Friday, January 19, 2018

The new instrument (part one)

After what can best be described as a colossal disruption (and if you read the blog regularly you know what I mean) I've gotten settled in a new position as church organist. This is me, and this is the place I am fortunate to get to sit every day.

This is the console of the new instrument at Third Presbyterian Church, Shadyside, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, the earth, Milky Way, the universe. For some reason I look tall enough to see over the music rack in that picture. Must be the perspective.

Speaking of which, there is an enormous Tiffany stained-glass window that is visible from the organ bench and which I gaze upon whenever I'm not looking at the console or the music.

It's the console, though, not the organ. The console is like the cockpit, not the airplane. So where is the organ itself? Well, that's where it starts to get complicated.

This is part of it. You can see the display pipes above the balcony. The French even named their foundation pipes "Montre" which literally means "on display." That is, the ones you can see, which is usually only a fraction of what is actually there, most of which is hidden away in rooms filled with pipes.

Actually, though, these pipes are probably from a couple of organs ago. The sanctuary dates back to 1903, at which point there was an Austin organ. Then in 1935 that was removed to put in a Skinner organ. This one had 4400 pipes, playable from three manuals. I know this because I found it online. There are people who keep track of such things. I happened to be in Scotland doing research on something completely unrelated when I stumbled across it.

 The reason I had to find it online is because the organ isn't there anymore, either. This is Pittsburgh, where, despite the vicissitudes of church attendance, there were fortunes made in steel and industry. And every few decades you could get a shiny new organ. Which they did again, in 1966. This time it was a Moeller, and it had 6800 pipes and occupied the back balcony. Like thus:

The console used to be back there, too. For a while, the church had two organs, one in the front and one in the back. You know, just like a cathedral. Only, however cavernous the church may look in the above photograph, it really isn't a cathedral. It does have certain characteristics of a grand stone church, but it is also smaller, and the wood helps give it a more intimate feel. I call it the intimate cathedral.

So there they were, with over 10,000 organ pipes, playable from two consoles in two parts of the church, and....something happened.

They sold one of them.

The story is that one of my predecessors, two organists ago, didn't really care for the Skinner, nor did he like being asked to play it. So he arranged for it to be sold to a college in Illinois (I also found this out online). And that left the Moeller. Still bigger than some cathedral organs, and only about 700 pipes short of St. Paul's in London. More than enough for most organist's egos, and a bit more weight than the balcony was supposed to hold. But there you go.

Then lightning struck.

Thrice, in fact.

Three times in a decade, and apparently the last time fried the console. There was also plenty of water damage in the pipe room which had been accumulating over time. Enter one completely unplayable organ.

 Many churches wouldn't have had the funds to fix it. In fact, when I first arrived on the scene last winter, it was not clear to me what exactly was going on. There appeared to be three consoles with a total of nine manuals, one of which was surrounded by cones and police tape and warning signs (that was the old Moeller console) and two of which were digital and not nearly as exciting.

One of the them was on lone for a concert, the other was a stop-gap measure, and the old Moeller is still a piece of furniture looking for a good home.

When I found out about the position being open, I signed up to substitute. Since my predecessor had left in October, there had been a steady stream of substitute/applicants. By the time I found out about the position in February it's lucky the position hadn't already been filled.  I was on the docket for a couple of Sundays in April.

Then somebody backed out and I was asked to do a Sunday in March. I wonder who wasn't available. They missed a show.

Specifically what they missed was the installation of the new organ console, which is where I'll pick up next time.

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