The Presbyterian Church in Westfield has acquired a new music director with a bundle of energy and an eclectic resume.
Ed Alstrom, of Montville, began playing the organ at the age of 5 and in 2004 realized a lifelong dream when he took over as the weekend organist at Yankee Stadium.
The consummate music lover, and former part-time music director at Church of the Redeemer, said it was his wife who suggested he contact the Yankees about the gig after the legendary Eddie Layton, at the keys and pedals from 1967 through 2003, announced his retirement.
"My wife, Maxine, said, 'why don’t you go for that job?'" Alstrom recalled. "And I said, 'They probably have 500 applicants. They probably already have somebody. They don’t know me from Adam; what chance do I have?”
But Maxine was determined that her music-making mate would be perfect for the job and scored Alstrom an audition, which took place just weeks before the 2004 season began.
“I went in on an afternoon in March," Alstrom explained. "There was about three feet of snow on the ground; it’s about 20 degrees out and I’m sitting in the organ booth at Yankee Stadium with my future boss and Eddie Layton himself. We have parkas on; it’s freezing. I did the audition."
Within the week, Alstrom was offered the job of weekend organist.
"Nine years later, I’m still doing it," he said. "I love it."
Alstrom noted that while it might seem that music at the stadium is unplanned, there's a lot going on behind the scenes.
"It’s a very tightly-directed show. It’s like a TV show within a game. We have a control room up there that looks like CNN. I’m just a cog in that wheel. I’m part of a team."
The uniqueness of the job is not lost on Alstrom, who noted that only half of major league baseball teams have their own organist.
"I know how fortunate I am and, believe me, people continually remind me," he joked.
Alstrom brings the same enthusiasm to his new job in Westfield. Noting that he was brought in to "breathe new life into the music program," the new director explained that he wants to polish up what already exists before taking on any new endeavors.
“There’s an adult choir for which we are also rapidly getting teenagers," he said. "There’s a handbell choir—it’s all ages—and two children’s choirs, pre-K through first grade, handled by women in congregation, and one that's second through fifth grade, which I handle.
“Eventually, we would like to expand that offering, maybe have two hand-bell choirs and expand to a middle and high school choir as well, but I feel, let’s take care of the things that are in place first and get those up and running."
Alstrom said he has begun by bringing in a fresh assortment of music, adding that the music program will also have a "new methodology and mindset."
"So far it’s working," he said. "I'm starting to bring some excitement to it, which from what I’m told, it needs."
Alstrom comes to Westfield by way of Morristown where he spent more than two years as the part-time music director at the Church of the Redeemer. As much as he loved his former position, Alstrom said, “with mouths to feed and mortgages to pay" he needed a full-time job.
"I had a really exciting time for the last two-and-a-half years at my last church with that choir, so I’m trying to import some of that into this place," he said. “It’s a wonderful group of people and it’s a really good choir and it’s going to take us a few weeks to get the hang of each other’s moves but we’ll get it and we’ll have a good time making great music and hopefully, it will bring more people to us."
Rev. Raymond Roberts, senior pastor of the Presbyterian Church, said over the course of his ministry he's had the honor of working with a number of gifted church musicians and he's pleased to have Alstrom aboard.
"Ed brings a number of things to this job that I find exciting," Roberts said. "Foremost he understands the spirituality of music and knows that the audience for our praise is God. He brings a mastery of the organ and traditional church repertoire as well as an openness, and mastery, of all styles of music. Finally, he brings a creative capacity the congregation is going to love," Roberts said.
In addition to his gig at the house that Ruth built, Alstrom counts playing with Herbie Hancock, which he likened to “yakkin’ with Einstein” and working on the Broadway production of “Hairspray” among his career highlights.
When he isn't in the church or at the ballpark, the New Jersey native can be found making music with his band The Harmonious Five. An accomplished jazz musician, Alstrom has recorded four cds and also serves as the associate music director at radio station WFDU, where he co-hosts the "Big Apple Country" program on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
To learn more about Alstrom, visit his website.