Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pipe Organs

This is a touchy-feely post. Be ready for that.

I was reared in a church with a pipe organ. My brother, Jim, and I sang in junior choir and then senior choir where the choir director was also the organist. He would show us how he controlled and played the three manual instrument with a full pedalboard and four control pedals: choir, great, swell and crescendo, as well as 40-50 stops and banks of pipes. Mr. Lewis would demonstrate how it worked at rehersals, so by age 11 I had a working knowledge of a pipe organ, although I never played. Jim and I knew the organ at the Scottish Rite Cathedral where the Messiah was performed every year was bigger than our church's. We loved to listen to both instruments mostly for the low notes and the power.

Mr. Lewis became my voice instructor when I was 14 and I sang at church frequently, mostly accompanied by the pipe organ. I really began appreciate the special sound of a pipe organ. Electronic organs, as we called them, were ok, but they were impostors to the deep, rich sound of a pipe organ.

When Aleene and I got married we lived in New Jersey on two different occasions. The first was in Westville, just off the Walt Whitman Bridge over the Delaware River. The little Methodist church in Westville had a pipe organ...surprisingly. The organist was a teenage boy who was gifted, but he played everything loud. As a result the congregation was not treated to the delicate sounds, but just the big, loud sounds. That experience did not enhance my love of pipe organs.

Our second stint in NJ we attended the Methodist church in Audubon, which was several miles from Westville, and closer to our new home, so we did not return to Westville church. The organist at Audubon was a middle aged woman who was really good. I got to sing with a pipe organ back-up. In the two years we lived there she expanded my love for the wind-driven instruments. That was the last time we were members of a church with a pipe organ.

There were pipe organs around Holland, for sure, and we attended several churches from time to time with a pipe organ. But I never sang with one again for 35 years.

Well, we have a pipe organ here at Newberg, First United Methodist. It is one of two in town..the other is at George Fox University. Ours is a beauty and we have a very talented organist. Jane, like the rest of us, goes on vacation from time to time and is usually backed up by the former organist here...a diminutive woman of 89, by the name of Hazel Mary.

When we first visited our church four years ago, I had trouble not weeping when Jane played the organ, which had just undergone a major overhaul. She has moved me to tears several times as the old sounds, feelings, and emotions quickly arise to the surface. I once went up to thank her for her music after the service and could only sob...jeesh...I hate it when that happens, and poor Jane thought I was having a breakdown. I sort of was, but I am doing better.

But more on Hazel Mary:
She is a survivor. Her husband died ten years ago and she has survived a bout with breast cancer but she is just as vital and active as she can be. She attends Aleene's study on Wednesday mornings and we have gotten to know her. She swims several times a week... "I gotta take care of my bod..." she says with a glint. She is quite the lady.

When Hazel Mary plays she does an amazing job, not just for someone approaching 90, which is a wonder in itself, but also because she is just so good and has a very distinctive style. As small as she is, she is all over those manuals and the pedalboard. Today was one of those days and her postlude was Bach's Toccata In D Minor. If most of you heard the first three notes you would recognize it....da, daw, daaa.

We enjoyed the pipe organ again this morning and got to meet "the man who will walk me down the aisle next month," as she introduced Bill to me this morning. She is getting married at 90. Wow.

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