Friday, July 11, 2008

Shameless Propaganda

Well...after this gaping silence my two month hiatus must end. Now comes the time to resume writing! School is hiding somewhere in August and this summer has positively been an "Organ Spectacular."

A couple important facts:

1. The American Guild of Organists (AGO) has designated this next year as the "International Year of the Organ." The commemoration officially began at the National Convention which took place 22-26 June in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota. The celebration will last until next summer. Countless people have arranged and engaged great scads of publicity, energy, and money to ensure that this instrument has high visibility in forthcoming months.

2. The organ is the greatest instrument- (besides the human voice)! Regardless of personal taste, it is simply impossible to disavow the magnitude of its greatness. Even those who don't like the thing can acknowledge its remarkable and unique status... as Stravinsky griped: "the monster never breathes!" Indeed, it is a breathless wind instrument.

As a keyboard instrument it covers more dynamic range than any other. With regard to timbre it is only matched by the orchestra- which is in itself many instruments. As far as power is concerned it can even swallow the orchestra if it wants. How about the greatest marriage of science and art ever? One can only marvel at the centuries of painstaking developments- a trio of fine artisan craftsmanship, the exquisite laws of physics, and the ceaseless driving quest for beauty. Given its complexity and considering when it arrived on the scene (as we know it) a few centuries ago we might even say that this is one of the greatest technological achievements ever. (If no one believes this then he/she ought to spend a little time inside an organ case)!

And repertoire? It has more music written for it than any other single instrument... spanning nearly 700 years of Western culture, reflecting its history accordingly in a rich diversity of styles. And, in the last century this icon of the West began to incorporate influences from around the world. If economic globalization was a recent phenomenon stemming from our instant communication mechanisms then musical "globalization," we might say, began in the progressive musical minds of people like Debussy, Charles Ives, Messiaen, and Duruflé- years ago. Bewitched by wonderful sounds from new places and ancient times composers such as these concocted compelling and delectable musical sounds that changed our world- and much for of it for the organ.

I must confess that only a few short months ago I was feeling rather phlegmatic about all this. However, a few things have ignited the fire. Namely: a fantastic European organ tour, the AGO National Convention last month, and the first ever Pipe Organ Encounter Advanced this last week. It was at this POEA that, as a part time volunteer, I had the unique privilege of meeting and interacting with some of the most prodigious young organists in the US. If I worried before I certainly now have no doubt that the organ has splendid future in store.

I am transfixed by the exceptional talent and zeal of all these other young organists. Hope abounds when I know that the organ captivates people with its depth and breadth- its timelessness. Whether inspired to play saccharine devotional music that would make the most pious person weep- or flashy Demessieux Etudes- or Calvin Hampton dances- or the golden Bach standards, there is room for almost everything and everyone at the organ bench. Considering all this I feel quite comfortable suggesting that many people would heartily echo Mozart's famous words spoken in October, 1777: "In my eyes and ears the organ is the king of instruments."

(Highlights and reflections on my travels and encounters are forthcoming).

No comments: