Our intrepid organ expert, Rhonda Sider Edgington checks in once again with another season spent exploring some of the country’s most interesting organs, including incredible instruments in Michigan, Chicago, and Beaufort, South Carolina.
An organist friend up in Grand Rapids told me about an instrument I should check out, and I drove up there to see this Noack, mechanical-action organ at the Grace Episcopal Church on the city’s East Side. The organ is huge – must be at least 70 stops — and sits right up in front of the church.
The Noack organ at the Grace Episcopal Church.
This is the church where Gerald Ford’s funeral was held. That was a blast – reminded me of some of the organs I played in Germany, and I could play all that rep again. And the church was even cold, like in Germany!
I enjoyed another concert on a Taylor and Boody organ in Beaufort, SC, and I just loved that town. There are these huge, old Southern houses everywhere, with pillars and front porches, and gigantic old oaks covered with hanging moss, and wonderful views of the water on seemingly every street’s end. The church, St. Helena, is really old – they have a cemetery with graves of Revolutionary War soldiers! That was an elegant little instrument, also playing things like Buxtehude and Luebeck wonderfully.
A trip in April to Chicago was to play the dedication of a new pipe organ built by Wahl Organbuilders of Appleton, WI. Ron and Christoph Wahl are good friends of mine, and it was an honor to play the new instrument in the dedication concert. It reminded me of organs of Europe in that it wasn’t a big instrument, but every stop was beautiful, colorful, and important to the ensemble sound. I played a really eclectic concert, which showed off how well and how much this small, mechanical action organ could perform – not just an organ for Scheidemann!
Also on the same trip, I took the chance to see some new instrument installed since I lived in Chicago – the small organ by Bigelow in the Lutheran School of Theology, and a really large Pasi organ in Winnetka. It was modeled on the Silbermann organ in the Hofkirche in Dresden, an instrument I’ve played, so that was lots of fun too.
The Silbermann Organ in Dresden
It is a quite different building style than the Schnitger instruments I’m most familiar with, from the Northern part of the country, but Silbermann organs are equally significant and fabulous examples of German organbuilding, and Martin Pasi had a great room to work with – fabulous acoustics and a simple and elegant-looking space. I enjoyed playing that was well.
Back in Michigan, I’m helping the local organ guild to plan for a “Pipe Organ Encounter“, an event which reaches out to young people to excite them about organ playing. It’s aimed at high school students, both with and without organ-playing experience. They have daily lessons and practice time on local organs, as well as the chance to hear organ concerts, and meet other kids who like organ music. Similar events around the country have been very popular, and we are excited about hosting this event in June.