Author Topic: Organist pulls out all the stops to teach kids about pipe organ  (Read 3306 times)

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Owen Sound Sun Times

Organist pulls out all the stops to teach kids about pipe organ

By Scott Dunn
Posted 23 hours ago

Seven-year-old Charlie Sylver knows what he likes about the pipe organ.

He talked about that while munching his pizza crust, in the St. George's Anglican Church basement at lunchtime Saturday, having just played the impressive-sounding instrument.

“Well,” he said, turning sideways and propping one elbow up on the back of the chair, “the sound of the organ is better than the piano,” the young player said thoughtfully. “You can change it to like angry sounds, scary sounds, happy sounds and sad sounds.”

Charlie attended the Pedals, Pipes and Pizza kids' event at the church, which was designed by the Royal Canadian College of Organists to kindle interest in an instrument the appreciation of which it has decided needs a little encouragement.

He was one of four boys who listened quietly while Tammy-Jo Mortensen talked about the pipe organ. She let them walk inside an enclosure holding the towering pipes and let them play it.

Charlie himself already takes pipe organ lessons at his church, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Southampton. He said he lives in Elsinore. “You know where Elsinore is, right?” he asked a visitor. “And speaking of being in a church, I live in a church.”

When he played St. George's organ keyboards Saturday morning, Charlie had to hold his arms straight to reach the top flight of the three-decker keyboard. Mortensen helped him set the stops, which direct the pumped air to the intended instrument sound — be it woodwinds, brass, strings or even percussion.

Mortensen performed a free Friday night concert which avoided “churchy” music, as part of the travelling show funded by the Royal College of Organists, which strives to boost the profile of the increasingly overlooked church instrument.

“It's becoming a very foreign instrument,” said Father Ed Wagner, a passionate organist who served as rector at St. George's from 2005 to 2007 and is a member and chaplain for the Grey-Bruce RCCO. “I'm 65. I grew up in a time when most churches, like every church in Owen Sound had an organ, and that's what you heard, right?”

“And so all that world has changed dramatically in the past 25 years.”

What do you hear now instead?

Wagner listed electric keyboards, drums, and probably electric guitars as the increasingly common instruments in use in all kinds of churches everywhere. “You'd be surprised. Anglican churches more and more are just abandoning the traditional music. All over the country, all over the world.”

The pipe organ continues to attract some majors in universities, “but fewer and fewer.” So encouraging appreciation for pipe organ music and church pipe organs, is preserving heritage, he said.

Richard Smith is president of the Grey-Bruce RCCO and has been the organist and choir director at St. George's for the past year. “They're very supportive of the organ here. And I think they'd miss it if it weren't being used,” he said.

This organ in particular is a pleasure to play, he said. It's one of the biggest, in tonal spread and sound, over pipes and electronic speakers, in Grey-Bruce, Smith said. There are about 200 churches across both counties and about half have a pipe organ, some of them mothballed, Wagner said.

Mortensen said the relative lack of appreciation for the pipe organ is “more of an exposure thing.” As fewer families and children attend church, they don't have the experience of listening to pipe organ music.

But it's a “magnificent instrument,” she said, describing the pipe organ's “variety of colours; the orchestral-like imitation that the organ can do. It's like you're the conductor of a great orchestra, but you're doing it all.”

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