Please do post details of concerts, courses and other events into the Calendar
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Since this interview took place, an email has been circulating in the organ world suggesting that the Ćolian-Skinner organ in Boston’s Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul (the site of a POE concert) be replaced with an electronic organ facsimile because, in the words of Cathedral Music Director, Organist and Choir Director, Ed Broms, It seems doubtful that there is any initiative or desire on the part of the Diocesan and Cathedral staff, or the immediate cathedral congregation, or apparently the wider Diocesan congregation – in short, on the part of the Episcopal Church – to maintain, upkeep, renovate, remodel, or revision the Skinner organ. It has ceased to function spiritually to any great degree for the immediate congregation or wider church.BMInt asked Christian Lane what he thought.It’s hard for me to speak specifically about the situation at St. Paul’s, as I know very little about the program that has developed there in recent years. Nor do I know much about this Ćolian-Skinner instrument specifically. As I mentioned in the earlier interview, trends are always changing in organ building. Also always seemingly evolving is the general public’s appetite for a specific style of organ design.I say “seemingly” for three reasons.First, only a specific situation is going to dictate the best style of instrument for a community’s programming and space. The ideal type of instrument should therefore always be a matter of practical judgment informed by a place’s history and its anticipated future trajectory. Sometimes this practicality corresponds with a trend.Take, for instance, the organ at First Lutheran Church in Boston. It is recently completed, yet its style reflects organ-building ideals of seventeenth-century North Germany. Some might see the construction of a mechanical-action instrument by a ‘boutique’ builder as blunt trendiness, but I suspect the reasoning for commissioning this instrument was part of a careful discernment process. First Lutheran chose to commission an instrument that is not only a craft of artistic integrity, but one that is also appropriately sized for its space, suits its congregation’s traditional liturgy, and magnifies its Lutheran heritage. They chose an instrument that not only plays Lutheran hymnody exceptionally well, but in its winding and tonal construction encourages and supports congregational singing. They chose an instrument ideally suited to music by the greatest Lutheran composers of all time: Bach, Buxtehude, Pachelbel, etc. It does happen to correspond with a trend of our time, but its commission was not a result of that trend.Second, in specific situations, there are often individuals who, through power of financial resource, adept persuasion, or mere volume of voice, have the ability to steer a project in the direction of his or her personal preference, rather than allowing a discernment process to illuminate a community’s best course of action. One individual’s favorite style of organ might therefore seem indicative of a broader trend, but is not necessarily the best choice for a community.Third, the perception of many individuals towards the pipe organ is often simply ill-informed. Inappropriate choices are often made because communities have not been educated sufficiently as to the immensities and complexities that define this instrument. Once a community has been presented with a broad palate of stylistic choices coupled with sufficient education to understand these choices, it is in a better position to wisely discern its best course of action.I hope this is what will happen at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I hope that while evaluating their musical programming, its needs, its wants, and its limitations, they will also take the necessary steps to make truly informed decisions about different organ styles, and each style’s benefits and constraints. It may be true that the cost of completely restoring the Ćolian-Skinner organ currently housed in the Cathedral is not a viable choice for this moment in time, but I hope that if the staff reach that decision, it will have been made through a discernment process that balances the rich heritage of the Cathedral’s past, its Anglican roots, its wider role in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, and its ambitions for the future. Making a decision based solely for a moment in time is helpful only to those present in the moment; it is not necessarily helpful to a community that will live with those decisions for decades to come. The challenge, of course, is determining one’s place in the arc of history while also trying to discern what the coming years and decades will bring.I will say, however, that I cannot endorse the idea of a digital instrument. While technology has made impressive advances in recent decades, there is something about the movement of air through an organ — its intensely living, breathing quality — that is simply irreplaceable and incapable of digital reproduction. To negate the current instrument in favor of a digital organ would, for me, be equivalent to tearing down a stoic Gothic cathedral, awash in symbolism and artistry, only to replace it with a lecture hall. Both are large gathering spaces, and thus serve a common function. But the cathedral, like a pipe organ, represents a height of human ingenuity and craftsmanship. For centuries, both were a pinnacle of human material expression, and thus the closest humans ever came to expressing the divine.Yet, whatever decision the Cathedral makes, I cannot give any credence to this notion that the Ćolian-Skinner organ “has ceased to function spiritually.” This statement, to me, is subjective and careless. Maybe the instrument is currently in need of mechanical repair, or maybe the instrument does not hold a central place in the Cathedral’s liturgy at this moment in time, but to say it ceases to function in a spiritual manner is not a notion that one person should ever project onto another individual or community. Spirituality, to me, is an intensely personal thing, and I have no doubt that for many individuals who darken the doors off Tremont Street, the Ćolian-Skinner organ is a core component of their spiritual experience at the Cathedral. The instrument, at its best, promotes individual and corporate interaction with a greater being. Yet, even at its most mundane, it remains an incredibly complex and intricate machine capable of embodying the complete range of musical expression.Mozart, despite the fact organs were deemed old-fashioned and passé during his time, decreed the pipe organ “King of Instruments.” I do hope that the Boston community will join us during POE week to engage this oft misunderstood instrument, capable of such diversity and wonder.
I've heard that Marshall & Ogletree Opus 1 (Trinity Church, Wall Street) is now seriously unreliable after eight years in service, because,
HiIf this unreliability is true, then it just highlights the major problem with electronics - the relatively short life span (average is around 15-20 years, but there are exceptions that prove the rule!).The Trinity organ uses multiple computers, not just one.Every BlessingTony
……………………….As the writer of the article above states, there is something about air moving through physical pipes. One of the main differences which I have noticed on electronic substitutes, is that they do not (and cannot) 'move the air' in the way that a pipe organ does. On the instrument which I played last night, full organ was a loud, but quite 'dead' sound - in short, lifeless.………………………I hope that the authorities (and the wider church community) in Boston will have the foresight to re-consider and instead make a real effort to find ways of raising the necessary funds to restore their pipe organ - with emphasis on the word 'restore'. As Tony has implied, it is likely…………………………to give far greater aural satisfaction to anyone with ears to hear.[/font]