottumwa Symphony, as well as some of Tom’s string students (he also plays violin) will join him in performing one of Handel’s organ concertos. The concert will conclude with Cesar Franck’s “Chrorale #3,” “which I swear was written for St. Mary’s organ,” Tom said.

Tom has been playing the organ at St. Mary’s for the past 16 years. He looks forward to showing off the capabilities of St. Mary’s organ, which features a “tracker action” mechanical key action. This allows greater control, and thus more expression. The organ also has two computer units to assist the player in turning on or off the various pipes to change the tone color of the organ sound. Of course, it’ll be a chance for Tom to share his love of church music and accompaniment.
He sees his career as a church musician — in Catholic and Protestant churches alike — as both exciting and sacrificial. Because he is expected to play on major religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter, “It has meant that my family either has had to be without me or that we need to move our celebrations to other times.”

Many times, church musicians play on a volunteer basis or at part-time pay, and the hours can be long. This type of commitment, he admits, doesn’t appeal to everyone. “You have to be prepared to do this glorious work with a sense of altruism and without the thought of earthly reward.” It can be expensive and difficult to learn organ, especially for someone who studies the instrument in college as he did. Many organists must supplement their income by teaching lessons or having a full-time job in another field, he said. Tom works for St. Mary’s part-time, plays violin in the Ottumwa Symphony and teaches violin lessons.

He also plays various instruments in local ensembles and productions. One time he was playing ‘Larry the Cable Guy’ in a local theatre production. The Saturday matinee performance ended just before Mass, and he didn’t have time to change clothes. “I told (then-pastor) Father Bernie Weir that Larry the Cable Guy was playing Mass, and he was fine with it,” he joked.

Though a commissioned Minister of Music in the United Church of Christ, Shadonix does not affiliate himself with “any one church. I am home wherever God is present.” He said there “aren’t adequate words” to explain how meaningful it has been to be involved with St. Mary’s as the people worship and during key events in their lives, such as weddings and funerals. “I pray daily for God to fill me with his music and light and that others will see that light through the music I play.”

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