Being sister to famous organist has its perks

Staff writer

When Judy (Bish) Priest of Marion was growing up in Wichita, she did not know that her younger sister, Diane, would become a world-renowned concert organist.

It is fitting to say, however, that they were born to talented parents. Their mother was a pianist, and their father was an artist.

“We listened to the Metropolitan Opera every week and heard many symphony and orchestra performances,” Priest said.

The sisters both played piano and often sang together in church.

“My sister said that when her legs were long enough, she wanted to learn organ,” Priest said.

On a trip to Salt Lake City when Diane was 11 or so, the family heard a concert at the Mormon Tabernacle.

“Diane was so inspired that she said, ‘I am going to become an organist, and I’m going to be the best I can be for God,’” Priest said.

That vision literally became her life.

When Diane turned 13 and her legs had grown long enough to reach the pedals, their father bought an organ for their home and hired Friends University organ instructor Dorothy Addy to teach her.

Judy was a violinist, and before long, she, her mother on the piano, and Diane on the organ were playing together in church.

At Wichita East High School, Diane accompanied singing groups on a big pipe organ built into the auditorium.

She went on to develop a distinguished career as an outstanding concert organist, composer, and teacher who performs in Europe as well as America.

“Her passion was to create interest in art, culture, and music,” Priest said. “She wanted to educate the public about music, cathedrals, composers, beauty, cities, and towns. She wanted to prove that organ music isn’t boring.”

Priest benefited from that passion by having the opportunity to travel with her sister many times, sometimes as a violinist and once as a technician.

She and her daughter, Rachel, a high soprano vocalist, accompanied Bish on her first tour to Europe in 1987. The entourage included 40 American tourists, a small string ensemble, a flutist, a 12- or 14-member vocal group, three or four cameramen, and several technicians. They performed in cathedrals in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

Priest’s husband, Bob, accompanied the group at times.

Priest has been privileged to meet other classical performers, such as concert pianist Harvey Van Cliburn, through her relationship with Bish.

Bish has produced a series of more than 500 videos of her performances. Known as “The Joy of Music,” they are shown throughout the United States. Her performances can be seen locally at 6:30 p.m. every Saturday on KPTS TV, Wichita.

Priest said she sees her sister once or twice a year. Her most recent visit was in May.

“She likes to come to Marion County to fish,” Priest said. “We went fishing together as kids, and we spent some time fishing one day when she was here.”

Priest has great admiration for how her sister has kept her perspective throughout her worldwide success.

“Diane is very, very gifted,” she said, “but she always gives God the glory. She knows where her gifts come from.”

Last modified Sept. 15, 2016