Adam Chlebek loves describing his passion for playing the musical organ.
“Not a lot of people would like a teenager would be interested in playing in the organ, but there’s so much potential and so many different amazing things that can happen on an instrument like that,” said Chlebek, a 17-year-old Chicago Academy for the Arts junior. “Just hearing the music and playing it is captivating to me.”
Chlebek, a Bridgeview resident who has been playing the organ since he was 9 years old, is the rare young player of the instrument. In a recent survey conducted by the American Guild of Organists, the organization revealed that 60 percent of its 16,000 members were 58 or older and only 11 percent were younger than 37.
But that statistic hasn’t deterred Chlebek from following his dreams to play the organ in churches, auditoriums and other venues around the world. He routinely performs in Chicago-area arenas, plus has performed in Philadelphia and in Poland, from where his parents emigrated in the 1990s. He also has a part-time job as the organ player at his church, Saint Rene Goupil, near Midway Airport.
“We thank God for Adam's talent and we strongly believe that God is guiding him on his wonderful journey,” said Chlebek’s mother, Kathy. “Adam is a believer and sometimes it amazes me to see how passionate he is about church music, churches in general and organ as an instrument. His knowledge on the subject is much beyond what I will ever be able to understand. Organ is not a popular instrument among young people these days but we trust God that all this is happening for a reason and we are really happy to see our son do what he loves to do.”
Also a talented jazz pianist, Chlebek will perform as The Academy’s featured soloist at the school’s upcoming Jazz Showcase on May 5. Music Department Chair Rose Colella said Chlebek “gets the crowd going at our concerts unlike any other pianist we’ve had come through our department.”
Chlebek said he’s always loved music. He first started playing the guitar when he was 5 and saw a picture of a gigantic pipe organ in a music magazine. “I thought it was really cool and wanted to try playing it.”
After a few years of piano lessons, he first played the organ as a 9-year-old at Our Lady Mother of the Church in suburban Willow Springs.
“It was a surreal experience, and it confirmed I wanted to do this,” he said.
Unlike traditional pianos, which have 88 keys and two or three foot pedals, organs have 61 keys and 32 foot pedals. When Chlebek began playing, he was too short to reach some of the farthest pedals, but he is now 6 feet tall and doesn’t have that issue.
He said the amount of keys and pedals allows him to have endless possibilities of musical output. His favorite song is the Suite for Organ from Maurice Duruflé, and enjoys playing at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, where the organ pipes are so close to the keys, that players have to wear earplugs.
Chlebek wants to attend Eastman School of Music, where he participated in the Summer Academy for High School Organists last year, or Oberlin Conservatory of Music or Indiana’s Jacobs School of Music for college. Regardless, Chlebek feels he’s found his calling.
“The power in your fingers and at your disposal is liberating,” he said.