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Walter Hilse plays Bach’s The Art of Fugue at St Peter’s Lutheran Church, NYC

Review of Dr Walter Hilse’s performance of Bach’s The Art of Fugue, played on 9/24/2000 at St Peter’s Lutheran Church, NYC

Today at 4 o’clock, at St Peter’s Lutheran Church in NYC, Walter Hilse gave a splendid performance of the Art of Fugue. The Klais organ sang, whispered, and trumpeted under Dr Hilse’s imaginative registration. Each fugue and canon possessed its own distinctive character, and like pieces of a puzzle they fit together perfectly. Dr Hilse interspersed the fugues with the canons, to “welcome contrast”, as he wrote in the program notes. The program was as follows:

Fugue Ihilse
Fugue II
Fugue III
Fugue IV
Canon II at the Octave
Canon IV at the Twelfth
Fugue VI
Canon I in Augmentation and Contrary Motion
Fugue VII
Fugue VIII
Fugue IX
Fugue X
Canon III at the Tenth
Fugue XI
Mirror Fugue in 4 Voices (Normal, then inverted)
Mirror Fugue in 3 Voices (Normal then inverted)
Fugue XII (Unfinished)
Chorale Prelude Vor deinen Thron


The intensity of the performance grew as time went on. The canons were a pleasant variation to the complexity of the fugues. They also provided the opportunity to exploit the organ’s color to the fullest. The canon in Augmentation and Contrary Motion was, I think, a bit too fast and aggressive. I hear it as having a more composed, meditative character. In the context of the rest of the performance, though, Dr Hilse’s interpretation of the canon was a logical interlude between fugues VI and VII and made perfect sense that way.

The fugues nrs. X and XI were particularly spellbinding. Dr Hilse unleashed the sheer power of those pieces and brought it thundering down into the sanctuary. It was simply thrilling, this windstorm of sound and logic, bound by deeply felt emotion.

As the last, unfinished, fugue started, I was filled with apprehension, waiting for the moment when the B-A-C-H would sound. I’d like to think that I wasn’t the only one in the audience who wondered—just what sound will Dr Hilse choose to represent Bach’s name? It was a flute-like 8′. How fitting. After the last notes of the fugue hung in the air, clean and pure, it was also the sound that started the sublimely beautiful chorale, Vor deinen Thron.

st_peter_extThe minimalist modern architecture of St Peter’s was a perfect background for the highly spiritual music of Bach. Having never visited St Peter before, I was struck with it’s architect’s flight of imagination. I certainly have never seen a church where the sanctuary was below ground level, with ceiling windows facing the street. Several people were glued to the glass during the performance, and that created a feeling that the organ was speaking not only to us, sitting below, but also to the people outside, and to the sky, and to the entire city.

While much bitter discussion is being centered on organists playing recitals for organists, Walter Hilse has performed Bach for the people. I believe musicians and non-musicians alike went home with a memory of something special today.

Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church is located at
619 Lexington Avenue at 54 St
New York, NY 10022
(212) 935-2200 

©2000 Lana Krakovskiy

Andrew Nethsingha plays at St George’s Cathedral, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

We were delighted to have Andrew Nethsingha, the Organist and Master of the Choristers at Truro Cathedral, UK, here in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, to give a recital at St. George’s Cathedral, on Tuesday 10th October 2000.

The programme was as follows:

Grand Choeur in D minor
Folk Tune
J. S. Bach
Trio super “Herr Jesus Christ
Fantasia and Fugue in C minor Hollins
Allegretto Grazioso
Adagio and March from the “Occasional Oratorio”


Chorale-Improvisation “Nun danket alle Gott”
Samuel Wesley
Air and Gavotte
Howells     Psalm Prelude (Set 1, No 1)
“Lo, the poor crieth and the Lord heareth him, yea, and saveth him out of all his troubles.” (Psalm 34.6)
March on a Theme of Handel

Andrew Nethsinga introduced the pieces at the beginning of each half, and then went on to play them as though he had played the organ at St. George’s Cathedral all his life! In fact, he was here some years ago when he gave a recital, which was as enjoyable as the one we heard this week.

The organ has never sounded better!

Mr. Nethsingha also conducted the Diocesan Choral Festival Service, Sunday October 15, 2000, at 4.00 pm.

©2000 Bob Conway

Jürgen Rodeland plays at St. Aureus Church in Büdesheim, Germany

Music from Three Centuries

“Unspectacular” organ recital delighted the audience in the church

November 11th, 2000
by Werner Brandt, Mainz Allgemeine Zeitung
translated by John H. Nisbet

juergenBINGEN – It’s almost unbelievable: In spite of little advertising, even “unspectacular” organ concerts find their audience. Indeed, the listeners in the well-attended Catholic Church in Büdesheim were more than rewarded.

Jürgen Rodeland arranged an interesting program, spanning the period from 1637 to 1992, accentuating the versatile sound of the Oberlinger organ, and fulfilling all expectations, both technically and artistically.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s 6th Organ Sonata began with chorale variations, which ornamented the melody, or treated it with toccata-like, brilliant scales, and arpeggios. The chorale theme was also hidden in the Fugue, but accentuated clearly, and the final movement exuded composure, and sensitivity, thanks to the soft registration of the performer.

In the Passacaglia D minor of Dietrich Buxtehude, Jürgen Rodeland spread out the variety of registration possibilities: the continuing bass theme was clothed attractively by very versatile, bell-like stops, silvery mixtures, and organo pleno. Only the conclusion turned out somewhat too modestly.

With Johann Sebastian Bach’s renowned Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, the artist could prove his enormous virtuosity. He played particularly the “Kaffeewasser” Fugue in a conception like an unbroken thread, held the tempo excellently, articulated very sophisticatedly, and registered transparently, so that the theme always remained clearly audible. He refrained from a grandiose ending.

Olivier Messiaen’s “Apparition de l’Eglise éternelle” began like clusters, using the swell box extensively, and contained sound expanses and rows of chords that could be suggestive of church windows flooded through by sunrays, but the composition revealed little structure, and too much emotion.

Max Reger’s Fantasia on “Ein feste Burg” turned out to be a masterpiece of the performer. If it would have been possible to sing the Chorale before, the appreciation of this piece would have been even greater. However, the information printed in the program, the very clear registrations, the well- played portato choral melody, the large contrasts of dynamics, the mastery of the difficult pedal part, and the great climax to the end: by all of these, a breathtaking interpretation was accomplished by being clear-cut, with a transparent sound despite the complicated chromatic harmony.

The enthusiastic audience demanded by much applause a well-known, exceptionally charming encore: Vierne’s “Carillon de Westminster” honored the listeners with a bell-like, playful sound.

©2000 Werner Brandt, reprinted in translation with author’s permission
For original article: click here

Fred Swann plays last Advent concert at the church before retiring, First Congregational Church, LA

Los Angeles, CA, December 3, 2000
This past Sunday, I had the great pleasure of attending Fred Swann’s annual Christmas concert at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. This would be his last regular Christmas concert at the church inasmuch as he has announced his retirement from the church organ bench after 60 years of service as a church organist, to be effective in May 2001.

(Incidentally, the program notes indicated that Dr. Somerville, Minister of Music, will also be retiring at that time, along with soprano Kathie Freeman.)

Although Dr. Swann has only been at First Congregational about three years, he obviously is already greatly loved and admired, as evidenced by the near-capacity audience who turned out for his concert: Most of the folks in attendance looked more like “church folk” than “organ folk,” so this clearly was a great display of support and respect for him. The announcement of his retirement, although already generally known, was met with many sighs of sadness and shaking of heads, even a few daubing at teary eyes with hankies. (A nice church-like couple sitting in front of me were very unabashed FRED FANS, and showed their adoration for him throughout the concert.)

The program began with a prelude by the Master Ringers, a very fine handbell choir from Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena. (Despite a printed request in the program to “please listen in silence,” not everyone was doing so. Most notably certain inattentive ushers who were escorting people to their seats with audibly barked seating indications. To their credit, the handbelliers’ attention and focus were not diverted despite the insensitive distractions.)

Dr. Swann then laid out an excellent, varied program including some “new fare” along with just enough “old chestnuts” to keep the purple-haired little old ladies (of both genders) content.

Of course, every piece was excellently played. And the seemingly limitless diversity of the Great Organs of the church was marvelously and ingeniously displayed.

We heard quaint touches of “klein-tinkelen und Farten-regalen” in Buxtehude’s choral fantasia on “Wie schön der Morgenstern.” (I heard a teenage kid behind me ask his mom if that was “a song about Rhoda Morgenstern!”)

The organ’s many ranks of lovely, lovely strings were slushed out in full force for Stanley Roper’s arrangement of the original orchestral version of Vaughan Williams’ “Greensleeves.” Absolutely blissful sounds here, layer upon layer of Shimmering Strings and Velvety Voxes. (Who was it who quipped, “More souls are saved with Chimes and Vox Humanas than any other stops in the organ!”)

The full force of the organ was called upon several times to thrilling, thunderous climaxes: Dr. Swann brilliantly played Simon Preston’s hair-raising “Alleluyas” and the captivatingly joyous “Grand Fantasia on ‘Joy to the World'” by Marc Cheban, a young organist from Philadelphia.

There were also the expected rooty-toots on the heart-stopping Holzgraf Memorial Trumpet, but it did appear to me that these trumpets have been reined in a bit as they did not seem as overbearing (indeed, nearly unbearable!) as they originally were.

Dr. Swann concluded the concert with Henri Büsser’s “The Sleep of the Infant Jesus.” My, my, my, my, MY. How can I begin to relate the sweet beauty of this work! Dr. Swann told about how during his tenure at Riverside Church, this piece always took a special and cherished place at the end of each annual Christmas Eve Candlelight service. He then gently requested that there be no applause at the end, “and you will see why.”

At the conclusion of the sublime work, a beautiful soprano voice eerily floated out into the nave seemingly out of nowhere–at once softly emanating from every pore of that sanctuary— singing, a cappela, “Silent Night.”

As the voice grew in intensity, we realized it was coming from a resonant hallway or stairwell behind the altar. The ethereal voice continued to grow in strength as the soprano, Kathie Freeman, slowly made her way out into the sanctuary. What a sweet, tender, peaceful moment. This brilliantly thoughtful treatment perfectly rendered the aural fragrance of the lovely, simple carol. Time seemed to stand still, and we very much felt the gentle presence of Our Creator there with us.

Finally Dr. Swann led us in rousing congregational singing of favorite Christmas carols, led by Kathie Freeman; although she had some stiff competition against the hundreds of ranks of organ and the sanctuary filled with concertgoers!

The concert was then over and done with, seemingly far too soon; and we reluctantly filed out of the gorgeous sanctuary to go back to our “regular lives.” However, even two days after the concert I am still blessed with a quiet peacefulness that has brought into my heart the true spirit of Christmas.

Afterward, Dr. Swann’s many admirers lined up in the cheerfully elegant, tastefully appointed fellowship hall (incongruously christened “The Barnum Room”) below the sanctuary to express their greetings, well wishes, and accolades for the concert, which easily was the best and most enjoyable in recent memory.

– – – – – – –

Here is the complete program:

3:45 Gathering Music
The Master Ringers, Handbell Choir
Lake Avenue Congregational Church
Pasadena – Jeremy Langill, director

4:00 Welcome
Thomas Hunter Russell, Assistant Organist,
Organ Concert Series Chair

Two Settings of the Advent Hymn “Veni, Veni Emmanuel”
Toccata – Andrew Carter
Meditation – Sir Edward C. Bairstow

Choral Fantasia – “Wie schön der [Rhoda] Morgenstern” – D.Buxtehude

Christmas, Op. 80 – Arthur Foote

Two Carol Variations – Max Drischner
“Lo, How a Rose ‘ere Blooming”
“In dulci jubilo”

Alleluyas – Simon Preston

Pastorale on “Forest Green” – Dale Wood
(Harp, Handbells, Organ)
(Jo Ann Turovsky, harp)

Grand Fantasia on “Joy to the World” – Marc Cheban

I n t e r m i s s i o n

Two Spanish Carols for Organ – Norberto Guinaldo
“¿Què li darem a n’el Noi de la mare?”
“El desembre congelat”

Greensleeves – R. Vaughan Williams

Variations on a French Carol – “Il est né le divin enfant” – Henri Büsser

The Sleep of the Infant Jesus – Henri Büsser
(Violin, Harp, Organ)
(Jo Ann Turovsky, harp)
(Steve Scharf, violin)

Silent Night – Kathie Freeman, soprano

Congregational Carol Singing, led by Dr. Swann and Kathie Freeman

Reception in the Barnum Room

©2000 Charlie Lester

A Modest Proposal – Beyond Statistical Insignificance

michael_baroneI’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?

What do we do to reinforce a public awareness of the pipe organ? Not a lot, it seems. We lock the console and keep untrained curiosity-seekers at bay. We’d never spend the time to invite school music classes (or even Sunday School classes) in for an introductory demonstration. Then, when we schedule a recital, we’re late with our press releases, we don’t establish relationships with local newspaper arts editors or writers, we don’t coordinate our activities with other presenters (to avoid unnecessary simultaneities). Is it a wonder than our audiences are small?

Are we too proud to publicize? Much as we may wish it were otherwise, publicity and advertising are part of the energy of modern life. In ways more numerous and subtle than we might prefer, product marketing and attitude adjustments have impact on the way we view ourselves and the world in which we live and work. The Coca-Cola Company (which I pick at random from a huge list of potential exemplars), purveyors of a product known around the world, does not sit on its laurels, history, or traditions. Despite the fact that virtually every man, woman and child on this planet knows what Coca-Cola is, the Company spends billions of dollars annually reminding us of its product’s primacy in slaking our thirst and improving our life. Billion$ of dollar$ to refre$h our memorie$ about $omething we already know.

I know. The pipe organ community does not have billions of dollars to spend on publicity. But the pipe organ does have a few media ambassadors working on its behalf…The Joy of Music, with Diane Bish (television) and PIPEDREAMS (radio). Though some additional, locally-produced organ programs exist, these two mentioned are the only ones of which I am aware in national distribution. They are a precious pair, (since the broadcast industry’s attitude concerning organ music is one of disdain and loathing, only some of which is justified), but these programs do exist, they do reach out to audiences and have potential for being seen and heard by many more…if….

Our challenges may be distilled into two points:

  1. Connect with audiences who WANT to listen but don’t know the programs are there (or who cannot hear the programs because of non-carriage)
  2. Use audience/market information to mold a broadcast-industry-positive profile of the organ-music listener

An action plan is essential, and must begin immediately. Even with the best efforts, it will take nearly a year of involvement before any change will register. But don’t hold back just because the payoff isn’t instantaneous.

First, let’s energize the core…and that means you! More than 20,000 individuals are members of 352 local chapters of the American Guild of Organists, with representation in most of the major and minor cities of the nation. Though we are not the most manageable lot, as A.G.O. members we do offer a potential mechanism for efficient and economical outreach. (The 6000 members of the American Theatre Organ Society offer expanded potential, but perhaps that’s another story).

For the sake of this discussion, we will grant that all 20,000 A.G.O. members are church organists, and that as such each plays, on average, to “communities” (parishes, congregations) of 500 souls each week. Obviously, some play for huge congregations numbering in the thousands, others play for a hearty handful, but I think this nationwide ‘500-per-organist’ average is realistic.

Now, what IF we A.G.O. members were to involve ourselves in a bit of consistent self-promotion? How about putting the following regularly recurring listing (or something similar) into our church bulletins and/or church newsletters (perhaps alternating from one to the other each month, or more often….), or at the bottom of every organ recital program presented or sponsored by a guild member:

“If you’ve enjoyed the organ music today, you might also enjoy listening to PIPEDREAMS, a weekly 90-minute broadcast which features a broad cross-section of repertoire for the King of Instruments. Tune to WCLV-95.5FM Sundays beginning at 10PM. For more information, call 216-464-0900.”

[This, in fairness, could be expanded to mention other church-music-related media programming which might be available to your area, i.e. With Heart and Voice and even The Joy of Music on television, though for this article I’m focusing only on radio’s potential, perhaps shortsightedly…but that’s where I work.]

Think of the consequences of such a promotion, which happens at little or no cost. If done even only once, it reaches 10,000,000 (that’s ten million!) people…a significant number insofar as it represents more than half the total cume audience for all Public Radio listening. And, with recurrent placement, even if this outreach actually mobilized only a tenth of that number (not impossible, insofar as this constituency already is potentially organ-friendly, as compared with the general community at large), what a boost that might be…for organists, organ awareness and, not incidentally, for the local broadcaster (who, at least in Public Radio, is in pretty much the same predicament organists are…urgently in need of a mobilized constituency).

This, of course, presupposes that our Guild Chapters are regularly promoting these broadcasts to their individual members through monthly chapter newsletters. Unfortunately, the reality is otherwise. Even in communities where an A.G.O. chapter has donated hundreds (or thousands) of dollars from the chapter treasury to “underwrite” the broadcast of PIPEDREAMS on a local station, that same chapter may give absolutely no mention of PIPEDREAMS broadcast information in its monthly member mailings, presuming that everyone knows about it. Presumptions can be erroneous, even fatal.

We’ve got to get up and out there, folks. Remember the billions that commercial enterprises spend to reinforce their messages? We don’t have the billions (well, maybe we do…any closet philanthropists out there, waiting to fund a National Media Initiative for Increased Organ Awareness?), but we do have ourselves and some accessible and cost-efficient means of communicating with each other and with our communities of influence. All it takes is a bit of resolve, consistency, and follow-through.

Additionally, there is potential for interaction between station membership/ development folk and local A.G.O. members…to generate both individual membership support and (in the case of the larger chapters) perhaps also station underwriting monies (at least to cover out-of-pocket expenses to the station). A.G.O. chapter newsletters should also promote awareness of local Public Radio stations and, in particular, prep people for upcoming station fund drives. Hit the core audience, folks. Get them involved.

And also from the A.G.O. Chapter end, we should encouraged station management to foster and maintain these relationships, which can only help the overall Public Radio cause.

Yes, this is a challenging environment, for church music, for organ music, for Public Radio. But there are real opportunities here. It’s up to us to use them. You are only powerless if you refuse to use the powers in your possession. Don’t expect someone else to do it. Good luck!

© Michael Barone

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

20010402setchell_pic6vistaHear 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.

20010402setchell_pic5riegerorganOver 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

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 that I dislike programme notes, but I’m conscious that for most of the time the audience is going to have nothing more than my back to look at. That’s certainly an improvement on the invisibility of the organ loft, but still low in the communication stakes. So I talk to the audience to pull back the communication balance a little, as well as to break down the impersonality of a recital, and any mystique about the repertoire. Humour is undoubtedly one of my chief weapons. Without cheapening the whole show, I think a little bit of laughing at yourself, the quirks of composer’s lives or the instrument’s complexities and potential for disaster can help a lot. When I play, the audience is taken close by cameras (one for the hands, one for the feet) which project the image onto large screens mounted either side of the case. This helps remove the distance factor. There is still something of the circus act in an organ performer, and people are as fascinated by physical machinations, whether it’s of a skilled organist, sportsman or airline pilot in action. They feel they are getting in on the act, being taken behind the scenes as it were.

Of course the whole question of repertoire is a key factor. We have to face the fact that with the exception of Bach and possibly Franck, Mendelssohn and Messiaen, organ composers are not familiar to the general Classical listening public. That doesn’t mean to say that all their music is unpalatable to an audience, just that marketing based on the composer’s name and maybe the piece’s title doesn’t always work. As someone remarked recently ‘On the one hand we complain that people aren’t interested in organ anymore, and on the other we don’t seem to want to play the pieces they love’. I believe you have to constantly find touchstones, points of reference which will identify with the listening experience of the majority. Obviously we have to ‘borrow’ repertoire from other media and provided it’s suitable, not be ashamed of using transcriptions. Bach certainly wasn’t, and look at the audiences Lemare, Best and co pulled in. Establishing ‘extra-musical’ connections is always useful. My latest CD “Bonbons for organ” features a group of programmatic pieces entitled ‘Creatures Great and Small’ and finishes with Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee’. People may not recognise by title Gounod’s ‘Funeral march of a Marionette’ but they all know Alfred Hitchcock’s TV theme. Once your audience learns to trust you not to bore, patronise or overface them, you can gradually start raising the levels and introducing them more and more to traditional organ fare.

Organ Poster

Essential to this public profile was of course a purpose designed website, and I was fortunate that my wife Jenny is not only an organist herself, but a website designer. The organ website, began life with the organ, initially as part of a school’s webpage supported by the local daily newspaper. Daily photos of the process of installation were put up with videos, sound files and short, basic explanations of what was happening. Thousands of people followed the “birthing” process from Iceland to Tasmania, South Africa to Toronto. At the opening concerts, video clips of the action were included, especially those taken during the schools concerts attended by 4500 children over two days. Today the site exists as a storehouse of historical photos of the building, information about events involving the organ in any way, crossword competitions, jigsaw puzzles of organs, news, selling the two CDs made on the instrument, organ posters , a guestbook, organ links, organists’ association news, links to New Zealand sites for tourists, and soon, even a page selling t-shirts of the organ.

“Bach’s Back” die-cut program

Inventive marketing whenever there is a chance is hard slog, but it’s worth it. At the release concert for “Bonbons for Organ” we bought 10kg of bonbon sweets and offered them to the startled but delighted audience; before major events we print envelopes at home with dates and basic info in colour on the front; selling tickets as “three for the price of two” encourages people to bring a friend; spreading advertising throughout the media, not just newspapers. Anything that helps people remember, and lifts their association of the organ out of the commonplace, helps fix it in their mind. Even concert programs and notes can stand out in this way, like this for the Bach’s Back concert, which was die-cut into Bach’s profile enclosing the whimsical pair on the cover!

Children at the organ
Schools in the Auditorium
Winning Entry

I regard the schools concerts I’ve given as perhaps the most important investment in audience potential growth. Of course there was a certain amount of ‘mass hysteria’, the usual sort of thing when 2500 kids get an hour out of school, but the organ experience at a tender age could be the essential seed planting for the future. I got a well-known kids TV presenter to help me. He was hidden in the case (with ear-muffs) before the kids were admitted, and only appeared from inside the case after the end of the Widor Toccata. The kids loved it. They had the chance to sing to the big theme of the Saint-Saens symphony and clap to the Radetzky march. They learnt a bit about how the instrument works and how it is played, and I got a young organist of their own age to play a piece with me. The daily newspaper ran a colouring-in competition for very young children and also ran a picture of the winner with her prize (one of my organ CDs). Now these concerts are part of local schools’ calendars – but don’t appear to have lost their appeal.

I’ve had to be prepared to be a bit of an actor as well as a player. Last year on the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death, I presented ‘Bach’s Back’ – see . This was a show (sponsored by a prominent firm of undertakers!) in which Bach (alias me) was re-incarnated for the day in full 18th century costume, and appeared out of the mists of time. Sure it took a producer, some lighting effects, some dry ice, and some script writing, but it put the organ and its best music right up there in the commercial world. The lunchtime performance was tailored for kids, and the evening a full length concert.

I’ve had to be proactive in creating organ opportunities, by suggesting the organ in ensemble with choirs, brass bands, singers, orchestras, and as a surprise element in conferences and other ceremonies. Some of the more zany have involved me playing for silent movies, and appearing as the phantom of the Opera organist! The most gratifying experience is when people come to my dressing room afterwards and tell me they came because they love choirs, or orchestras, or brass or whatever else is performing, but actually fell in love with the organ, and ask when the next organ concert is. That’s conversion!

The best back-handed compliment I’ve received was from an American lady who breezed up after a concert and said ‘I wanted you to know I used to like organ music just about as much as root canal surgery, but not any more!’ If we can provide more people with that kind of change of heart, the organ in the 21st century will still be the King. If we can’t, we risk it becoming the Dinosaur.

– Martin Setchell

The Pipe Organ at Katsbaan Reformed Church

For information on the Katsbaan pipe organ, believed to be the oldest extant three-manual organ in America, contact Janice M. Trevail
Visit the website:

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.


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, is hidden behind them. Only the center pipes are real. The pedal appears originally to have had no stops of its own; however, two sets of pipes were added in the 1860’s, and their stop action is in the outer case flats. The kick-board is of rosewood, as are the keyslips and keychecks.

The compass of the keyboards on the Katsbaan organ are from a low G to a high f, with no low G# (standard practice in a G compass organ). The pedalboard compass is from low G (includes the G#) to a C.

The stoplist is as follows:
Great: Open Diapason, Stopped Diapason, Principal, Fifteenth, Sesquialtera, Copula (which is a coupler)
Choir: Dulciana, Principal, Flute, Copula (couplers)
Swell: Open Diapason, Cornet, Trumpet
Pedal: Bourdon, Open Diapason. These two stops were apparently added later. The original pedal was probably pull-downs (coupled). However, the pedal board now having a G# makes me wonder if the present pedalboard replaced an earlier on without a G#. Otherwise, the G# would have nothing to “pull down”.

The following memo was sent to the Katsbaan church by Nelson G. Burhans in March, 1973:

Information relative to the organ in the Katsbaan Reformed Church

“This is a three manual Erben organ built around 1830. We think it was first used at Trinity Church, New York, or Marble Collegiate Church and moved here about 1860, installed in the Saugerties, NY Reformed Church. When the Saugerties Reformed Church bought their new Frank Roosevelt organ about 1895, the Erben was moved to the Katsbaan Reformed Church. Robert Rowland of Ossining, NY rebuilt it there with no structural changes in 1925, though there had been some changes before his time. There were two cases, one inside the other. If you remove the case work on the three sides, it reveals another of different architectural design. The original has speaking display pipes and the added case has dummies. This is the most outstanding of all I know.”

This above is a basic quote with some added clarification words of a letter from Bob Rowland to the editor of The Tracker, a magazine for and about organ and organist.

The Katsbaan Reformed Church has a very small congregation, but we are strong in faith and spirit. A complete and faithful restoration is the single goal of our Pipe Organ Restoration Committee, and we are searching every possible avenue in order to achieve this goal. In 2010 our church will celebrate its 300th anniversary, and nothing would please us more than to have our beautiful instrument restored to it’s original glory in time for this momentous celebration.

The restoration of the Katsbaan pipe organ will be a once-in-a-lifetime event of significance to organ players, organ repairers, and especially organ restorers. Your prayers would be most welcome, and if you would be kind enough to spread the word about this project we would be truly grateful. If you are aware of any foundations who might be willing to help fund our project, please let us know.

If you would like to make a donation to the Pipe Organ Restoration Fund, checks can be made payable to the Katsbaan Reformed Church and mailed to:
Katsbaan Organ Restoration Committee
c/o Janice M. Trevail
1866 High Falls Road
Catskill, NY 12414