Jonas Nordwall

Guest Artist Interview with
Jonas Nordwall

Artistic Minister of Music, First United Methodist Church of Portland, Oregon

Jeannine:  You are known as a virtuoso organist equally skilled in both traditional classical and modern/popular schools of musical performance.  Your concerts have delighted audiences worldwide, yet for the past 42 years you have also served as church musician Portland, Oregon.  It is that part of your busy career that I’d like to focus on today.  Please share the highlights of that career.

Mr. Nordwall: I was appointed as the organist for Portland’s oldest church, First United Methodist, in 1971.  By 1990, I assumed the Director of Music position and I now have the privilege of overseeing a fine music ministry.  We have an outstanding Chancel Choir of over 70 members, a bell choir program, and children’s music activities.   As the organist, I have the opportunity to play the Mary L. Collins Pipe Organ –an incredibly versatile instrument that is one of the largest pipe organs in the Northwest –on a weekly basis.

J:  First United Methodist Church has been known for years as a church that consistently offers superb traditional worship music.  How has FUMC “stayed the traditional music course” over the years?

Mr. Nordwall:  It was a conscious effort over the years to provide a worship experience in our downtown church that was different than what was happening in churches in other areas of the city.   Portland has over thirty neighborhood Methodist churches, so FUMC had to give people a reason – a good reason – to travel downtown to worship.  Traditional worship music done very well became our focus. 

J:  How did the church resist the forces to move to contemporary worship styles or to add additional services?  How did the church “stay the course” with one Sunday morning traditional service?

Mr. Nordwall: In my performance tours around the US, I have many opportunities to visit churches and talk with their musicians and pastors.  It gives me a great way to survey what is working and what is not working for churches.  That insight has and continues to help me guide the music program of FUMC.  I have been encouraged to continue to do what we do best – traditional worship music in the best way possible.

We also have always had good business people on the church board who have made wise decisions over the years to support our traditional worship style.  FUMC has tried various alternative worship styles from time to time.  But each time when it became obvious to the board that these services were not supporting themselves, these services were ended.   The board has made it a priority to support traditional worship with excellent hymn singing, a choir presenting major choral repertoire in the service, and my organ playing.

J:  What advice can you give other churches that are searching for direction in their worship music style?

Mr. Nordwall: Know your market.  We provide music and worship for a particular demographic.  We know what our congregation not only enjoys in worship but expects as well. 

Yes, we all face changes and challenges in worship and the music of worship, but in the process of facing those challenges, don’t let go of who you are and what you are doing well as a church.  For example, about four years ago, we had a request from our high school department asking that we sing only traditional hymns in worship.  Because these young people had grown up with excellent traditional hymn singing in worship, this is what they wanted and expected.  That was a positive sign that for FUMC ,“staying the course” is important.

J:  Thank you for sharing your insights.  To learn more of Jonas Nordwall’s extensive background, please click here.


Jonas Nordwall is an internationally renowned virtuoso organist equally skilled in both traditional classical and modern/popular schools of musical performance.  He has performed in North America, Japan, Europe, and China and has performed nine concert tours in Australia. Nordwall is the only organist to play a public recital on the famous Sydney’s Town Hall concert organ to an audience over 2000 that was also broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Company. This past summer he made a six week tour that included a program at Melbourne’s Town Hall playing the recently renovated and enlarged Hill, Norman and Beard organ. The work was done by the US firm, Schantz Organ Company.  In 1999, he was an adjudicator and guest recitalist for the Swiss International Organ Competition in Geneva, Switzerland.

Nordwall has performed numerous programs on the world famous Speckles outdoor pipe organ in San Diego’s Balboa Park for their International Artist Series. He has over 30 highly acclaimed recordings on a variety of labels. His recordings are frequently heard on the syndicated radio show, “Pipedreams”. Notable national television appearances include the “Today Show” and “Good Morning Australia.”

A Portland, Oregon native, Nordwall’s first musical studies began at age 4 on the accordion. Besides Portland teachers Joe Parente and Eileen Hagen, he tutored with Charles Magnante and Anthony Galla-Rini, two of the twentieth century’s most famous accordionists. At 16, Nordwall performed for Sweden’s King Gustav Adolf.

His studies expanded to piano and organ at age 10 with Portland teacher, Goldie Pos. In 1970 Nordwall graduated with a Bachelor of Music Degree from the University of Portland.  His piano, organ and orchestration studies were with Arthur Hitchcock, a former staff pianist and organist for 20th Century Fox Studios. Nordwall’s additional classical organ studies were with Richard Ellsasser, Canada’s Frederick Geoghegan, and Richard Purvis, of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral.

Appointed in 1971, Nordwall is the organist for Portland’s First United Methodist Church and assumed the Director of Music position in 1990. There he oversees one of the finest music ministries in the United States. He has played for General Conferences of the United Methodist Church, the American Choral Directors Association conventions, and regional conventions for the American Guild of Organists.

As organist for the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, Nordwall was a soloist for several concerts and recorded with the orchestra conducted by James DePriest on the Delos label. Other solo orchestral appearances include the Vancouver, B.C. Symphony Orchestra, Portland Festival and Chamber Orchestras, Vancouver, Washington, Symphony Orchestra, the Peter Britt and Cascade Music Festivals. Recently he was the featured soloist with the Symphony Silicon Valley (former San Jose Symphony) and the Bellingham WA Symphony..

Beginning in the mid 60s, Nordwall was one of few organists professionally playing theatre pipe organs. He was the organist for Howard Vollum Estate (co- founder of Tektronix) and later was the Senior Staff Organist for the Organ Grinder Corporation, performing in both Portland and Denver, Colorado on custom designed Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organs in lavish restaurant settings. Since 1966 he has been a featured artist for many American Theater Organ Society national and regional conventions. The society’s “Organist of the Year” Award was presented to Nordwall in 1987. He is the Director for the ATOS Summer Youth Adventure.

In addition to his performing career, Nordwall has been a major influence in the latter 20th century design and manufacturing of both pipe and electronic organs. He was with the Rodgers Organ Company for over 30 years and presently is an artist for the Allen Organ Company.

Recent major reviews stated  “his performance. . . was a blockbuster . . .” - The Oregonian May 2008

“Nordwall, a real grandmaster of the organ arts” -            San Jose Mercury News March 2009