Ever since I was a young boy, the pipe organ has fascinated me.
Some of the earliest memories I can remember are sitting with my Grandpa in church, with the hymnal in front of us and Grandpa would point to the words as we sang them. I can remember pointing at the rows and rows of shiny pipes of all different sizes.
At the end of the evening services, Grandpa used to take me up front to where the console was, and he’d pick me up and stand me on top of the heater by the short wooden screen next to the console. There I would stare in wonder at all the keys on the keyboard (TWO of them), the strange-looking white knobs on either side of the keyboards and I was shocked to find that there was even a set of big “keys” that the organist would play with her feet!
I was amazed as was watching the organist operate and play this instrument. I would watch as she would press keys and sound would come out of those shiny pipes on the wall opposite the console. She’d press those little white buttons below the keyboard and suddenly all those white knobby things would change positions and new sounds would come out of those pipes over there… Sometimes the sounds would be softer, and other times louder. And oh, that sound. It all boils down to the sound!
I began dreaming about this weird machine from which music could be made. And being a creative type of kid I would build my own pipe organs any chance I could. I’d build it out of building blocks or even (while camping) an inner tube used for tubing on the lake. I would put on recordings and pretend that it was me playing. It was a picture similar to this that my mom used as a final weapon to convince the organist of our church to give me piano lessons!
Wait… Piano??? Yeah, you have to start somewhere and the piano is a great place to start… Well a fair amount of years at the piano turned into a real treat! Lessons at the organ! During high school I had the fortune of having been taught by two very fine musicians from the local college, though I have to admit, I didn’t practice as much as I should have. I just wanted to “play.” Then came college. My freshmen year, I almost completely forgot about the organ. My interests were elsewhere. But I was finally convinced by my Mom to take lessons again starting my sophomore year.
When I arrived on campus the very first day back that year, a guy came up to me and asked if I was aware of the organ they were building in the chapel. Nope. So down to the chapel I went. I walked into the chapel auditorium and there on the stage – centered on the back wall was the beginnings of a pipe organ. Within minutes I met my organ instructor for the first time, as she was standing nearby surveying the progress. Within minutes of talking with her, she introduced me to Jim Lauck, the organ builder. Within moments of that, I was getting the full grand tour of the inside of the organ case! Up to that point, most of the pipes were not even installed yet. We went up into both the swell and choir chambers as well as the Great and Pedal chambers.
I fell in love. Over the course of that year I would go down to the chapel any chance I could and help out with the assembly of this grand instrument. I asked many questions – if they were ever annoyed with my constant line of questions and presence, they never showed it. They answered everything and got me involved where I could. I even helped put pipes in! (I can still point out which façade pipes I helped put in.)
My girlfriend (now wife) and friends quickly learned that if I had gone missing and was not in my dorm room, the chapel was the first place to start looking for me. Others learned that (most of the time) the answer to “Where’s Derek?” was “the Chapel.” I cannot tell you how many times someone would come down there to find me and kindly remind me that I had to eat! I won’t even share how many meals I have missed due to that pipe organ. A fair few.
This experience cemented my love and passion for the King of Instruments.
Around that time I began my organ CD collection. The first CD’s in my collection were all 7 volumes of Widor: The Complete Organ Works played by Ben Van Oosten on various Cavaillé-Coll instruments in France. At the suggestion of my organ instructor I began collecting CD’s with works by Louis Vierne as well… How about some Dupré? You should find some of his music… One thing lead to another… and another… and…
Today, my collection has over 390 discs of music, a fair number of books, and a good amount of DVD‘s devoted to the King of Instruments. I spend too much time visiting the websites of organ builders across the globe. I read any essay, booklet or book I can get my fingers on. As if that isn’t evidence enough of my passion, I also have a Johannus Sweelinck 37 digital organ in my living room. (Yes, I do still play, but not as often as I should be. I’m far from a great organ player, but I love nothing better than to sit down and “improvise” things by ear.) My passion for this instrument – its literature, the personalities who have played it, the builders who build it, and the recordings dedicated to it – truly borders on obsession. But I’m ok with that!
This blog (when I remember to post things) is dedicated to this instrument and the things that I am fascinated about in regard to the King of Instruments. I’m not a professional performer, or historian. I’m not a professional writer. I am just looking to share what I have learned about the organ with people who wish to read about it. I do however reserve the right to blog about whatever I feel like, but most of the time it will be about something new or fun I’ve discovered in the world of the pipe organ.
Thanks to –
and of course I can’t leave out Grandpa!
And a special thanks to my wife – Amanda – who puts up with this obsession, feeds it, who never let me give up the dream of owning my own digital organ, and who has encouraged me to pursue a new dream in organ building!