Today was the last day of the Organ Historical Society convention and we boarded the buses for the Atlantic City Boardwalk on the New Jersey shore. Yes, the home of the Miss America pageant and the Trump Taj Mahal is also the home of the world’s largest organ in the Boardwalk Auditorium, seven manuals, 33,112 pipes, and was it ever LOUD! My ears will never be the same after this convention!
The Convention planners had allowed two hours time to get to Atlantic City, but it only took us about an hour or so. We were in a convoy of nine 55-passenger buses and parked in the huge underground parking lot for buses. Man, this place is humongous! The auditorium seats over 14,000 people. We first took a tour inside the pipe chambers and there were docents everywhere telling us not to touch anything.
After some brief remarks from OHS member Bill Czelusiak we learned that benefactor Fred Haas and the Wyncote Foundation also had a hand in the restoration of this organ. Today is the first time that the left side chamber will be heard in 35 years.
Steven Ball played a short 45-minute recital and with the first notes he played, I knew my ears would be assaulted. He opened with the “Atlantic City Auditorium and Convention Hall March” by W. Stokking, followed by Bach’s Dorian Toccata and Fugue, the first piece I learned in college. He followed with works by Rodgers/Russen, Langlais and Vierne. We ended by standing and singing four verses of “The Star-Spangled Banner” with the organ sooooo loud that I wanted to scream, Lemme out of here! If you can believe this, they only have restored 35% of the organ and it won’t be fully restored until the year 2023. I shudder to think of what we have missed in hearing that remaining 65%!
After grabbing a hot dog on the Boardwalk we went back inside to the Adrian Philips Ballroom to see the hilarious silent film, Spite Marriage, with Buster Keaton. The film was accompanied by Steven Ball on the Kimball theatre pipe organ and was this ever a treat! Steven is classically trained with a doctorate in organ yet he is brilliant at this demanding style of improvisation. And the organ fit the bill nicely with enough toy stops to enhance the action on the screen.
After our final meal together in a big banquet hall, we went to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church for a delightful concert with organist Christoph Bull who played the Aeolian-Skinner organ with a touch of humor and whimsy. It was not just his cute registration—it was also the way he clipped the phrases rather irreverently that sounded like he was having so much fun.
My Honolulu organist friend, Samuel Lam, had some words of wisdom regarding the high decibel level of these organ concerts. He said that audiences like the softer sounds of the organ, but it is organists who love to play loudly and who get such a sense of power! Well said, Sam!
Someone on Facebook suggested that older people are more sensitive to louder sounds. Rubbish, I say, many older people lose their hearing as they age. And I recently went to an audiologist who proclaimed that I had extraordinary hearing!
My Las Vegas organist friend, Dorothy Young Riess, posted: I have so enjoyed reading about OHS. Wish I could have gone, but concert prep and time for writing and composing took precedence. Comments about “too loud” are all too common lately. Wondering if the organist has lost some hearing and/or has no idea how it sounds in the audience, or prefers to astound with loud sound. So why? Why is it so hard to find a student with young ears to advise? Or to work with a recorder? Or to have some sensitivity as to the real audience out there. Have we become so insular that we don’t care about who is listening, often older ears with less tolerance? Pondering…