New York Times says "Who said ‘Massive’ and ‘Foreboding' can’t be enjoyable”

Paul Jacobs (Photo: J Broede)Paul Jacobs, the head of the Juilliard School organ department, opened the season here in New York with a technical display of virtuosity that lifted the spirits of all who attended the 10 September recital on the Holtkamp Organ (Opus 1840 (1969, enlarged 2002), 3 manuals, 52 stops, 57 ranks) in Paul Hall.  Of note, he performed two heavy pieces of Max Reger: the Fantasy and Fugue on BACH to open and the Introduction, Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme to conclude. 

At the start of the recital he asked the audience how many of them were attending their first organ recital.  About 12 people in the packed auditorium raised their hands.  I wondered how these first-timers would be able to digest the sounds of the organ in general, must less the most complex of organ sounds and dynamics found in the music of Max Reger.  I should not have feared however as Mr Jacobs found a way to clear the way to appreciation.

Before these pieces he explained in brief but eloquent terms how these pieces were put together and why, what he found especially enjoyable but lastly and more importantly, he played the main themes of the pieces.  This demonstration of the sounds of the main themes proved especially helpful in making the music come to life.  I believe as well his absolutely perfect technique in an acoustically dry hall helped the audience to hear those themes note for note and be ready to grasp the sounds that surrounded them.

My reason in mentioning this performance is inspired by Daniel Marx’s article in the Oct. issue of the Organ Club Journal in which he challenges churches undergoing an organ restoration to use that opportunity to raise awareness of the organ, find opportunities to show it off and to educate younger and older people about the value an organ brings to the communities in which they are located.

In a day and age when the pipe organ no longer commands pride of place, it is important to make the most of every opportunity to promote the instrument - at a recital, during a restoration or an installation.  


 

 

 

 

 

 

Orgue Major - the shockingly engaging "Spanish" organ

Michael Barone's tour of the Historic Organs of Spain was a visual and aural sensation.  From 13-25 May, 40 some pipe organ enthusiasts walked, climbed and road the streets and highways of Spain and were bowled over by what we saw and heard.  Each day built upon the last, always different, always interesting and always musical.

The "Spanish" organ is in fact a broader Iberian tradition - with builders and instruments reflective of all this region's cultural diversity - Catalan, Portugese among them.  The typical instrument with its divided manuals, cajas de eco and en chamade trumpets suggest stately processions of political and religious leaders into the choirs of the great cathedrals. For people in 18th century hearing the sounds of such organs must have brought heaven to Earth. Even today, surrounded as we are with continuous music via iTunes, radio and cable TV, the sounds of these organ's brilliant principals and dazzling trumpets leaves a permanent and unique impression.

1703 Damià & Sebastià Caimari (III+P/30), Església dels Socors, Palma de MallorcaVisits to churches and institutions included new and old organs, classical and romantic instruments, as well as some French and German examples.  We all began our journey in the Catalan capital, Barcelona, from which we flew to Palma de Mallorca. From the island we flew to Bilbao and San Sabastian and then headed south to Burgos, Lerma and Madrid. Our days in Spain's capital, included a very special side trip south to Toledo.

As our Pipedreams tour book noted: "the musical mission of the Iberian organ was to accompany and alternate with the clergy. There was no need to accompany the congregation nor was the organ required to acoustically fill the church [though often they do!]." The organs are therefore located on one side or the other of a church, or in cathedrals, they are located in the choir. The uniquely "Spanish" horizontal, en chamade, trumpets proved so successful that they became standard.  Older instruments were given this treatment, and new ones incorporated them into their design.

Gerhard Grenzing (ISO Journal #23, July 2006) maintains that the horizontal trumpets proved popular because they:

  • required little space in the case
  • could be easily added
  • required minimal wind supply
  • were protected from dust
  • provided a characteristic sound effect
  • and, were visually impressive

Three short videos bring to life the sounds of these organs.

The first, with Juan de la Rubia at the keyboard of the organ from 1617 in the Iglesia de Lerma, provides a fantastic introduction to the sound at its sharpest, most rhythmic best.

             

The second, with Arnau Reynés at the keyboards of the 2008 Grenzing organ in Església de Sant Francesc in Palma de Mallorca, provides the broader full organ sound of a large instrument.

             

The third sample, again with Arnau, shows the historic Spanish sound on a 1713 organ.  Hear the POWER!  Feel the POWER!

             

Unique in the world, these organs from the Iberian region are special indeed and worth a trip to Spain, or even a second or third trip for that matter.

 

 

A stately city reveals itself - the 2013 Organ Club Tour of Edinburgh

The Organ Club's tour got underway on 5 May and ran through to 11 May 2013.  For me, it was the first visit to this UK city, and seat of Scotland's government that left me most impressed!  I did not expect it to be so visually interesting, and engaging.

St. Cuthberts Church on Lothian RoadThe city has two parts - an old town (basically from the year dot) and a New Town (from the 18th century).  The former features the castle, St. Giles Cathedral and sits high on a hill, while the latter is anchored along Princes Street and presents a formal Georgian presence in uniform stately stone - for blocks and blocks and blocks.

Princes Street Park looking toward Old Town

Musically speaking the City revealed a wonderful array of pipe organs - the oldest from 1757 and newest from 2011 and everywhere in between.  Equally, the architectural settings of these organs and their design made for a strong and lasting impression.

Usher Hall with its 1914 Norman and Beard, 4/63, restored 2003 Harrison and Harrison

For me the most memorable were two buildings - both beautiful as buildings as well as with their organs.  Who could not appreciate a church with the name of Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk!

Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk with its churchyard. The 1990 Collins organ, 3/50And equally impressive is St. Giles' Cathedral on Parliament Square.  Both the building and its stunning organ make the heart tick faster.

St. Giles' CathedralThe 1992 Rieger organ, 3/57The visit to Edinburgh left me with the interest to both return and do Scottish-stuff.  Like buying tartan fabrics, pottery or spending time in its fine restaurants.

Kilts and such at Anta

The hills of Vermont were alive with organ music

The Organ Historical Society (OHS) held its 58th National Convention in the American state of Vermont 24-29 June 2013.  The Convention was well attended by over 400 participants from across the United States as well as Canada, Germany, Singapore and the UK.  Seven Organ Club members who are also members of the OHS were in attendance. From the USA: Chester Berry, Kevin Grose, Rosalind Mohnsen, Bill van Pelt and Randy Wagner and from the UK: Brenda and Mark Jameson.

Lake Champlain at Burlington, VT

According to Scott Huntington, the outgoing OHS President, OHS Vermont 2013 Convention returned the Society to its roots - exploring the first generation of American-built pipe organs.  These were small, practical mechanical-action instruments that fit within the budgets of 19th century country churches.  Some of the earliest examples of these organs were transported from New York to Vermont on the Hudson River through the  1819 Champlain canal to Lake Champlain in Vermont.  Railway links were only established in the 1840s.

The Convention was based in the charming lakeside town of Burlington and featured 25 pipe organs dating from 1833 to 1976 located in Burlington and 11 other villages and towns across northern Vermont. In typical OHS style each organ was featured in a full recital that includes the singing of a hymn chosen by the recitalist.   

The inclusion of the hymn is intended to demonstrate the organ’s capacity to accompany congregational singing but in reality is a much enjoyed moment of audience participation.  Four hundred Convention participants can make a mighty noise when singing in unison; singing in parts they can become a stunning impromptu chorus.  In addition, some recitals by the 25 organists included works for organ with violin and cello as well as flute.  We even had a triumphant tenor singing Thomas Arne’s Rule Britannia accompanied by an 1836 E.&G.G. Hook organ!  

The historic Highgate Falls churchAs for all conventions since 2006, an “Atlas” publication is produced and sent to all members irrespective of whether they are attending, showing the history and background to each of the intended venues.  This year’s Atlas content came from the records of Edgar Broadway, a founder member of OHS, and Vermont resident, plus extensive research by Stephen Pinel, OHS Archivist Emeritus,  whose family home is close to the Vermont border and who has known Vermont well all his life. Add to this the knowledge of the Convention committee led by Marilyn Polson of Randolph, VT.  

The Atlas entitled “The Bicentennial of the Pipe Organ in Vermont 1814-2014” celebrates from the first recorded pipe organ installed in Vermont; a history of the organs, organ builders, some social history of Vermont, and most usefully, an annotated catalogue of all known pipe organs in Vermont. The Atlas is obtainable at $20 from the OHS catalogue plus the cost of shipping to the UK.   In addition, a pocket handbook is produced containing daily programmes, travel instructions, concert details, players and current organ specifications. Biographical details are shown for every artist. There were one or two minor changes where the organ condition required it!  It can be downloaded from the internet without cost – http://tinyurl.com/ohs2013-hb  

 As many of the churches could accommodate no more than a 100 or so people, Convention participants were broken up into 4 groups; each of the 4 groups would visit each of 4 venues with the poor recitalist having to play her/his recital 4 times!  However, this fact did not detract from the fine playing we heard.

At Stowe Community Church where the AGM was held we enjoyed an excellent concert by John & Marianne Weaver.   The organ was built in 1864 by William Simmons – but much altered in 1959 by Hill Norman and Beard. Now a further restoration has been achieved by the Andover Organ Company in 2004 – the current console is as below [left].   We should have had lunch that day on on the State House Lawn in Montpelier – sadly heavy rain stopped that and we ate our picnic in the coaches instead! However the rain cleared later in the afternoon and members enjoyed a superb Dinner cruise on Lake Champlain – 125 miles long, dividing Vermont and New York State with Canada at its north end.  

The Round Church of Richmond, Vermont, pictured at the beginning of this report and above [right] contains an- organ by an unknown maker c1820 purchased in 2000, it’s tiny – all in wood with an 8ft treble [39 pipes], and a 4ft bass of 15 pipes controlled by a pedal.      The player was Demetri Sampas, one of the OHS Biggs Scholars welcomed in at the 2008 Seattle convention.

The Round Church from 1812-1814

Organ Club  & OHS member Rosalind Mohnsen was chosen to play at St Luke’s Episcopal Church in St Albans. – A George Jardine organ of 1889,  2/16, 58/27 compass instrument with most of the Swell being TC compass stops.  She chose music by Handel – Concerto Op4 No.5, Dubois Cantilene Religieuse, Dvorak Preludio in A, Cernohorsky Fuga, Elemore – Alla Marcia, Florence Price Suite No.1 and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Impromptu Op.78/3.    The hymn – Marthyr, Mary, Waiting, Weeping was chosen as the text of the hymn is shown in one of the stained glass windows in the church. 

There also larger venues, both churches and academic concert halls.  A few of these were especially enjoyable.    

Isabelle Demers, the young Canadian star and recently appointed Head of the Organ Program at Baylor University in Texas, was stunning at her debut OHS Convention concert. She featured her own transcriptions of Dances from the Terpsichore by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) and Excerpts from Cinderella by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) as well as Reger’s transcriptions of the Bach Two-Part Inventions.  Other fare included works by Rachel Laurin, Mendelssohn and Dupré.  Her playing is perfectly articulated and delivered with an abundance of energy that brings the music to life. Only Ms Demers could bring off the Dupré Prelude and Fugue in B Major on an 18 stop organ (E. Desmarais 1892) at Holy Guardian Angels Roman Catholic Church in St. Albans, VT.

The Convention’s closing evening concert was at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Episcopal in Burlington.  James David Christie, the Head of the Organ Programme at Oberlin played a memorable recital of Renaissance and Baroque works on the splendid Wilhelm (1973) organ.  The Church has a striking modern interior and the organ is very good example of the North German style of organ building so popular in the 60s and 70s.

Jim Christie at the console of the Wilhelm organ at St. Paul's Episcopal in Burlington, VT

Christie’s programme included works of Sweelinck, Schildt, Scheidemann, among others, but 3 pieces really stood out - the anonymous Manuscript of Susanne van Soldt (1599) with its delightful set of dances, a Fuga in E Minor by Johann Heinrich Buttstett (1666-1727) with its intense flood of repeated notes and, of course, the concluding Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor (BWV 542) of J.S. Bach.  The chosen hymn on “Star of the East” from the 1835 The Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion of 1835 became a choral production with the tenors carrying the melody and sopranos a descant.  

The recital was webcast live around the world with over 600 people seeing and hearing it across the USA and in other countries.  The video is available from the OHS website (www.organsociety.org). I volunteered his time to the OHS to produce the live event and oversee the production of the video. 

Jim Weaver, Executive Director of the OHS, and I

Around 160 members stayed for the optional Saturday four organs in Richmond, Vergennes and a visit to the Shelburne Museum of art and Americana. 

The OHS is dedicated to documenting and preserving historic pipe organs and to raising public awareness and appreciation of United States’ organ heritage.  

The OHS has over 2500 members worldwide.

This is an extract of an article written for The Organ Club Journal (UK) with Mark Jameson.

Nathan Laube and the first live Internet webcast

In 2011 I offered to help the Organ Historical Society webcast one of recitals from their Washington, DC convention. It didn't happen because we couldn't find a venue that had an Internet connection. In 2012 I made the same offer to the OHS for their convention in Chicago, IL.

This time it clicked. The OHS proposed I produce a live webcast of the recital of Nathan Laube on the restored Skinner organ (Schantz Organ Builders) in Rockefeller Chapel.  The Chapel is part of the University of Chicago (UC), and luckily for me and the OHS, it has a hard-wired broadband connection and a professional technical department that specializes in the production of live webcasts. 

 Eric Fey from UC Creative with the encoderWith the support of James Weaver from the OHS and Eric Fey from UChicago Creative, I worked to finalize an agreement on the production - making sure that this FIRST EVER WEBCAST by the OHS was a success. On the day, I arrived at the Chapel six hours before the recital to meet with Eric on the production and test the connections. 

We worked for a couple of hours to position the microphones and the camera to get the best sound and visual. We tested the Internet connection to the University's web stream distribution point. 

Later we were joined by the performer, Nathan Laube, one of America's rising stars.  Nathan arrived on the very warm summer afternoon to practice for that evening's recital.

We double checked with him the arrangements for the microphones and camera, the position of the organ and make sure any of his concerns were addressed. He was great to deal with.

That evening the Chapel filled with some 500 OHS Convention attendees and a couple of hundred others. Jim Weaver introduced the performance and greeted both those in the room and those seeing the event live on the Internet.  Nathan performed like the master he is and the crowd that was gathered in that space responded with thunderous applause.  Listen to the end of the concert in the YouTube link below.

Externally, 507 people saw the performance - from 43 of the 50 US States, 4 Canadian provinces and 11 other countries around the world.  And since that day, 9,942 people have seen the ondemand video below.

A big success, this production broke new ground in shifing perceptions about how we can increase outreach to the broadest possible audience using the Internet.

Theatre pipe organs - something special from yesteryear

I remember going to the theatre when it was a special occasion like going to a Broadway musical is today. I remember the fancy interiors of the large movie theatres, the plush carpeting, the gilded concession stand, the intermissions. Theatre pipe organs belong to this fondly remembered past.

Theatre organs were created to accompany silent films in the 1920s. Unlike their classical counterparts, they were fine tuned to replicate the sounds of orchestras and often included additional gizmos to provide sound effects - drums, chimes, bells and buzzers to name a few.  When talking movies were introduced, the organs remained to entertain audiences before the movie started or during intermissions. Much in line with my treasured memories, the organ adds a live performance to the movie mix and helps makes going to the movies a real occasion.

The Theatre organ community is alive and well in America.  The American Theatre Organ Society counts some 2000+ members with dozens of local chapters in States across the country.  The Society hosts a 24/7 Internet radio station and its website is the most advanced of any of the organ organizations.

Nigel Ogden, The Organist Entertains on BBC2 Radio

 

Equally in the United Kingdom, Nigel Ogden has become a cult classic on BBC2 with his programme - The Organist Entertains.

The theatre organ world relives the glory days of Hollywood, the great stars, 2000 seat movie theatres and of course the melodious music that filled the halls. Theatre organ is about the dreams and desires that the movies inspire. The music is always lively, upbeat and positive. Doom and gloom is forbidden the world of the theatre organ.

Unlike the classical pipe organ that is driven by the correct interpretation of published music, the theatre organ is driven purely by the imagination and technique of its performers. You don't buy theatre organ music, you create it. Accomplished improvisers, theatre organists take a theme or a song and make it into a piece of performance.  

Theatre organ is very special. Check out the theatres in your area to see if any offer live organ performances - you never know where you will find them.  Take for example, the Heights Theatre in Minneapolis, MN! Or go and have pizza at Organ Stop Pizza in Arizona!!

 

Pipe organs and the Internet - still waiting after all these years

I marvel at what my iPhone does.  I can't belive it when my phone holds my ticket for the Heathrow Express train in London while I sit here in NY! I can't quite believe it when I find all my essential documents in my phone's Dropbox - fully synchronized with my laptop. I can't believe it when my iTunes shows that I have all 630 organ albums (equaling 19 days of continuous play) on my laptop - all in digital form.

However, I find it less easy to marvel at what is available on the Internet in terms of the pipe organ.  It makes me wonder if the pipe organ and its community of performers, composers, builders and enthusiasts is ready for what the Internet can do.  I say this not a criticism but as observation. If the Internet does not enhance your playing, facilitate access or help build a better pipe organ, then why bother?

A brief survey shows that the Internet is at best a nascent access point.

The American Guild of Organists (AGO), the largest organ-related association in the USA with 17,000 members, has only a basic website.  It is up to date but offers little beyond static HTML and a few document downloads.  Their very popular journal, The American Organist, is still issued only in print.  Note also that the link on The American Organist page does not work.

The Organ Historical Society (OHS) has more interesting content choices for its 2000+ members.  While most of the site is static HTML and may be a bit out of date, it has two features that are interesting.  The first is the Pipe Organ Database that I featured in my blog post about the pipe organ as part of America's cultural legacy. The second is the OHS Online Catalog. This is largest online source of organ music, CDs, DVDs, books and periodicals in the world. The OHS is to be complimented in being ahead of the game for this useful bit of merchandising - even if it is not cutting edge e-commerce.

The Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America (APOBA) have a basic website much like the of the AGO - basic information plus some downloadables.  It has a useful list with links of all its 30+ members that include all the significant builders in America.

The biggest American associations have and do update their websites but their limited content or modest presentation of that content leads me to conclude that a significant audience is still lacking.

On a more positive note, American Public Media's Pipedreams website is excellent and is loaded with useful information, a wonderful selection of music and great commentary by Michael Barone.  Michael was recently called America's DJ of serious organ music.

Michael Barone from American Public Media's Pipedreams ProgramJerome Butera at The Diapason has done a great job in redesigning this classic magazine of "organdom". He even introduced a digial version but cancelled it when he lacked sufficient numbers of subscribers.

Joe Vitacco at JAV Recordings has worked very hard to present his company and its work through a blog.  He regularly covers his latest products and projects and includes news and interesting information about the organ.  OrganCDs.com is a welcome addition.

Equally, there is Brent Johnson from the Organ Media Foundation who I talked about in my post "Is 24/7 to much for you?". Brent also champions two other worthy streams:  Positively Baroque - a 24/7 Internet radio stream devoted to music of the baroque organ. And, his Pipedreams like program - At the Organ

In the course of April 2013, Google Alerts covering organ (music), pipe organ, and organist brought but 92 news items, of which most were announcements of recitals with little in the way of substance.  Cameron Carpenter came out as No. 1 in terms of number of times cited, followed by Paul Jacobs - both of whom are discussed on this blog.  This low number of items suggests some work is needed to better promote the organ in the both traditional and online media.

Going forward I believe that there is an opportunity and maybe even a necessity to build on what is there in order to make an Internet case for the pipe organ not only for the community but for the general public, especially the younger generations.  Central to such an effort is to have:

 

  1. more about the people of the pipe organ - to better introduce and present these fine musicians to the public.
  2. more user friendly and attractive presentation of existing organ-related information, the organs, their specifications and histories.  
  3. more blogs about the organ world and what that means to all those involved - increasing the volume on shared experience and exchange.

 

The pipe organ's top 10

Big can be big, but in the organ world it is massive.  The sounds of an organ come from air forced through the pipes. For each key on the keyboard (normally 61) and each pedal on the pedal board (normally 32) there are corresponding pipes.  For each sound of the organ - flute, trumpet, diapason, string - there is a corresponding "rank" of 61 or 32 pipes.

So, the organs that are listed below are truly massive - taking up huge amounts of space and weighing thousands of tons. Vast mechanical musical machines.

Die Orgel Seite in Germany has a list of of the 10 biggest pipe organs in the world based largely on the number of ranks.  Note that there are various ways of determining the size of an organ, so getting a universally agreed list is not easy.  But here we go: 

  1. Macy's (Wanamaker) Department Store in Philadelphia, PA with 463 ranks and 374 sounds. It boasts 6 keyboards! This organ is fully maintained and Macy's even employs a full time organist to play it.
  2. The Convention Hall in Atlantic City, NJ with 449 ranks and 314 sounds.  Sadly, this organ is no longer maintained and is not fully playable.
  3. West Point Military Academy's Cadet Chapel in New York is home to 380 ranks and 303 sounds.   
  4. First Congregational Church, Los Angeles, CA is the first church to include a large organ of some 354 ranks and 242 stops.
  5. Germany's Passau Cathedral of St. Stephen has 326 ranks and 229 sounds. 
  6. Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA enters with 268 ranks and 229 sounds and is featured in my post about Paul Jacobs.
  7. Milan's Cathedral in Italy comes in next where the Duomo di Santa Maria Nascente has 254 ranks and 185 sounds.    
  8. Mexico is next in the list with its 250 rank, 181 sound organ in the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City that seats 10,000 people. 
  9. The First Church of Christ Scientist in Boston, MA has 240 ranks and 153 sounds. Anthony Hammond provides a full display of its color and size.
  10. And last but certainly not least is St. Stephen's Basilica in Esztergom (Gran) in Hungary with 235 ranks and 145 sounds.

 

 

 

Why Paul Jacobs puts the pipe organ in the "major leagues"

Paul Jacobs is truly gifted. A Grammy-winning master musician, a talented teacher, a good communicator. As I said in my post about Cameron Carpenter and the camera, making the people in the audience feel part of the music is central to keeping their attention over the longer-term. Paul Jacobs, Head Juilliard Organ Department

Paul is a leader and is a must-see if he is in your area. Paul presents himself and his music with spectacular energy that draws the audience to him and into his performance. Unlike Cameron who is more the showy performer, Paul keeps his eye on his music but leaves no doubt of his enthusiasm for what he does.

In this 2009 video of Paul playing the massive Ruffatti organ at the Crystal Cathedral in California, it is self-evident to me that  Paul's playing captures the audience's attention from the get-go.  Somehow one can just feel it.  It is not surprising when that audience just rises to its feet seconds after Paul concludes.  

At personal level, Paul opened his grad student's performance class to the public. As Head of the the organ department at New York City's premier music school, Juilliard, Paul shifted the ground by doing this.  Each weeks some dozen or so enthusiasts arrive to to hear his students play and listen to what he has to say about the music and what it means to perform it in public.  I am pleased to know that his students are getting a solid briefing in communications as well as note playing.

Lastly, Paul is one of the few organists in America that makes headlines. On 19 April, the San Francisco Sentinel ran a story about Paul and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus' upcoming concert of Bach's masterwork.  I am encouraged when I read about organists in mainstream media because I know that this increases the chance of bringing a new organ enthusiast into the fold in the future. 

Thank you Paul for showing the way.

 

Brad Pitt the organist

According to John Karl Hirten, Brad Pitt's character plays the organ in the movie Tree of Life (2011). The scene was recorded in a church in Texas.  Among the hands featured in the shots are those of the church's organist, Thomas Pavlechko, while the music is in fact played by the great German organist Helmut Walcha.

Brad Pitt by Paul Bird (Wiki commons)

John Karl Hirten website's page on the Pipe Organ in Film lists and describes 114 movies that feature the pipe organ visually and musically.  Another 21 are listed in which the organ is either seen or heard but not both.

The movies can be divided in two groups spanning the history of film - from the 1920s to the present.  

The organ can be featured as a dark element, such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Abominable Mr. Phibes (1971), and the most famous of all The Phantom of the Opera (1925, 1962 and 1989 versions). 

The organ also features equally or more as a positive element, heightening feelings of joy, commitment to others or consolation.

Chariots of Fire (1981) made the British song Jerusalem internationally famous - and even grown men cried. Equally, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1992) has Kevin Spacey at the keyboards.   In Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) a church organ is the backdrop for the heart-breaking reading of Auden's poem Funeral Blues with its now memorable opening Stop the clock.  Not a dry eye to be found.

For the record, I have been wondering why I joined Google+ until I got this post about Pipe Organ on Film from JD James on Organ, Organists and Organbuilders.  Thank you Mr. James.

 

Are we saving America's cultural and spiritual history?

Over 50,000 organs are listed in the Pipe Organ Database of the Organ Historical Society (OHS).  These organs are installed in Christian churches, Jewish synagogues and public institutions all over the United States.  Since 1630, each time one of these instruments gets plays it brings sounds that inspire, heighten celebration, provide consolation, support education, or just entertain.
For most Americans the sound organ music links us mentally to life events of our family and community and our religious faith.  The music chosen often reflecting those shared histories, beliefs, sentiments, ideas and values. Visually, the presence of an organ in a religious setting immediately confirms its partnering role in the liturgy, hence the reference to "church organ".Schlicker organ (III/67, 1964), Church of the Intercession, New York, NY
The organ should be valued as part of our cultural and historical environment, just like the buildings in which they are housed. Taking away an organ removes forever the sound and sights that filled our ears and eyes and those of all the generations that went before. It prevents future generations from knowing what we heard and saw.
The OHS provides America with a comprehensive service in documenting this unique cultural asset for the nation.  It helps bring the knownledge of these instruments to the attention of all of us who can safeguard them now and into the future.
  1. all organs that exist or have existed in installations within the geographical boundaries of the United States.  
  2. all organs that have been built in North America, whether they are installed within its boundaries or in other locations.

 

Musical attraction

All people grow up with music. Our choices get reinforced as we grow up but in the end we know what we like.Riepp Organ (1766) at Ottobeuren, Germany

The classical pipe organ has its share of devotees. They like the sound of the pipe organ that can be very loud or very soft or anywhere in between.  They like the sound that comes when air is forced though the pipes, especially when all the sets of pipes are played together and a HUGE sound results.

The pipes vary according to the materials used to build and shape them - metal or wood. Most people are amazed by the huge bass pipes - which can be 32' feet in length. But some pipes are no larger than a pencil.

All of these pipes form part of a great mechanical, musical machine (perhaps a reason why men show particular interest?).

The organ is controlled by one performer, an organist, who plays the organ from a console that has 1, 2, 3 or more keyboards and even a pedal board for the feet!

My interest in the organ began in the local church.  I remember going along to services at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Austin, Minnesota where I was most impressed by its grand Wicks organ and its organist, Ralph Harnesk.

What stood out then and stands out now is that the organ brings together a vast tonal array of sounds that easily fill a room. The organ can lead 100s or even 1000s in song without a wimper.  It delivers a quality of sound that is musically intense, unique and may even have some spiritual overtones when matched with the unfolding liturgy.   

Equally, the visual picture of an organ is so compelling.  You can walk by a piano and not see it, a pipe organ will always leave an impression.

On the spiritual side, organs got associated with western Christian worship because organs were well suited to filling big spaces with sound.   Economically it did not hurt that such a powerful instrument needed only one person to play it - church budgets being what they are. 

Who does not think of church when one hears or sees an organ? Yet the classical pipe organ has a story that is independent of the church.

Is 24/7 too much for you?

One of the great things about the Internet is that it covers every topic, including the classical pipe organ. Unlike old fashioned TV and radio,  the Internet provides a means to deliver entertainment to targeted groups of people.  Besides, Internet communications are much cheaper than building a radio transmitter!

Organlive.com is where you need to go non-stop classical organ music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Brent Johnson at the Organ Media Foundation pioneered this service in 2003 and it now features over 15,000 tracks from nearly 1000 pipe organs around the world. Every day you can tune in from your laptop, PC or mobile device and listen along side some 100 or so other concurrent listeners.

Brent operates this service from donations from the public.  Any donations would I am sure be welcome. More information is available on the website

Happy listening - provided of course you have upgraded your computer speakers or bought some good headphones.

Cameron and the camera

Cameron Carpenter is a very cool communicator. He understands the need for his audience to see as well as hear him. To help his audience connect with him and feel part of his performance.

This video from the New York Public Radio's Greene Space is picture and sound perfect.  The music is brought to life as we watch Cameron perform.  The 3 cameras give us access to a master musician fully in charge of his performance.  I loved the overhead shots and would like every organ recital to feature this camera angle.   

Cameron has succeeded in going from concert organist to a brand, maybe even an art form.  Very professional [and digital] communications have no doubt helped him to achieve this status.

 

The pipe organ For whatever reason?

The classical pipe organ and its music have been my friend for a lifetime.  This blog seeks to provide pay back on that friendship by creating a conversation space on the Internet.  I play the organ, have visited organ builders in Europe and America, and have studied a fair chunk of organ history.Organ pipes, photo courtesy of Klais Organ Builders, Bonn, Germany

Over all those years, I noticed that the pipe organ community is not always the best in communicating their story, so this blog will help provide a space to tell this interesting human story and create the possibility for online conversations.

The story is about 500 years of human endeavor to build organs, write and perform organ music.  The story is about a cultural legacy that has shaped human expression and spirituality in the western world (and influenced culture in the eastern world).

The blog is as well an opportunity to promote examples of good communication techniques and tools that the community can use to better raise interest and public support for this art form. Providing an Internet bridge to younger generations won't hurt either.