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Hoppin' Pipe Organ


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Saturday night, while you were at the hip hop hoedown or whatever at the Mateel -- or did you decide to go to that punk masquerade thingy in Manila? -- an overflow crowd was enjoying the real-big musical event that night, at Christ Church, Episcopal, in Eureka. I know, you didn't know about it, or did but thought it wasn't worth going to because it was at a church and all, and involved a pipe organ and all -- they still play pipe organs on this planet?

Saturday's concert introduced the CCE's brand new instrument, for which the congregation renovated the nave by stripping out carpet and planting resounding tile around the altar and baring the ceiling to expose graceful, sound-sweetening beams. The nave seats 300 people -- but fire marshal be darned, there must've been far more there that night, with standing room only and many having to be content with just hearing the organ because they had to stand so far to the side, or even outside. At one point, somebody grabbed the mic to joke that if all the standing people had joined the choir, they'd have a seat. That provoked generous tittering.

Granted, the general color scheme floating atop heads that night resembled a frothy ocean on an overcast day; so, you know, if you're an ageist and only hang with the young folks, you were right to stay away. Again, your loss.

Anyway, the organ. I suppose now you want the stats. People, even unaware people, always want the stats on pipe organs. And while I'm not saying there's anything subconsciously lascivious about that sort of curiosity, I am thinking it. Because what is the first thing the proud new owner of a proud new pipe organ, or even a trusty old one, likes to point out? Its size. Nobody ever gets silly that way over a harp -- well, sometimes -- or a violin or a piano. But the organ -- !

Even more proud is the owner of the new instrument if it happens to be the biggest pipe organ in that particular region, whether it's a city block, a city entire, a state, a region or the whole danged world. "Size does matter," some wag inevitably announces, and anybody who ever writes about a new pipe organ feels obliged to pander to this coarse theme. Forgive us, for we know exactly what we do. I remember four years ago when they had a dedication ceremony for the new pipe organ installed at the University of Nevada Las Vegas -- oh what a red-trimmed behemoth, rows of shining pipes with their gaping mouths resembling a cartoon posse of rigid squid (or maybe that's the reception wine talking). Well, you can imagine the deluge of rib-jab news reports about Nevada's Largest Organ.

The CCE's 31-rank (a rank is a set of pipes of varying sizes), 1,917-pipe organ, built by Charles Kegg of Kegg Pipe Organ Builders in Hartville, Ohio, is the largest pipe organ on the North Coast. For comparison, the two biggest pipe organs in the world, the Wanamaker organ at Macy's in Philadelphia and the Convention Hall organ in Atlantic City, have more than 450 ranks and 28,482 and 33,114 pipes, respectively; the third-largest organ, at the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles, has 346 ranks and more than 20,000 pipes. That UNLV sound-monster is bigger, too: 53 ranks and 2,810 pipes.

But the CCE's organ is delightfully grand with its three keyboards and that magical pedal board over which the organist's black-booted feet danced and skated Saturday night like Sammy Davis Jr. And its range is a vast improvement over the church's sweet old organ. Even so, one parishioner actually complained after the concert that the organ hadn't got his heart thumping enough. Several organists performed Saturday night, and it is true that most of the pieces explored the softer ranges of the instrument rather than its hellfire-and-damnation potential.

Another parishioner, however, said she found the performance lovely and that she was especially glad that it wasn't "as bombastic" as she had expected it to be.


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