So I am a participant of the 2016 Historical Organ Study tour and we are a group of 39 people from mostly the United States, one from Ireland, and six people are from Australia. 19 of us are organists of widely varying abilities and the rest are listeners.
This is rather different from the 1996 tour to Denmark, Sweden and Germany that Carl Crosier and I attended. That group was 1/3 organists, 1/3 organbuilders and 1/3 listeners.
With many more organists, there is a chance that you might not necessarily play every single organ we see, due to the playing rotation. Each person is allowed a maximum of 5 minutes and I have felt a little peer pressure to play something different for each instrument. With 30 instruments to be toured, potentially that could be 30 pieces to be performed!
To say that I have a little apprehension about each organ is an understatement. What we have all discovered the hard way is that all organs are not created equal, especially not pedalboards! A lot of people have been having trouble hitting the right pedal notes, for a variety of reasons. There certainly is no standard in the length of the keys, both manual and pedal; and in the case of the pedal keys, the distances between the keys is not uniform from organ to organ. See how short those black keys are in the photo above?
The keyboard actions vary from organ to organ as well. I felt like I had to use all my force to push down the keys at the Église Notre Dame de l’Assomption, otherwise the note wouldn’t sound. I played the “Nazard” movement from Jean Langlais’ Suite Française.
We all have had help pulling the stops, however, with either Christophe Mantoux, our tour leader, or the local church organist assisting.
Today we started our tour just a few blocks from our hotel at the Église Notre Dame de l’Assomption, the church where composers Gabriel and Paul Pierné played. The organ is considered a true Cavaillé-Coll, the finest French Romantic organ builder.
After lunch we drove to two small countryside towns where the arrival of our group was considered newsworthy and so we were greeted by the towns’ mayors and newspaper photographers! The first was the Église Saint Calixte in Pontpierre and the other was the Église Sainte Barbe in Biding. Both of these organs’ façade pipes were scavenged by the Germans during the war in 1917, when this area was in German territory, and the pipes were needed for the war effort. Both organs have recently been restored.
In the slideshow below, look at the photo in which a man is playing the organ. That’s Larry Schipull from Mount Holyoke, who says that he will be giving a masterclass at the University of Hawaii, and a possible concert in November.
Yesterday our tour director, Bruce Stevens, was telling us how he loves to watch the Olympics, especially figure skating, and is always caught up in the commentary: Okay, the difficult triple axel is coming up, and here it comes! Oh, she only did a double Lutz! She’ll get a big deduction for that! Now she’s going to have to make it up by making the next jump! etc.
Bruce asked us to imagine if commentators did the same for organ performances. I have modified his conversation to be appropriate to the “Allein Gott” in my upcoming concert: Okay, here comes the pedal trill— a turn followed by the trill and ending with a mordent. This is the highest degree of difficulty, and oh! she nailed it perfectly! Let’s see what she does in the repeated section!