An Interview with Carl DeSantis

Updated: Jul 25

by Gordon Nary



Gordon: When and with whom did you learn to play the organ?


Carl: I started when I was 7 years old, back in 1965! I had so many teachers over those developmental years I can’t list them all. Teachers of note were Tony Talman, who was big in pop and theater organ at the time, Dr. Amo Cappelli who gave me my start in classical organ, and Dr. Robert Thompson who was my instructor at St. OlafCollege. It is because of him that I am able to do what I do now liturgically.


Gordon: Where have you performed as a theater organist?


Carl: Quite a variety of places including, the Medinah Temple in Chicago, the Chicago Theater, the Copernicus Center (Chicago), the Coronado Theater (Rockford, Illinois), the Rialto Square Theater (Joliet, Illinois), the Tivoli Theater (Downers Grove, Illinois), the Music Box Theater (Chicago, Illinois). I even played a few hockey games at the United Center for the Chicago Blackhawks!


Gordon: What are some of your favorite memories when you were House Organist at the Orbit Skate Center?


Carl: Wow... I was house organist there for 15 years. It was a terrific part of my life. At the time, it was the last of the big rinks remaining in Illinois with a 200’ x 100’ skating floor – a big barn of a place with great acoustics. There is a skating dance called the backward strut where everyone skates backwards while crossing their feet one behind the other as they’re moving backwards. During the days of good crowds, the whole floor was doing it in unison and kicking high to the side for each cross behind. It looked like choreography. Amazing! That’s a very vivid memory. But, it didn’t end there when the rink was sold. I’m still playing an organ skating session at the Aurora Skate Center in Aurora, Illinois on Monday nights. It’s the only rink left in the Midwest with a live organ session.


Gordon: When did your serve as Organist/Music Director/Cantor at Santa Lucia Catholic Church and what were your responsibilities?


Carl: I was at Santa Lucia from 2010 through the beginning of 2014. I served as organist and cantor for a couple of Sunday masses. There were no cantors, no choir. However, it was this job that got me back into church work after a 13 year hiatus. And it certainly was excellent preparation for my current job.


Gordon: When did you begin serving as Music Director St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Chicago and what are your primary responsibilities?


Carl: I left St. Lucy’s in the early part of 2014 and took the position of Music Director at St. Gabriel in March of that year. It’s been quite a ride, as during my tenure, we went through a merger with the neighboring parish of Nativity of Our Lord. I love the newly merged parish and my pastor. My responsibilities at both include playing at all masses (weekends, weddings, funerals, feast days – all of it), music selection for all liturgies, management of the adult choir, scheduling of cantors, maintenance of the instruments and sound system. I am blessed to be Music Director for two historic and beautiful churches (both built in the 1880s) with knockout acoustics!


Gordon: Do you believe that music can bring us closer to God? If so, which way?


Carl: Most definitely! I believe it is our job as liturgical musicians to touch people’s souls with music. We need to make them feel joy, hope, love, perhaps bring them to tears every so often – basically, make them FEEL something! If we the musicians feel it, they’ll feel it. That to me is Spirit moving through music. My philosophy is that people need to feel better walking out of church than when they walked in. Our job as musicians is to make that happen to the best of our ability. Yes, the spoken word of the liturgy is important; that is a given. But the music is equally import in my view. Together they create a powerful spiritual experience.


Gordon: Who is your favorite liturgical composer and which composition do you like most?


Carl: Well, can’t say that I favor anyone in particular, though, I think Lori True writes some really pretty stuff. I am particularly fond of her May The Road Rise To Meet You. I use it often. The old first edition of Glory & Praise is something out of which I use a fair amount of stuff. It’s what people in my parish know. Truthfully, my preference is the old standard Catholic repertoire based on hymn tunes. Plus, it is what our pastor favors. So, we are simpatico on that.


Gordon: Who is your favorite classical music composer and which composition do you like most?


Carl: J.S. Bach. A number of favorites here: the C Minor Passacaglia, the St. Anne Prelude & Fugue in Eb, the Gigue Fugue, Little G Minor Fugue, Fantasia in G, the Trio Sonatas. I’m also particularly fond of the Brandenburg Concertos. There are many, many more. Truth be told, there isn’t anything of Bach’s that I don’t like.


Gordon: Who is your favorite pop music composer and which composition do you like most?


Carl: I play so much pop music, it’s hard to say, not in church, but at the skating rink, of course. And truthfully, I don’t really have a real specific favorite. Any of the classic Broadway composers like Rogers & Hammerstein, Lloyd Weber, Jerome Kern (you get the idea) are favorites. Schonberg/Boublil who wrote Les Miserables are genius, as that is my favorite modern musical – the message at the end is knockout. Elton John and Garth Brooks, in my opinion, can’t be touched! I confess to loving and going crazy for 70s disco!


Gordon: Thank you for a fascinating interview.