Nikolai Peek: A musician living his dream

Nikolai Peek currently attends Piedmont College where he get's to play the South's largest instrument, The Pipe Organ in the Piedmont Chapel.

Nikolai Peek attends Piedmont College where he rehearses and performs on the famed Sewell Pipe Organ in the Piedmont Chapel. He graduates in May and will perform his Senior Recital in the chapel on April 16, 2015 at 7:30pm. The public is invted to attend.

You may have seen him perform with the Habersham Central Singers back in 2011 or recently enjoyed hearing him play at the United Methodist Church in Toccoa, Georgia; Nikolai Peek holds many talents, but the one he holds dear to his heart is playing the organ.

Nikolai, the adopted son of Angie and Brian Peek of Demorest, was born in Bulgaria on February 26, 1993 . His family moved to Conyers, Georgia, in April of 1997 and settled in Habersham County when Nikolai was eight years old.

The massive organ at Piedmont College has been part of Nikolai's life since 2008 when he began lessons with Dr. Mellichamp.
The massive organ at Piedmont College has been part of Nikolai’s life since 2008 when he began lessons with Dr. Mellichamp.

Peek’s interest in music began during a visit to Piedmont College in 2003 when he attended the dedication of the Sewell Pipe Organ in the Piedmont Chapel. “I fell in love with the organ and I told my parents that I wanted to take organ lessons,” he recalls. “They said ‘You must start with piano first’.” From the very beginning Brian and Angie Peek were supportive of their son and helped make sure Nikolai took the right steps in becoming successful. “They have worked hard in their lives and have taught me to have a good work ethic, too,” Peek says. “They taught me not to put things off. For example, if something is a week away go ahead and do it then and not wait until the last minute.”

Peek followed his parents’ advice and began taking piano lessons. He performed in his first recital when he was eleven years old. He studied under Mary Turner of Demorest, a pianist, teacher and wife of former First Baptist Church of Cornelia pastor, David Turner. “Mary Turner was my piano teacher until the end of high school. She helped me sight read well, so now it’s easy for me to do,” Peek explains.

From dream to reality

Peek’s dream of playing the organ became a reality in 2008 when world renowned organist and Piedmont College music professor, now President James F. Mellichamp, took him under his wing and began training him. Peek has played the organ ever since. He enrolled in Piedmont College after graduating from Habersham Central High School in 2011. “Dr. Mellichamp, as a professor, loves to teach. I can see that. He wants the very best for his students and wants to see them succeed. He pushes us very hard. Even though it might be difficult, it is very rewarding.”

Peek savors the reward of his efforts each time he sits down to play. “The organ in a nutshell is any color or sound of an orchestra. As an organist it is exciting to imitate an orchestra, all at your fingertips,” he exclaims. “The immense sound with most high school instruments can’t rattle the windows,” Peek adds, but the organ does. “It’s very expressive, whether it’s loud or soft and can be majestic for the organist and moving for an audience.”

The Sewell Organ was designed by Piedmont College music professor, now President James F. Mellichamp, in collaboration with Casavant Frères of Ste. Hyacinthe, Quebec. Mellichamp performed the inaugural recital on Feb. 7, 2003.                                               (photo courtesy Piedmont College)
The Sewell Organ was designed by Piedmont College music professor, now President James F. Mellichamp, in collaboration with Casavant Frères of Ste. Hyacinthe, Quebec. Mellichamp performed the inaugural recital on Feb. 7, 2003.                             (photo courtesy Piedmont College)

Peek says he chose to attend Piedmont College because of the professors, good reputation and, of course, the Sewell Pipe Organ. According to the college’s website, the organ was constructed by Casavant Frères of Ste. Hyacinthe, Quebec, one of the world’s premier builders of pipe organs. It was designed by Dr. Mellichamp in collaboration with the Casavant staff. There are some 3,691 pipes in the organ constructed of various metals and woods. The organ’s key action is mechanical and there is a solid-state electronic combination action which controls the organs stops and couplers. The case of the organ is constructed of oak and features hand-carved and gilded pipe shades. The organ is named in honor of Piedmont alumnus and former trustee Charles K. Sewell. It is the instrument that so impressed Peek as a child and continues to give his dreams flight.

Peek’s musical journey

Peek will graduate from Piedmont in May and hopes to continue his studies at Indiana University and earn a Masters in music, with a focus on Sacred Music and Organ Performance. “I want to be an organist and choir master at large churches and concert organist that tours around the world.” Peek hopes one of his world tour stops will be Paris. He performed there at St. Sulpice in 2012 and had the opportunity to entertain locals with his organ playing after hours. While in Paris, Peek met with the principal organist at St. Sulpice and says he enjoyed every minute of it.

The organ requires certain shoes to press the pedals. This also gives the organist a more professional look.
The organ requires special shoes to press the pedals. This also gives the organist a more professional look.

Acknowleding his parents’ wisdom and advice, Peek says his piano training directly feeds into his organ playing. “Exercising technique for piano and organ comes hand in hand. With technique in organ, wrists have to be relaxed but also have to be very firmed and relaxed. If you have tension, your hands will hamper the repertoire,” he explains. Peek warms up his hands and fingers before each performance by playing simple pieces of music before launching into his repertoire.

Playing the organ not only requires persistent finger coordination but intense foot coordination, as well. Peek owns custom-made shoes specifically designed for tapping organ pedals.

Whether singing or playing an instrument, musicians experience certain feelings when performing their music. Peek uses that emotional response to connect with his audience. “Always when playing, I like to envision as if there were some kind of mood of a piece,” shares Peek. “I put myself in character with body language conveying what I am feeling to the audience. With (the) organ, your back is to the audience and body language can help convey character to the audience.”

An unconventional choice leads Peek toward a bright future.
Nikolai rehearsing his pieces late into the evening.
Nikolai rehearses late into the evening at the Piedmont Chapel in Demorest, Georgia.

Peek knows his choice of instrument is unconventional – most people opt for more accessible and mobile instruments – but he says playing the organ is extremely gratifying. “We all have different opinions. If you put twenty five people in a room and told them to listen to the organ, they’d all have different responses. As organists your audience will have mixed opinions. I would say that for anyone who plays, it’s a real treat to play this instrument.”

It’s been a long journey marked by countless hours of study and rehearsal, but it’s clear from the sound of the music Peek creates, it’s been worth it. The dream he latched onto just days before his 10th birthday has come true. Now, this 22-year old man is preparing to graduate from college and move beyond Habersham’s borders, carrying his talent and new dreams along with him.

Please join Nikolai Peek in the Piedmont College Chapel on Thursday, April 16 at 7:30PM for his Senior Recital

(Click to enlarge photos)

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