Luke Mayernik thanks God and his father, Linus, each and every day for the gift of a piano at a young age.
He remembers the day it arrived, and his father said, “Luke, I think you should try the piano.” Although he wasn’t immediately devoted to it, that first keyboard ignited a passion that has led to an impressive career.
In July, Mr. Mayernik and his wife, Kassidy, will travel the farthest of the eight semifinalists to compete in the 50th International Organ Festival Haarlem in The Netherlands. The historic town of Haarlem will welcome prominent organ specialists, students from more than 30 countries and many music lovers from Holland and abroad July 12-26. During the 14-day festival, visitors can see the the world-famous Baroque organ in St. Bavo’s and other fine organs in the town. The historic town center will host more than 40 activities and feature excursions to view historic churches and fine instruments in Alkmaar, Amsterdam, Leiden and Utrecht. The main attraction will be the three rounds of Improvisation Competition.
This will be his first European competition. In order to qualify, he submitted works of both a selected theme and a theme of his choosing. He did some research of the other semifinalists and said that they are highly respected in their field.
“I am humbled and honored to be a part of this group” said Mr. Mayernik, 33, of Carnegie.
In 2004 he won first place at the American Guild of Organists’ National Competition in Organ Improvisation held in Los Angeles. He achieved international acclaim in 2008 when he won first place at the International Organ Improvisation Competition hosted by the Royal Canadian College of Organists.
He feels that his interest in improvisation stems from his work as a composer.
“Improvisation and composition go hand in hand,” he said. “One always refines the other.
“Improv was a skill that was required in the 17th and 18th centuries for those seeking to become a member of the Royal Court,” he said.
He described the goal of the improviser as giving the impression that they are performing a piece that is written down, while in reality it is all being created as it is being performed.
Mr. Mayernik graduated from Monessen High School in 1999. He studied organ with Edgar B. Highberger at Seton Hill University, organ improvisation with Ann Labounsky at Duquesne University and composition with Nancy Galbraith at Carnegie Mellon University. His music is published with Oregon Catholic Press, GIA Publications, World Library Publications and Santa Barbara Music Publishing.
His accolades and achievements go beyond organ competitions and composing. He and his best friend, Blake Ragghianti, founded a new sort of arts organization — Ovrearts. Their mission is to unite “young, successful arts organizations and individuals by creating pioneering works of art within a collaborative and collegial atmosphere.” The pair premiered their ballets, “The Alkonost” by Mr. Mayernik and “Infinity” by Mr. Ragghianti in September 2011. Thanks to the co-founders’ shared vision, a grant from the Heinz Endowments and private donations, the nonprofit organization now boasts the Ovrearts Sinfonia, Chamber Singers, a board of directors, an advisory board and devoted followers. Ovrearts has been named the Ensemble-In-Residence at the Heinz Memorial Chapel, the first ensemble ever to be so named.
His compositions have also earned him international acclaim. He was honored by the Royal Academy of Music in Split, Croatia, with the bronze medal in 2011 and a gold medal in 2012 in Music Composition at the 15th and 16th Annual International Sacred Music Festival and Composition Competition. In 2004, his Oratorio “In Memoriam: A Requiem for Mister Rogers” was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and he was interviewed on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
Mr. Mayernik is the director of music and organist at St. Anne Catholic Church in Castle Shannon. He has served there since September 2012. Prior to this he was organist at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling, W.Va., for five years.
“It was a pleasure to have him here, and we miss him,” Monsignor Kevin Quirk from St. Joseph’s said. “He is a genius in the art of improv. He puts his whole self into what he’s performing. I’m so glad that he’s going to a competition, and I wish him best of luck.”
While that first piano may have inspired his passion, he is quick to attribute his continued success to the love and support of his wife, Kassidy. They met through her involvement in Ovrearts and were married on June 28, 2013.
“Every day is a gift. Each time that I kiss my wife it is a gift, and I am grateful for every gift,” he said.
He believes that great careers are cultivated over time and that you have to pay your dues to reap your rewards. His longtime friend, Mr. Ragghianti, said that he doesn’t think people understand the level of dedication Luke has to his career.
“If you ask people what would you do for a living if money were not an issue, Luke would not only select music, but he would do it even if it meant no money,” Mr. Ragghianti said.
Lorri Drumm: firstname.lastname@example.org 412-263-3771