Living a Chimera: La Jolla High grad graduate Chelsea Chen returns to San Diego for an all-female organ festival

Chelsea Chen has more than two decades of organ playing behind her, but the 2001 La Jolla High School graduate credits several La Jollans for influencing her passion for the pipes.

Chen, who is now based in Zurich, Switzerland, will take the stage next month at Spreckels Organ Pavilion in San Diego’s Balboa Park as part of the 34th San Diego International Summer Organ Festival, which runs until to Labor Day, Monday, September 1. 5.

The festival, entitled “A Tribute to Women in Music” and organized by Raul Prieto Ramirez – Spreckels Organ Society artistic director and San Diego civic organist – features a different female performer at 7:30 p.m. every Monday.

Chen will play on August 1. All performances are free and open to the public.

Chen said she didn’t realize the festival was an all-women’s affair when she accepted the invitation.

Encouraged to perform women’s pieces for the show, Chen has composed a varied program that will include her own piece “Taiwanese Suites” and a “Phantom of the Opera Medley” arranged by Chen’s former Juilliard classmate, Yui Kitamura. , as well as classic pieces and even “The Flintstones Theme”.

That the festival focuses on music composed by women is special, Chen said, because classical music is mostly composed by men.

“The most famous plays that people know are all by men,” she said. “I think that’s changing because women now have the opportunity to have this kind of itinerant career and be songwriters full time. I know some amazing female composers.

Chen said she wrote “Taiwanese Suites” for the Spreckels organ and her 2003 concert there before leaving for Taiwan on a Fulbright scholarship that immersed her in her native Taiwanese language and culture. dad. She continued to collect Taiwanese folk songs and melodies, arranging them for organ.

“When I look back, it [2003] concert and that piece really launched my career as a performer because it’s my signature piece that people have asked me to play for the past 20 years,” she said.

Chelsea Chen began taking organ lessons while attending La Jolla High School.

(Darius Liktorius)

Since then, in addition to performing, Chen launched his website, chelseachen.comstudied at Yale University and composed and published music, becoming a full-time concert performer in 2009.

She last performed at Spreckels in 2018. The hall organ, the largest outdoor organ in the world, is “a treasure for San Diego,” Chen said.

Chen first fell in love with the organ at a camp the summer before high school. She began private lessons in the second grade, taught by organist and La Jollan Leslie Robb at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Pacific Beach and by pianists and La Jollans Lori Bastien Vickers and the late Jane Bastien.

Chen said her La Jolla High choir director, Malou Rogers, gave her a key to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church by-the-Sea in Pacific Beach because it’s harder to find places to practice. organ music than finding a piano.

She spent hours a day at St. Andrew’s during her senior year preparing for art school auditions.

“Women now have the opportunity to have this kind of itinerant career and be a full-time songwriter. I know some amazing female composers.

—Chelsea Chen

She said she is drawn to the organ because of “the variety of sounds you can create”, noting that an organ is constructed from pipes ranging from “very soft…which sound like little flutes [those that sound like] really loud trumpets.

Playing the organ is like “directing your own orchestra,” Chen said. “You have so many options.”

Being an organist is a “full body exercise,” using all four limbs, she said. Learning to play is difficult, she added, because you have to use your feet to play up to 32 notes.

For more information on the 34th San Diego International Summer Organ Festival, visit

Comments are closed.