Organist overcomes injury, performs at Chapel

Mark Thallander, a world renowned organ player, performs at Waco Hall on Monday during Chapel. David Li | Lariat Photographer
Mark Thallander, a world renowned organ player, performs at Waco Hall on Monday during Chapel.
David Li | Lariat Photographer

By Meghan Hendrickson

Mark Thallander, a world-renowned organist who lost his arm in a car accident in 2003 played during Chapel in Waco Hall on Monday.

On the night of August 3, 2003, Thallander was driving through a thunder-storm in Maine alone, just a half hour south of Portland, when his car hydroplaned and he crashed into a ditch.

The accident busted his window open; his left arm was outside of the vehicle as it rolled in the ditch.

Once the vehicle was stationary, Thallander opened his eyes to see the windshield was red with blood.

“I didn’t feel any pain but I was kind of in a prayer mode,” Thallander said.

“Then this voice said to me, ‘Don’t close your eyes. Keep talking to me. Take off your seatbelt and turn off the ignition. Help is on the way.’”

Thallander said when he was leaving the hospital he wanted to give a card to the woman who got out in the storm that night to speak to him in the ditch, but all the records showed that there were no witnesses.

Thallander said he believes the peaceful voice of the woman may have been his guardian angel.

“All I know is that when I was alone bleeding to death God took care of me,” Thallander said.

Thallander has played the organ for 40 years all over the world, including the 18 years he spent as the organist at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif.

After the accident, Thallander received nearly 800 cards in the hospital and there were 50,000 hits on a website people could use to send their encouraging thoughts to Thallander.

The website later became

Thallander told Chapel students he was encouraged to experience members of the body of Christ around the world taking time to write to him to help him get through the day.

Although he is much more comfortable on the keyboard than speaking to crowds of people, Thallander said after the accident he promised God he would be faithful to share his story if given the opportunity.

He never did much public speaking before his accident, but today Thallander is grateful for the opportunity to tell his story if it “allows people to see God’s inspiration in action.”

Chapel students gave Thallander a standing ovation after performing his arrangement of “Hymn to Joy” with one arm and two feet.

Associate chaplain Ryan Richardson said one of the things he loves most about Thallander is that even if he does not take the stage to speak, he still enjoys leading church congregations in worship by playing the organ, as he did Sunday at Austin Avenue Methodist Church.

“For someone who’s been through a tragic accident, it’s very easy to be victimized by that and to say, ‘Man, this has really hurt me and changed my life and now I don’t know what to do,’ but Mark never said that,” Richardson said.

“He said, ‘I know exactly what I’m going to do: I’m going to keep living.’ He lives well. He doesn’t live timidly. He lives right out there in front of everyone and he doesn’t just live the story of that tragic night,” Richardson said.

Thallander is visiting Baylor for the university’s Annual Midwinter Organ Conference that Joyce Jones, professor of music and organist at Baylor, and her husband began 18 years ago and have since endowed.

Thallander will play during a free concert open to the public at 7:30 p.m. today in Jones Concert Hall.

Jones remembers years ago singing along to Thallander playing the organ late one night after church at the Crystal Cathedral.

At midnight, the police came into the church to quiet their music. They had been accidentally broadcasting throughout the neighborhood by way of a local broadcast system the church had. Everyone within three blocks of the church was listening.

“We have so many things we’ve done together,” Jones said. “My favorite thing about him is he has this incredible sense of humor along with a strong faith, and that’s really important.”

Thallander said one of the lessons he was reminded of through his accident and music ministry is one that applies to everyone.

“I think what we need to remember, no matter what age we are, is that through the good times and through the bad times God is faithful,” Thallander said.