I’ve often written about the magical power of the organ — and no matter what your age or stature, the sense of might and power you feel when you play a chord on full organ. I’m sure it was the magnificent richness of sound which turned me on to the organ when I began playing in 8th grade. I felt such a thrilling sense of POWER then and now, some fifty years later, as I continue my craft and am called upon to accompany corporate worship and play for ceremonial rites.
For many, organs are frequently part of those special moments in our lives — like weddings and funerals, and for others, graduations and other ceremonies. The organ is an instrument of grandeur — enhancing happiness and exhilaration at a wedding, for example, but also comforting mourners at a time of loss at funerals.
As my late colleague, John McCreary used to say, he didn’t like playing the piano “because it only had one stop!”
Along the same vein, I’ve also said many times that the organist can make or break a service. Choose the wrong tempo, the wrong registration (choice of organ stops), play the wrong hymn, come in at the wrong time, or wait too long to start the next musical piece creating awkward pauses — and EVERYONE notices and complains!
Today I will be playing the Chrism Mass at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, substituting for John Renke who remains ill. Check out the definition of “Chrism” on Wikipedia if you’ve never heard of it. The service for “Blessing of the Oils” was scheduled for adjoining Parke Chapel so I dutifully went to try out the organ a couple of days ago. Years ago, I understand the two manual organ was originally built by the Votey Organ Company, founded by Edwin Scott Votey (1856-1931) and inventor of the player piano. I have no idea what year the organ was built, or what alterations were made subsequently, but I was alarmed when I turned it on, that there were at least four or five “ciphers,” notes which continuously sound even without a key being depressed! In addition I would say at least 20% of the notes were “dead,” producing no sound at all.
I quickly wrote an email to the Diocesan administrator and told her about the sorry state of the organ. Within just a few minutes, I received a message saying that she had booked the Cathedral for the service. Wow! it was because of my complaint about the Parke Chapel organ that the service got moved to the Cathedral . . . “all because of the organ.” Ergo, “the power of the organist!”
Yes, I know that there are more than 700 dead notes in the Cathedral’s Aeolian-Skinner organ, but since there are four manuals and more than 6000 pipes, the situation is more manageable to be sure.
Yesterday I got word from John Renke that I will definitely be playing the entire weekend at the Cathedral — Chrism Mass this morning, Morning Prayer for the Diocesan Day of Discernment tomorrow, Sunday Holy Eucharists at 8:00 and 10:30 and Evensong with the Diocesan Choir at 5:30 pm.
That’s a whole lot of music! Off to practice!