Is loud better? necessary?

Chapel of St. Joseph

Chapel of St. Joseph

It’s Wednesday of OHS week and today we heard some very LOUD organs. The morning started out with a drive to the Chapel of St. Joseph at St. Joseph University, a contemporary building with an historic 1868 E. & G.G. Hook organ. Eric Plutz of Princeton University was scheduled to play and yet his program was the only one not printed in our book, but was on an insert. To be fair, the host announced that Plutz was feeling “severely under the weather but agreed to play anyway,” but I frankly was embarrassed for him and for all the many wrong notes he played, especially in the pedal. He played several well-known works which I teach to my students and to which everyone knows the notes: Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G major, Franck’s Prelude, Fugue and Variation, and Mendelssohn’s Sonata No. 1 in F-minor. The best thing I got out of this recital was the hymn we sang: “When the morning stars together” sung to the tune WEISSE FLAGGEN. It was new to me, but oh so appropriate for a group of musicians.

When the morning stars together their Creator’s glory sang, and the angel host all hooted till with joy the heavens rang, then your wisdom and your greatness their exultant music told, all the beauty and the splendor that your mighty works unfold.

When in synagogue and temple voices raised the psalmists’ songs, offering the adoration that alone to you belongs; when the singers and the cymbals with the trumpet made accord, glory filled the house of worship, and all knew your presence, Lord.

The Hook organ at the Chapel of St. Joseph

The Hook organ at the Chapel of St. Joseph

Voice and instrument in union through the ages spoke your praise, Plainsong, tuneful hymns, and anthems told your faithful, gracious ways. Choir and orchestra and organ, each a sacred offering brought, while, inspired by your own Spirit, poet and composer wrought.

Lord, we bring our gift of music; touch our lips and fire our hearts, teach our minds and train our senses, fit us for this sacred art. Then with skill and consecration we would serve you, Lord, and give all our powers to glorify you, and in serving fully live.

The Mander organ at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

The Mander organ at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

Craig Cramer played the Mander organ.

Craig Cramer played the Mander organ.

We next drove to the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, home of a Mander organ (2000), played excellently by Craig Cramer, organist of the University of Notre Dame and a former classmate of mine at Westminster Choir College. This was a beautiful organ in a very resonant room, and the sound of the congregation singing the hymn KINGSFOLD in that building was almost magical. But was it really necessary to play Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue the whole way through, from start to finish, on full organ? It was loud, but not as LOUD as the final piece, Reger’s Zweite Sonate, op. 60. Even Craig apologized that we would have to listen to Reger just before lunch. If my husband had been here, he would have put his fingers in his ears! It was LOUD!! Uncomfortably so, I’m afraid. Just because all the stops are there doesn’t mean you have to pull them out all at once.

Yummy strawberry shortcake.

Yummy strawberry shortcake.

We drove to the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church where we were again treated to an excellent lunch. I just had to take a picture of the strawberry cake for dessert!

Our recitalist after lunch was Jeffrey Brillhart, who played French music by Louis Marchand, César Franck, and Olivier Messiaen on this French-style organ by Rieger Orgelbau (2005). I understand that the church had a previous organ, also by Rieger, but that when it came time to have that organ restored, Rieger took a look at it and said it was beyond repair. They then offered the church a brand-new organ at cost, and they chose to have one in the French style.

This was the first concert to make use of a live video feed.

This was the first concert to make use of a live video feed.

Brillhart was excellent (except that he registered the organ so LOUD that I felt no embarrassment to put my fingers in my ears!) But watching him play on the large video screen downstairs, and listening to some of those beautiful sounds made me want to play French music again. He played the Choral No. 1 in E minor by Franck which is a piece I played on my graduate recital and have not played since. I definitely want to look at this piece again when I get home!

We stood to sing LINLEY, a hymn tune by Alan Morrison.

We stood to sing LINLEY, a hymn tune by Alan Morrison.

One thing that caught my attention in the program was this statement: Rieger Tuning System (Bluetooth system that enables a single person to tune the organ) meaning that you don’t need an assistant to hold down the keys!

The interesting ceiling at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian.

The interesting ceiling at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian.

Tonight we will have dinner at the Crystal Tea Room at Macy’s, home of the famous Wanamaker organ! Then the OHS will have a private concert when the store is closed. I can’t wait!

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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2 Responses to Is loud better? necessary?

  1. Barbara Adler says:

    Check out Ross Wood’s post on Facebook with people plugging their ears. I cannot STAND loud organ music any more, except when really needed.
    Full plenum seems to be the style for the Passacaglia now. I don’t agree because I think the variations call for different registration (and the melody should be legato, unlike most performances nowadays).
    Enjoy the Wanamaker. Is this the first time you’ve been there? And Kimmel? You must really be enjoying it.
    Love, Barb

  2. What a coincidence! I just posted about the organ volume in the Saint-Saens and a review from Scott Cantrell. Historically, the sustained high volume approach is not supported. For this, we can thank our modern culture with the “louder is better” approach to everything from recorded music and speech to live concerts.

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