A couple of weekends ago, when we were in the Los Angeles area, we used the GPS on my iPhone to give us directions from St. James Episcopal Church to a restaurant in Burbank where we wanted to eat. And so we found ourselves on Highland Avenue, and I said to my son, “Look! There’s the church where I took organ lessons!” and I took a picture of it.
That caused me to wonder what ever happened to the pipe organ there, so just now I searched for “Hollywood First United Methodist Church organ” and came across their webpage which you can find by clicking here. I learned that the 4-manual Casavant organ on which I first began lessons now has five manuals and has been expanded to 70 ranks from 41 ranks, and that there are plans to make it even bigger — to 205 ranks! Obviously there is a new console but apparently there have been acoustical improvements to the building as well. And according to the website, “Additionally, the church desired make the organ console movable and practical for worship services, musical performances, solo organ concerts, choral accompanying and symphony performances.” And this part intrigued me: “The organ console includes a small video screen with a three-position switch connected to a camera system within the church to allow the organist a clear view of different locations within the church.”
What really made me feel weird was watching the video of Ty Woodward playing Virgil Fox’s arrangement of “Now Thank We All Our God” mixed in with views of the interior of the church, which I have embedded below:
I went to this church every Friday for lessons for four years and I cannot tell you how eerie it is to see the interior of this building again after almost fifty years! You see, I always remember that it was almost pitch-black in there because the only light on in the whole building when I went for lessons was the one on the music rack — I guess to save electricity. I remember having to feel my way up a darkened stairway to the organ loft. My teacher, Norman Söreng Wright, actually lived in the Santa Barbara area, 90 miles away, and drove to Hollywood every weekend where he had an apartment adjacent to the church.
Last fall, I played the St. Andrew’s Cathedral 4-manual Aeolian-Skinner organ in an installation service for American Guild of Organists (AGO) officers. Having played the Beckerath organ all these years, my colleagues were so amazed that I could push pistons and flap the swell shades as well as the best of them. But now that you see the type of organ I learned on, you will understand that I do know how to play a big instrument. The sound and power of that Casavant organ must have captivated me, as it has been almost five decades since I have been playing “The King of Instruments.”