Cameron Carpenter doesn’t believe in God, but he does believe in the power of the pipe organ to move audiences. A Julliard-trained, Grammy-nominated organist, Carpenter wants to free the pipe organ from its long association with churches. And he's designed a revolutionary new version of the ancient instrument as part of an effort to do just that: called the International Touring Organ (ITO), it's portable, digital, and allows Carpenter to take his music to the streets. He's already created a stir in the insular, sometimes bitchy world of pro-organists, but audiences love it: even The New York Times' classical-music critic recently called the organ "quite terrific." All signs suggest that Carpenter's unlikely quest to turn one of the world's most niche instruments into a mainstream sensation might actually work.

Carpenter is a controversial figure in the classical music world. He dresses like a rock star in tank tops that show off his gym-rat muscles and wears Cuban heeled shoes he bedazzles himself with Swarovski crystals. He has an androgynous alter-ego named Shane Turquoise, who materialized in college when he was "heavily into voguing." He’ll play a Wagner overture on the same bill as a Japanese film score, and takes liberties with pieces by canonized composers like Bach for dramatic effect, enraging purists. Not that he agrees with the characterization of himself as "an eccentric," as he says a German interviewer recently referred to him.