Monday, October 19, 2015

Taking on a cliche

When I mentioned that I was going to play an organ recital last year at this time, people wanted to know if I was going to play the piece. You know, the FAMOUS one. The one that goes....

DADADAAAAAAA!!!!! deedeedeedee DUH! DAAAAAAAAA!!!!

In other words, the entirety of the known organ literature!

It can be tough to be an organist, or at least lonely. I've read that only about one in every two hundred people regularly attend classical music concerts. Of these, I'm betting that only about one in a hundred know or are interested in the pipe organ. That's a pretty small group, limited to mostly other organists.

On the other hand, it leaves quite a bit of virgin territory for those with missionary zeal, like a young John Wesley, who thought it would be a grand idea to leave England and go preach the gospel to the Indians on a continent he didn't know among a people he didn't know to bring them a religion they'd never heard of. Because why bother trying to convert your next door neighbor? That would be boring! He would have made a great organist (aside from not liking instrumental music). As it is, he will probably be rolling over in his grave a week from Friday, when I give my next organ concert.

Last year, having just refurbished the console of our organ at Faith to fix some longstanding issues with the relay system and some very outmoded parts, and having added a few bells and whistles into the bargain, we moved the console out onto the floor (the first time that was possible) and I invited the entire church and a large chunk of the community to come celebrate this exciting instrument in all of its relieved post-operative glory.

It's an organ recital, remember? Wasn't likely to have people knocking each other down to get in like a Black Friday sale at Walmart. We advertised how much fun it was going to be. I did my best to convince people that organ recitals really weren't that scary. And a large chunk of the community actually showed up, practically filling the sanctuary (upwards of 250?). It was the first time I'd seen that many people at an organ recital in this town. Not that I've been to more than a handful, but it's usually 30 to 50 people. And that enthusiastic throng was on their feet at the end, demanding an encore. I hadn't prepared one so it is a good thing I can improvise! Somebody called out a hymn and I gave them an energetic rendition of "I'll Fly Away!"

That concert was right before Halloween and people kept asking if I was going to play scary organ music. Part of me found this annoying. After all, why does the organ always have to be associated with the Phantom of the Opera and haunted houses? People who attend our "traditional" services know that it speaks with many voices. It can be majestic, consoling, humorous, full of vigor and enthusiasm, somber, melancholy--only the strength of our imaginations limit the possibilities.

On the other hand, I thought, the organ does scary pretty darn well. Better than any other instrument, in fact. So if people want scary, well, let them have it. And while I'm at it, I can mention that none of the pieces on the program were actually written for Halloween and what it is about the organ that has always provoked such a thrill and a shudder in its hearers, and what a pagan holiday like Halloween is even still doing in a (post) Christian world. I'm making this concert sound like a symposium, aren't I?

Well, it won't be. Just like last year, it will be a blend of erudition and slapstick; entertainment and thought provocation, and a variety of music from several times and places, with a few tricks up my sleeve. Unlike last year there will not be ensemble pieces but I do have a small cast of helpers. And the lights will be a lot lower. Also the concert is on Friday evening this time, because there is nothing at all scary about Sunday afternoon.

By taking on a cliché, I get to explore it, and to have some fun with it. Besides, there is still that kid in me that enjoyed the thrill of the Toccata and Fugue which I played as a teenager. And what organist doesn't enjoy the sound of the pedal reeds and the manuals on full, the organ blazing away at the finale of the Passacaglia in c minor?

I think we'll all have a scary good time. Stay tuned.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I don't bite...mostly.