Today Joey Fala took me on a tour of the 16 pipe organs on the Yale University campus, which we organists call an organ crawl. According to Wikipedia, “An organ crawl is a tour of several pipe organs at different locations in an area, usually taken by a group of enthusiasts. It may include short concerts or opportunities to play the organs at each location, commentary on them from their organists or other experts, and so on.”
For security purposes, the organs are kept under lock and key, so every organ student is given a wad of keys. Joey took over the management of the organ practice schedule for the major instruments on campus from our mutual friend Wyatt Smith. Some of you may remember that Wyatt came to Honolulu to play a concert at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. (See my post “A visitor from the Internet” on how I met Wyatt through this blog!)
Joey is also responsible for opening and closing up after organ recitals in addition to making sure that everything runs smoothly. In a recent concert, he was trying to take care of the recitalist’s needs in addition to scrambling around to find the key to the handicapped restroom. When the line to the bathroom became very long, people understandably became quite anxious, as did Joey! He was even considering carrying each one of them to the handicapped facility on the lower floor! Joey knew that Joe Dzeda, the organ curator, had the keys, but Joe had turned off his phone in anticipation of the concert starting in a few minutes. Luckily a security person came along with the key!
I didn’t play every single practice organ, but I do believe I took pictures of them all. (You can see much better pictures through this link.) We spent a considerable time with the Taylor and Boody organ in Marquand Chapel, which is built after a historic model. It is a mean-tone instrument with split keys, which means that there are separate keys for D-sharp and E-flat. As you can imagine, I found it quite difficult to play, but the sound was incredible.
We then went back to Woolsey Hall where I was allowed to try out the wonderful E. M. Skinner organ. Now this is what you call heaven on earth! We all agreed that we could spend all day playing here, and in fact Joey told me in a recent conversation with his parents, that the whole Yale experience has been worth it to be able to play this instrument! It is an organ of 197 heavenly ranks and it is pure joy!
I had the sense that Joey’s and my roles were now reversed — he was the teacher and I was the student, because while I was playing, he was pulling the stops! Joey will be playing a half-recital here at Woolsey in April.
After lunch, Joey took me to the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, which is a museum of historic stringed, wind, brass and keyboard instruments. Of course, we are not allowed to play any of the instruments, but it was simply fascinating to see their unusual shapes and to wonder what they sounded like.
I luckily took a respite from our tour of seeing instruments to come back to the hotel. My heart sank when I received a text from United Airlines saying that my return flight had been cancelled because of an impending snowstorm. Complicating the matter was that Bradley Airport is more than an hour away from my hotel, and the bus shuttle’s first scheduled run is at 6:00 am. I therefore would not be able to make any of the morning flights until Wednesday (!) so I made arrangements to extend my hotel stay for two more nights.
I met up with Joey to return to Dwight Chapel where he had played his recital and I tried out the Beckerath organ. It is much more aggressive but perhaps more colorful than our instrument in Honolulu because of its larger size — however the action is quite a bit stiffer than what I’m used to (along with being so rusty after having not played the organ in two months. Egad!)
We also saw the Holtkamp organ in Battell Chapel where Joey had his audition for Yale just about a year ago. I found it hard to believe that when Bach’s Neumeister chorales were “rediscovered” at Yale in 1984, their debut was performed on this organ, hardly an historic model.
We ended the day by eating at a very nice Thai restaurant, then I came back to the hotel to watch Downton Abbey. What a day it has been — and how rich the facilities and resources are here at Yale! Joey is so extremely fortunate to be here, and believe me, he’s soaking up every minute of it.