Blues organist carries on a musical tradition -

Blues organist carries on a musical tradition

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Photo courtesy of Jeremy Boyer Photo courtesy of Jeremy Boyer

Jeremy Boyer grew up a musician and a Blues fan. There were few jobs that could combine both of those fascinations; becoming the team’s organist was one of them.

Boyer grew up in a heavily-doused musical environment. He was in the school band and choir and heavily-involved in both. He crafted his ability to read music at a high level through both outlets. It was only natural that he would gravitate toward a musical career.

With a high level of musical ability, there were many avenues Boyer could have pursued. But as a talented keyboard player, the organ made a lot of sense. It didn’t hurt that he had access to such an instrument in his home, one that had been given to his parents by his grandmother.

“I kind of got interested in playing music because I already knew how to read music from the school band and choir,” said Boyer. “So, I tried to apply it to the organ.

“My mom helped me. She played organ a little as a teenager. Eventually I got good enough to where I could just play.”

Boyer became good enough to start playing at church and then eventually at his college, Southeast Missouri State (SEMO).

At SEMO, Boyer became involved in pep and show bands. During times where the band members would be absent, Boyer would be asked to substitute with his keyboard. He was a one-man band.

Growing up a sports fan, it was a natural fit for Boyer. He had a blast being a part of the game experience, but wanted a more permanent role. So, one day, during his first year at the college, the musician emailed the school’s baseball coach and asked if the team would be interested in some live music during their home games.

“He said why don’t you come down and we will try it out,” said Boyer.

The coach, fans and players loved the new game experience. It wasn’t typical for Division I baseball games, so it was a fairly unique venture.

"I’m on like the roof of the press box freezing my hands and trying to play,” said Boyer. “But everybody loved it and it was beneficial to both groups. They liked the live music and I liked getting a chance to do it.”

Boyer provided music for over 40 games before a SEMO connection name-dropped him to the Memphis Redbirds, the St. Louis Cardinals’ triple-A affiliate . In 2007, Memphis invited Boyer to the team’s stadium. It was virtually a done deal at that point and Boyer had found a route to the big time.

“I got down there and basically became their guy,” said Boyer. “The organist that was there had been a long-time organist and became ill. I played the rest of the games in 2007 and all of the games in 2008 for the Redbirds.

“It felt big-league, for sure.”

Boyer knew the opportunity was rare. He was now within reach of his childhood dream of playing for a major league club. But that dream was always more specific. Boyer always told himself that if he could play just one game for one of his favorite teams, either the Cardinals or the NHL’s Blues, that’d be all he’d need.

“My ultimate goal was always to play for the Cardinals or Blues, even if it was only a fill-in once kind of thing,” said Boyer.

Boyer was close. He was doing what he could to perfect his craft, which included taking lessons from legendary Blues and Cardinals organist Ernie Hays. Hays, who passed away in 2012, was the main organist for five professional sports teams by the mid 1970s. Two of those teams were the Blues and Cardinals.

Boyer took in-person lessons from Hays for several years, but had actually been a student since he was old enough to sit on the organ bench.

“I would sit at home and listen to Ernie and try to mimic what he would do,” said Boyer. “I remember in the early 90’s watching a Blues game and they would score and I’d try to play along at home as Ernie played.

“I held Ernie as the pinnacle. This was the best guy in the industry, to me, at the time. To me, Ernie is all I heard and is someone I looked up to. He helped me refine my skills and taught me ways to think outside the box and approach things creatively.”

Hockey was Boyer’s preferred sport. He grew up watching most Blues games and in 2006, the team was in need of a live organist to carry forth the long-standing tradition. It was a perfect match, so Boyer sent a letter expressing his interest in the vacancy.

“I sent a letter and said, ‘hey, if you don’t have someone, I’d love the opportunity to do it’," said Boyer.

The team initially declined, saying he would have to go through the proper channels to earn an interview. But in early 2007, Boyer answered a call from the team asking if he’d be interested in coming to St. Louis to critique the organization’s arena experience. He accepted.

“They asked if I would want to come up and sit in and see what I thought about the music,” explained Boyer. “I kind of gave my thoughts and they had me play a bit for them. That was about it and they asked me if I wanted to do it.”

Boyer would make the nearly-two-hour trek from Cape Girardeau to St. Louis for every home game that season, sometimes leaving before noon just to make sure he’d be on time. It was worth it, though.

“When I got the Blues job, I kind of had to pinch myself a little bit because I knew Ernie and I admired him so much,” said Boyer. “To think that I was sitting on the bench that Ernie once sat on or Norm Kramer, to think I’m holding that torch is pretty cool.”

Boyer moved to the St. Louis area the next year, where he still resides with his wife and their three girls. The organist works a full-time job at Sacred Heart Church in Eureka, Missouri, and still plays at almost every Blues home game.

“It keeps me busy,” said Boyer. “I’ll play five to seven Masses a week and put a lot of time into that. I try to manage as much time as I can to spend with my girls. There are specific challenges that go along with that. I try to spend time with my wife, too obviously. There are some nights where we might not see each other. So, it is tough at times.”

But Boyer’s family is very much into hockey. They are owners of a weekend ticket package, with seats near to where Boyer’s organ is perched at the end of the ice. The couple's three-year-old already has a favorite player and a seemingly-similar musical interest.

“She sings Jori Lehtera to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Boyer said while demonstrating. “So, she’s already indoctrinated with some Blues culture. That’s her favorite player.”

Outside of the relational challenges, the job itself is a difficult one. Boyer rarely is cued on what to play. He makes up a lot of his performance on the fly, usually catering to the theme of the game or night.

“Once the game starts, I am focused in,” said Boyer. “I never know what I’ll have to play so I just have to be ready to go.”

Boyer is isolated on the bench with just a headset to direct his playing. That same headset is blasting the voices of five other Blues staff members coordinating in-game developments.

“It can be interesting,” Boyer said. “It is tough sometimes to filter that stuff out.”

But with everything involved, Boyer doesn’t feel the nerves anymore. He simply sits down and plays, just like he has done for eight years with the Blues and his whole life before that. Every time he climbs up the step ladder and onto the organ, Boyer is in charge of carrying on a tradition recognizable throughout the league.

“I come in ready to do whatever and know I’ll be ready,” said Boyer.

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