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A Modest Proposal – Beyond Statistical Insignificance

by Michael Barone, Essays

I’ll apologize upfront. This is a blatant non-commercial commercial…for me, for my program (Pipedreams), for my medium (public radio). Or is it more than that? Might you be involved in this picture, too? Let’s give it a look. Much has been made of the minimal impact which organists and organ music have in today’s cultural scene. We organ lovers wail within our collegial fold, deplore the inequities of life, and then go back to working on the left-hand part of a new hymn harmonization for Sunday. Oddly, the situation does not correct itself. Despite those many, many ranks of sonorous pipes upon which we play, we are a largely silent minority. An insignificant minority was how one audience analyst, working the already marginalized field of Public Radio, put it not long ago. People who enjoy organ music, though we like to imagine ourselves more numerous than the unemployed and more audible than the combined arsenals of the Wanamaker Store, Crystal Cathedral, West Point Chapel and Meyerson Symphony Center combined, in truth are not nearly as large or as noticeable a group as we might imagine. And while it’s true that millions of people each week are exposed to organs and organ music, mostly in church settings, those same millions have not been seen regularly flocking to organ concerts and recitals. While we are fascinated by repertoire that extends from Buxheim to Bolcom, enraptured by Bach and Beauvarlet-Charpentier, Mendelssohn and Messiaen, not to mention the artistry of the Wright ‘Brothers’ (George and Searle), the general populace remains blissfully uninvolved in this tradition which our little group finds so rewarding. Yes, little group, because we…members of the American Guild of Organists…are only a small number, not many more than 20,000 members of this proud, century-old assembly. Why are we so few? Partly because we (the AGO) are viewed, even by other colleague organists, as a class apart, an exclusive sub-set within an already miniscule sub-set. Partly, too, because as organists we tend toward specialization and polarization, fixating on a few small aspects of what is most certainly a very broad-reaching topic. Yes, the differences between Titelouze and Titcomb are important; they are wonderful. But are they mutually exclusive? To the general public it’s all just organ music. Our internecine squabbling succeeds only in blurring our public image (such as it may be). The organ…such a convenient, simple term, and such a double-edged blade. How marvelous that we can cross-reference copulas and crash-cymbals all under one easy heading. Unfortunately, with similar ease, anyone discomfited by any marginal aspect of this broad topic can, with one flip of a subconscious switch, get “turned off” to organ music, or at best, become very confused. Page through a concise history of the organ and you discover that, in each era and in every country, what constitutes “organ” and “organ music” resists an easy uniformity. Through personal experience, you’re well aware of the energy with which Belligerent Bachophiles eschew Fractious Franckists, Wild Wurlitzerites rebuff Supercilious Schnitgerians. Old music versus new, counterpoint versus color, mechanical versus electric, pipes versus electronic…are we organists a “family” (if such a diverse collective exhibits any relational energy) only insofar as the instrument we love is named organ? And, if so, even if our family suffers from multiple-personality-disorder…in spades…what’s wrong with our beginning to think of all of it as worthy of our enthusiasm? Might not this become an advantage? What other instrument can embrace simultaneously two famous composers for the Phantom of the Opera theme (Bach and Webber)? This covers a lot of ground, but how much of it is common?...

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Vox Humana – Vox Populi: the Town Hall organ in Christchurch, NZ

by Martin Setchell, Essays

Hear the Organ! Excerpt of Albert Renaud Toccata in D Minor, played by Martin Setchell When Christchurch opened its new Town Hall complex in 1972, it was the only city of the four main New Zealand centres (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin) to boast a modern 2500 seater concert hall. But the downside of this achievement was the absence of a pipe organ, plans for which were axed when building costs escalated beyond budget. For a quarter of a century the city had no civic organ. But in 1997, after a sustained fund raising campaign, not without its own setbacks and disappointments, the hall was eventually ‘completed’ by the installation of a fine pipe organ by Rieger Orgelbau of Austria. Over the last four years since its installation, the sustained, successful profile of the organ here has become something of phenomenon both locally, nationally and increasingly internationally. People often ask me to explain why and how this has happened. The honest truth is I’m not sure, but I guess it reflects a whole number of factors, not least civic pride (the people virtually gave the city its organ) and feast succeeding famine. But four years is too long a time to write off as a mere honeymoon period! (A preview of the first year can be read at www.nzorgan.com/birthday/birthday.htm) When I was appointed curator one of the tasks in my job specification was to ‘actively promote the organ’. I found the fact that I was starting from scratch was both a positive and a negative; there was no tradition set in place, no established practice to graft on to, but on the other hand there was a clean sheet with which to start. So we had the element of surprise and innovation. I was conscious from the start that after the surge of interest which surrounds every new organ and its inaugural activities, there’s only one way its popularity can go, and that’s downwards, unless you constantly keep its profile high. I don’t have any panacea answers, but I do know that hard, sustained work is essential. Phantom Dinner As curator you represent the human face of the instrument, and you can either be the path or the barrier to the instrument and its success. Let’s face it, organists have sometimes been their own worst enemies in keeping consoles locked, not always being welcoming or hospitable, and somehow encapsulating the mystery and inaccessibility of the King of Instruments with a kind of misplaced ‘royal reserve’. I decided I’d consciously go as far as possible the other way. I can get as frustrated as the next organist when a party of tourists wander in and start talking just as you are desperately rehearsing with inadequate time for tomorrow’s concert, but I decided to use every such interruption as a marketing opportunity, take the chance to welcome the visitors, play them a special little piece, tell them about the organ and the concert. I’ve answered countless enquires about the organ by letter and phone call in a personable and friendly way however awkward the timing. I’ve tried to accommodate every request to speak to groups, have groups visit the organ at close quarters, show visitors both organist and non-organists the instrument and so on. In my experience the personal touch has really worked. I guess if people like me, by a process of transference there’s a good chance they’ll fall for the organ also. Setchell as Bach This extends to the presentation of my solo concerts in which I always speak to the audience, taking them with me to the console. Not...

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The Pipe Organ at Katsbaan Reformed Church

by Janice Trevail, Essays

For information on the Katsbaan pipe organ, believed to be the oldest extant three-manual organ in America, contact Janice M. Trevail at:trevail@francomm.com. Visit the website: http://www.katsbaanchurch.org Church History:  The Katsbaan Reformed Church is located about 3 1/2 miles north of Saugerties on the Old King’s Highway. The congregation was established in 1710 with the arrival of the Palatine immigrants to West Camp. Visible from all parts of the surrounding Catskill countryside, the old stone Church “de steene kerk op de Kats Baan” was built in 1732 – the year George Washington was born. It is a Church built literally “upon a rock.” The land on which it stands was leased in perpetuity on March 1, 1731 by the trustees of the Kingston Commons at an annual rental of three peppercorns per annum if demanded. The first records of the Church begin November 30, 1730, in the handwriting of Reverend George Wilhelmus Mancius. The Church was incorporated on March 28, 1796 when its title became “The Minister, Elders, and Deacons of the Reformed Protestant Church of Kaatsbaan in the town of Kingston, Ulster County.” The Church at Katsbaan was the place of worship between Kingston and Katskill (Leeds). It remained unchanged until 1816, with few minor improvements. In 1816 the walls were raised and galleries built in the east, west, and north side. The pulpit was placed in the north, doors inserted in the south wall, and a steeple erected in which a bell was hung. In 1867 it was rebuilt with its wall extending seventeen feet to the south. Thus the building remains as it is today. The initials of some of the builders may be seen in the north wall. The lines of the 1732 Church and old entrance may also be seen in the north wall. On July 1, 1892 it was re-incorporated as the Reformed Church of Katsbaan. As of the year 2002, the Katsbaan Reformed Church has been supplied by twenty-one ministers. During the Revolutionary War the ministers and Church members were very active in the cause for freedom. Reverend Henry Ostrander preached from 1812-1862 (50 years) and Reverend Arad Joy Sebring preached from 1885-1916 (31 years). Church services have been held continuously by ordained ministers or supply ministers since 1732. Website: http://www.katsbaanchurch.org Pipe Organ Information: (provided by Dana Hull and John Ogasapian) It is believed that the Katsbaan Pipe Organ was originally built in New York City c. 1820. In the 1850’s this organ was dismantled and installed in the Saugerties Reformed Church, where it was used until 1892. It was then given to the Katsbaan Reformed Church. Amazingly, throughout this instrument’s mobile history, it remains largely intact with its original workings. Nothing substantive is known of the history of this instrument before its arrival in Saugerties. According to tradition it came from either an Episcopal or Reformed Church in New York City. However, its few stops, small pipe scales and compact size on one hand, and its fine woods and workmanship on the other, suggest the strong possibility that it was originally intended for a prosperous residence. Although it shows traits similar to an English organ, the heavy use of walnut in the instrument indicates that it was made in America, and structural facets in the swellbox and pipes suggest a date well before 1820. Without a doubt, it is the oldest extant three-manual organ in America. The pipes, visible in the gothic case are actually wooden dummies. In fact, the two side flats themselves are additions from the 1860’s. The actual organ case, made of superb oiled walnut, and gracefully curved back at each side,...

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The German Romantic Organ in Rousse, Bulgaria – a Call for Help

by Sabin Levi, Essays

The historic Voit organOne does not usually hear the name of this beautiful Balkan country together with the name of the king of instruments. It will perhaps come as a surprise to some to learn that Bulgaria has not only organs and organists, but also many people who write music for organ. Bulgaria’s official religion is Orthodox Christianity, and for five centuries, until the 19th century, it was a province of the Ottoman Empire. These factors tend to have perhaps had a negative effect on the development of an organ culture. However, in the late 19th century, there was a project to build an organ in one of the Catholic churches in the city of Rousse, a small town on the river Danube, in North Bulgaria. After completing the church in 1892, three different firms submitted their projects for a new organ: E. F. Walcker – for a two-manual/pedal organ with 12 stops, Gebr. Rieger, who suggested a one-manual/pedal, and H. Voit (Karlsruhe) who proposed a two-manual/pedal organ with 13 stops. The last offer was accepted. The organ was completed in 1907 and installed one year later in 1908. The dedication recital was played by the Bucharest organist Emanuel Pol, who played works by Matioli, Guilmant, Bordese and Dubois, as well as many of his own compositions. Currently, this organ is the only pipe organ in a church in the entire state of Bulgaria; it is the only historical German Romantic organ in existence there. Disposition of the organ in the Church St. Paul on the Cross: I. Manual Bordun 16′ Prinzipal 8′ Viola di Gamba 8′ Flauta Amabile 8′ Oktave 4′ Cornett 3 fach II. Manual Geigenprinzipal 8′ Salicional 8′ Vox coelestis 8′ Lieblich Gedackt 8′ Rohrflote 4′ Pedal Subbass 16′ Zartbass 16′ Couplers II/I, I/Pedal, II/Pedal, Sub II/I, Super I One (Tutti) piston hand stops on/off, walze (rollschweller) Manual II enclosed. Sadly, this wonderful historical instrument is today in very poor condition and has been rendered unplayable due to neglect. The firm that built it is no longer in existence. There is an ongoing fundraising campaign for the organ’s restoration and maintenance. There are also plans for establishing concert series’ programs and recordings on this beautiful instrument. For those interested in aiding in this historic restoration, please contact one of the following locations: For donations: Austrian Bank Account Salzburg account number: 05401256445 Bank: Salzburger Sparkasse Bank code: 20404 on the bank order please write: Spende Restaurierung Russe Bulgarian Bank Account: Central Cooperative Bank Rousse Account Number: 5000699812 Bank code: 79077934 on the bank order please write: Nicopol Catholic Eparchy or for more information contact: Mr. Sabin Levi 1625 Ellis Drive #100 Lawrence KS 66044 phone/fax: 785 812 3323 email: sabin@ku.edu For more information on organs and organists in Bulgaria: Organs in...

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The Organ in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto

by Ross Trant, Essays

Built in 1906, the Breckels and Mathews pipe organ in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto, conjures up images from the past and its sound delights the ear and thrills the soul. The instrument has been under the hands of many fine musicians, but, of course, the one name most frequently connected with it is the legendary Dr. Healey Willan. It was that legend that first drew me to the church on Manning Avenue, and as with so many others, the attraction of the church itself, the organ and the music they provide caught my imagination and attention from the moment of that first visit and the interest continues to this day. A combination of the building, the organ builder and the musicians make this the inspiring and impressive instrument that it is.It is impossible to separate this organ from Healey Willan, his music, his style and his musicianship. Thus this essay about the instrument begins with the man who brought it fame. Dr. Willan came to St. Mary Magdalene’s in 1921 from the position of organist and choir master at St. Paul’s Church, Bloor Street, where he presided over what many consider to be Casavant’s masterpiece, Opus 550, 1914 which at the time had four manuals and 106 stops. It has since been renovated and enlarged. Maestro Willan, after a seven year stint at the magnificent, rather evangelical St. Paul’s, served as Organist and Precentor* at St. Mary Magdalene’s from 1921 until a few weeks before his death in 1968. The organ now at his disposal was very different as we will see, from the magnificent Casavant where he had begun his Canadian church career. Courtesy Mystery Worshipper Courtesy Church of St. Mary Magdalene The fame of St. Mary Magdalene’s and its music spread far and wide, and it became a place of musical pilgrimage for visitors from around the world. It was very common to have tourists from the major hotels telephone the parish office, asking for service times, and almost invariably adding to the request, ‘Will Dr. Willan be there?’ On at least one occasion the Rector, somewhat annoyed at the priorities of the caller, answered with, “Yes, Dr. Willan will be here. And Jesus will be here too!”I first heard the organ and met Dr. Willan while a teen-age organ student and schoolboy. There is nothing like the brashness of youth. A friend from the same independent school who was also studying the organ, and I decided we should make the pilgrimage and hear the Great Man and his choir. Considering the fame of its precentor, our first surprise was the rather small building, rather plain in exterior design. We had expected something more grand. On entering, our impression changed. There was an atmosphere of loftiness and space, far beyond the dimensions of the place. The architect had done wonders. There was plenty of reflective surface on walls, ceiling and floor. Although the accoutrements of Anglo-Catholicism were very much in evidence, there was no sense of clutter, and the nave was attractively austere. Both my friend, Bob Evans, and I were fascinated by the echo when a busy acolyte set a candle holder down none too gently at the altar. That boded well for the organ, and that proved to be correct. The organ was located, as it is today, on the north side of the chancel with generous openings into the chancel itself and also into the Lady Chapel and north aisle, thus sounding clearly into the nave. Someone had done something right. The architect had made provision for the instrument to be contained within...

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A Short Overview of César Franck’s Twelve Pieces for Organ

by Sabin Levi, Essays

When I was 15 I attended an organ concert, in which the last piece in the program was by a composer preciously unknown to me. That piece, simply called Chorale in E major (performed by the Swiss organist Karen de Pastel) left me breathless. The composer’s name was – César Franck. It is a little hard for me to explain how much was I changed after this experience. Did I actually become a musician since? What is significant – I became wildly interested in his music. I started reading everything I could find about him and I found out that his concert organ music has a very wide recognition, both among performers and listeners alike. But I also found out that his concert organ music, which is so popular nowadays, consists only of twelve pieces! They represent all characteristic features of Franck’s organ-writing style, and they have an emphasized concert character, unlike the pieces from his cycle L’Organiste, which are clearly intended for church use. In this article I present the reader with short information on each one of the Twelve Pieces. A little biographical data: César-Auguste-Guillaume-Hubert Franck was born on December 10, 1922, in Liege, a little Belgian town. After moving to Paris with all his family, and after an unsuccessful attempt to make a child prodigy career, young César was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied organ with the renown organ teacher Benoist, and composition with Anton Reicha. He studied at the Conservatoire for five years, until his father prematurely withdrew him from school, in order to attempt to resume his touring concert artist career. It was an unsuccessful attempt; Franck fell seriously ill. He returned to Paris, married (in 1848) and started working as a music teacher and organist. In 1851 he was named organist of the church of Saint Jean-Saint Francois, and in 1858 at the church of Saint Clotilde. He was also appointed organ professor at the Paris conservatory in 1872, though he used this position to teach composition as well. Franck composed around one hundred pieces for organ, but most of them are merely a page or two in length, and intended for liturgical use; they can be played as prelude, offertory, or postlude. Many of them are meant for either organ or harmonium, and most of them are lacking a pedal part, those features making them very different from his twelve masterworks for organ. The latter extended pieces are organized in three cycles: 1. The Six Pièces of 1959-62 (Fantasie in C major; Grande Pièce Symphonique; Prélude, Fugue et Variation; Pastoral; Prière; Final). 2. The Trois Pièces of 1878 (Fantasie in A, Cantabile, Pièce Heroique). 3. The Trois Chorales of 1890. The Fantasie in C, is one of the best known pieces of the twelve. This work, although sounding little too scholarly to some, has an unconventional form, improvisation-like, organizing the musical material in three main sections. There is nothing too peculiar in its harmony, and according to Michael Murray “only with time and repeated hearings, do the work’s sublime counterpoints, and serenity of spirit they embody, become clear. The Grand Pièce Symphonique, a frequently performed work of very large proportions, is often compared to Franck’s Symphonie in D Minor. D’Indy believes that its main theme “prepares” the main theme of the Symphonie in D Minor (which is yet to come, in 1888). Many composers after Franck were influenced by this “vast monument of song;” they modeled their own organ symphonic works on it – Widor, Vierne, Guilmant… The Prélude, Fugue et Variation, is an example of a piece with a very...

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