Today was the first official day of the Organ Historical Society convention, its 61st convention in this its 60th year since the founding in 1956. Its purpose is thus: The Organ Historical Society celebrates, preserves, and studies the pipe organ in America in all its historic styles, through research, education, advocacy, and music.
And because OHS is now a “mature” organization in terms of structure and membership, it now enters a new stage in that it now has a new home in an old home. If this is confusing, let me explain that the OHS is the recipient of an extraordinary gift which we visited today: a 36-room estate called Stoneleigh, located on an expansive 40-acre property near the Villanova University campus. Today was just a quick visit to the beautiful grounds and the introduction of how the family of OHS member Fred Haas came to donate the property. It was amazing to learn that he moved to this grand home when he was three years old, it being the home of his grandparents. It reminded me of the grand castles in Europe, except that it was built in the 1920s. It will be cared for by the National Lands Trust.
When the archives of OHS move here in a couple of years after some renovations to make it ADA-compliant, it will be the most comprehensive library of books, magazines, and other publications all devoted to the pipe organ. At its inception, there was only one filing cabinet of materials, which has grown to over 15,000 items. A large pipe organ will also be moved here, which will match the age of the house.
Tonight was the opening concert of the convention, a virtuosic display by Stephen Tharp on the Austin organ at the Irvine Auditorium of the University of Pennsylvania, just four blocks from our hotel. Can you imagine, he opened with the “Toccata” from Suite, op. 5 of Duruflé! He also played “Poème héroïque” by Marcel Dupré and two wonderful transcriptions: “Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis” (Vaughan Williams) and “La Valse” by Ravel. My favorite piece of the program was a world premiere composition titled “Danse diabolique”by George Baker (himself a superstar organist) which he described as “4 minutes of Hell” — a fiendishly difficult, virtuosic work containing music built upon three themes: the hymn tune “How firm a foundation,” the Dies irae chant, and oddly enough, a very dissonant and wicked-sounded “Tea for Two” (which has the same first four notes as Dies irae!)
As Stephen Tharp is a young father, before the concert began, we were entertained by his young toddler son who delighted in sliding across the stage on his stomach!
After the concert, the young boy ran up on stage to join his father and took bows alongside him! [UPDATE: I added the video of father and son below] It reminded me of when my son Stephen came up on stage to present me with a bouquet of roses when he was just two years old.
One unique aspect of OHS conventions is that every concert artist plays a hymn at some point in the program, and the whole assembly stands and sings. I must say that hearing that huge bunch of organists raise the roof with their hearty singing gave me absolute goosebumps! And especially with Stephen improvising a very grand accompaniment to the hymn “Rouen.”
You surely don’t hear that kind of singing in church every Sunday, and for that reason, it’s one of my favorite part of OHS programs.
Tomorrow the marathon begins.