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Famed Dutch organist Feike Asma followed immigrants abroad

Hamilton, Ontario friend organized early N.A. tours

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

Tens of thousands of organ fans attended and enjoyed the concerts given by master organist Feike Asma on his (annual) tours through Canada and the U.S.A. Invited by his friend Gerard de Lugt, who had settled in Hamilton, Ontario, Asma went on his first North American tour in December 1959. He liked what he saw and kept returning. He was impressed with the numerous organs he had discovered in North America, where he continued his breathtaking pace by giving several concerts a week, sometimes on nearly a daily schedule.

On April 21 it will be the 100th birthday of Feike Asma, the reason his organist successors put on commemorative concerts in Rotterdam and The Hague. In anticipation of the Feike Asma centennial, ‘successor’ Andre Knevel reissued his Feike Asma - Andre Knevel CD, originally recorded at Amersfoort’s St. Joriskerk. Several websites pay attention to this 100th anniversary as well.

The Dutch have long had a deep appreciation for the organ as an instrument. Most churches are equipped with a beautiful pipe organ, with the pipes frequently encaged in a richly decorated and artistically designed frame. Most older organ installations do not show the organist playing, yet organ music enthusiasts would have little trouble determining who was manning the organ bench, the identity often given away by style and choice of music.

Jan Zwart

Organ music was long mostly heard on Sundays in church. That changed with the rising popularity of the radio and of the programming offered by membership-based broadcast organizations, specifically the NCRV, a protestant pillar. The NCRV broadcasted a weekly organ concert by Jan Zwart, a revered musician and composer. Zwart, who died in 1937, composed a vast amount of music for organs. Much of it was later published by his son Dirk Zwart and Feike Asma, and has benefitted organists ever since. At a commemorative event Zwart was remembered as the “prophet on the organ bench.”

The void left by the death of Jan Zwart was filled by a new generation of organists, particularly Dirk Zwart, Piet van Egmond, Simon Jansen and, of course, Feike Asma. Along with three other sons, Cor Kee, Willem Mudde and Arie van Opstal all studied with Jan Zwart. Although each developed their own specialties, they all followed a romantic popular style.

Dutch organists were never restricted by the borders of their country but it was Asma who welcomed the opportunity to take his music to North America and other places where Dutch immigrants had settled. In 1959, he gave, in a span of about five weeks coast-to-coast, thirty concerts. In Hamilton, Ontario he attracted on Friday December 9 “a large and enthusiastic audience” at the First (Park) Congregational Church. Impressed music critic G.A.E. of the local daily called Asma a “Master of Style”.


A photograph of Asma taken with the members of The Netherlands Choral Society, directed by Menno de Groot, has made it into various publications and books illustrating stories of the master organist. (Thanks to 1959 Asma’s tour information on this choir is still being remembered, although little is known about the group which seems to have folded soon after in the mid 1960s. Who knows the rest of the story? More documentation is welcome at the Windmill Archives, care of this publication.)

Asma’s interest in Canada deepened when his son Feike Jr. immigrated to Canada in 1960, followed a few years later by his daughter Sonja and her husband Willem de Vries. The visits with his children were always accompanied by a schedule of concerts, although there became far grueling as years went by and restricted to the region where the children had settled: British Columbia.

To obtain the entire illustrated article on the Asma and tours, request a copy of the April 10, 2012 issue of The Windmill Herald (as long as supply lasts).