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Only In America


MusingMuso
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There I was, pinned to a chair by a sleeping kitten; getting bored and starting to suffer cramp, when an amusing thought came to mind.

 

We're all familiar with, "Only in New York" and "Welcome to Hollywood," but what do we know about the American organ-scene; the performers, organs, composers, organ-builders and recital (concert) venues?

Has anyone been there for any length of time apart from me?

 

I happen to know that there is more to America than bad films, ham acting, burgers and Budweiser!

 

Oh dear! This could run for years.

 

MM

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I happen to know that there is more to America than bad films, ham acting, burgers and Budweiser!

Doing more than my fair share of organ-related web-surfing, I'm often struck by the comparatively large number of new-ish instruments in the US tuned to non-ET and the number of instruments with sub-semitone split keys. I'm sure there are similar instruments in mainland Europe too but precious few in the UK.

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It's worth looking at (and listening to)

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/

 

 

==========================

 

 

I listen to "pipedreams" a lot, and for those who want to know something about the American contribution to the organ repertoire, the programmes labelled "An American Muse" are especially interesting.

 

There's an awful lot of extreme virtuosity floating around the US, and if I can find the link, a quite spectacular performance of a work by Leo Sowerby.

 

Of course, Boston (where I went), is very much the organ-centre of the US, and really quite mesmerising in its breadth, quality and complexity.

 

MM

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Ask what ye will - I've lived here all my life, and been from one side of this massive country to the other. It's the least I can do to satisfy your curiosity, since you all have generously let me eavesdrop on the organ scene on your side of the pond via this forum

:)

 

 

Cheers,

 

- G

 

 

There I was, pinned to a chair by a sleeping kitten; getting bored and starting to suffer cramp, when an amusing thought came to mind.

 

We're all familiar with, "Only in New York" and "Welcome to Hollywood," but what do we know about the American organ-scene; the performers, organs, composers, organ-builders and recital (concert) venues?

Has anyone been there for any length of time apart from me?

 

I happen to know that there is more to America than bad films, ham acting, burgers and Budweiser!

 

Oh dear! This could run for years.

 

MM

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Of course there's the piporg-l list which keeps us informed of a lot of the organ goings-on in the US.

 

It seems to me however that piporg-l is a much less friendly place than it once was... :)

 

The ongoing work on the Midmer Losh organ at Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City is being kept fairly well under wraps and the ACCHOS website advises that up-to-date news of the restoration is being restricted to ACCHOS members. Which is sad. :(

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The ongoing work on the Midmer Losh organ at Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City is being kept fairly well under wraps and the ACCHOS website advises that up-to-date news of the restoration is being restricted to ACCHOS members. Which is sad. :)

 

 

They're not likely to get much in the way of donations or enthusiasm adopting that attitude then are they?

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==========================

 

 

I listen to "pipedreams" a lot, and for those who want to know something about the American contribution to the organ repertoire, the programmes labelled "An American Muse" are especially interesting.

 

There's an awful lot of extreme virtuosity floating around the US, and if I can find the link, a quite spectacular performance of a work by Leo Sowerby.

 

Of course, Boston (where I went), is very much the organ-centre of the US, and really quite mesmerising in its breadth, quality and complexity.

 

MM

 

====================

 

 

Here is the link to the Sowerby, called "Pageant"

 

Cameron Carpenter is the very able performer, followed by a far better version of the infamous "Perpetuem Mobile" than that recorded by Virgil Fox.

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/listings/2003/0306/

 

MM

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As well as "piporg-l" there are also the PipeChat and OrganChat e-mail lists. These (particularly the latter) are very friendly.

 

As regards new installations and building styles: one thing that has struck me is the profusion of "neo-baroque" instruments, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, where these seem to be in the majority (mostly by builders beginning with B, F and P). In some of these cases "authenticity" for its own sake has been taken to ridiculous extremes with counterproductive results (e.g. keyboards to fit the perceived size of 18th-century fingers). These are no doubt very fine for playing 18th-century repertoire, and possibly for hymn-accompaniment, but not much else. There seem to be very few Skinners (or similar) in the western states.

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"Of course, Boston (where I went), is very much the organ-centre of the US, and really quite mesmerising in its breadth, quality and complexity."

 

I think Boston is somewhat further down the tree now, especially since the closure of the organ department at the New England Conservatory. My American colleagues regularly nominate Seattle as THE organ city of the US.

 

"As regards new installations and building styles: one thing that has struck me is the profusion of "neo-baroque" instruments, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, where these seem to be in the majority (mostly by builders beginning with B, F and P). In some of these cases "authenticity" for its own sake has been taken to ridiculous extremes with counterproductive results (e.g. keyboards to fit the perceived size of 18th-century fingers). These are no doubt very fine for playing 18th-century repertoire, and possibly for hymn-accompaniment, but not much else."

 

The builders in question do not build neo-baroque instruments, the neo baroque movement was starting to be superceded in the USA in the early 70s already when Brombaugh started to build his iconic and genuinely historically-informed instruments.

 

I don't understand this comment:

 

"has been taken to ridiculous extremes with counterproductive results (e.g. keyboards to fit the perceived size of 18th-century fingers"

 

are you promoting the standardisation of organ keys? It has nothing to do with the size of historic hands and everything to do with the techniques associated with playing 18th century (and, more especially 17th century) music. If the middle three fingers on each hand are doing most of the work small keys are a great advantage.

 

The remarkable point about those builders you mentioned is that they have taken a whole generation's worth of scholarly research and are now applying to modern organs designed to function in enormously diverse music programmes in big Cathedrals. This is completely unique and has nothing whatever to do with the neo-baroque.

 

Check out Pasi's new organ in the new RC Cathedral in Houston: http://www.pasiorgans.com/instruments/opus19spec.html

(Also worth a look are the construction photos and the description of the proportional key action). That's going to be a fabulous organ.

 

"There seem to be very few Skinners (or similar) in the western states."

 

The reason there are few (Aeolian/)Skinners is that they were based in Boston on the other side of the country. They had a smaller factory in California (which produced among other things the organ at Grace Cathedral in SF). The idea that there is no neo-symphonic organ building going on the west of the US is nonsense with Schoenstein, of all firms, operating in California.

 

Bazuin

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I think Boston is somewhat further down the tree now, especially since the closure of the organ department at the New England Conservatory. My American colleagues regularly nominate Seattle as THE organ city of the US.

 

 

Bazuin

 

I think the organ center in the USA is probably up for debate, depending on who you talk with and what their leanings are as far as style!

 

One thing I have found constant is that most folks from across the pond honestly don't have a real grasp on how huge a place the USA is...

in a country so large there are a multiplicity of flavors of organs, performers and regional predilections - and widely divergent culture.

 

I've watched the organ scene for over 30 years in the USA, and I'd have to vehemently say we are past the worst of the Neo-Baroque -

there has been a steady return to warmer sounds (yea, even tonal decadence in some quarters!) and many of the big trackers being built

now (and the smaller as well) are able to do justice to a wider range of repertoire.

 

There are still isolated incidents of someone spec-ing a totally unenclosed Baroque-inspired organ for an Episcopal (Anglican) parish, but they are more

rare as those folks who loved the shriekers slowly pass to their eternal reward.

 

~~~

 

What I've seen now is a that generally speaking, the best features of the Orgelbewegung movement have left their mark - choruses voiced with

greater clarity (but now minus the excessive spitting and chiffing) and a better awareness of the need for complete choruses. The influence of the

pendulum swing back to Romanticism has given us more 8' tone (but without losing the upperwork, which was one of Skinner's challenges, especially in his

most symphonic instruments)

 

As much as I disliked the excesses of the worst of the Neo-Baroque, I hope some of the examples are preserved for posterity - they did, after all, inspire a

certain style of composition and playing, and are part of our history and heritage.

 

Best,

 

- G

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I apologise if there were too many generalisations in my previous post - which, incidentally, referred primarily to the Pacific Northwest, and the Puget Sound area in particular, rather than the West Coast in general.

 

"The builders in question do not build neo-baroque instruments"

Perhaps "neo-baroque" was not the best term to use, but I think most people will have understood what I meant.

And no, I'm not necessarily suggesting the standardisation of organ keys (though I would have thought that bodies such as the AGO, RCO, ISOB, BDO etc, would do so).

 

The main point of my argument (for which I fully expect to be shot down in flames by some, but would hope for some support from others) is that many of the smaller instruments to which I (obliquely) referred would be excellent for teaching, study and recitals of a narrow range of organ literature in an academic institution, but much less suitable for accompanying the liturgy. The specification of the new Pasi organ for Houston's RC Cathedral, on the other hand, would appear to be ideally suited for the latter as well as the former (and for a much wider range of literature).

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Bazuin wrote:-

 

The builders in question do not build neo-baroque instruments, the neo baroque movement was starting to be superceded in the USA in the early 70s already when Brombaugh started to build his iconic and genuinely historically-informed instruments.

It's some thirty years ago since I had an American Academic for a partner, but what struck me more than anything else, was the breadth and depth of his thinking; as one might expect of a top Harvard Graduate. Three master's degrees,(Eng.Litt; History of Art and Classics), a very big musical knowledge and fourteen languages, is no mean achievement in a whole lifteime....but before the age of 26?!!!!!

 

The vast wealth of the "American Dream," (although not what it was), has enabled academics to pursue their own interests and passions to an extraordinary degree, and I suspect that in England, we have to muddle along with what we have and make the best of it.

 

I often wonder if genius is best defined by knowing everything there is to know about very little, or whether it is knowing enough about most things.

 

My former partner would, I know, say that genius is when you can know a lot and then join them all up to make something new and meaningful out of them.

 

DHM wrote:-

 

The main point of my argument (for which I fully expect to be shot down in flames by some, but would hope for some support from others) is that many of the smaller instruments to which I (obliquely) referred would be excellent for teaching, study and recitals of a narrow range of organ literature in an academic institution, but much less suitable for accompanying the liturgy.

 

This is a very British view, and ignores the fact that "accompaniment" means different things to different traditions. The 16th, 17th & 18th century instruments of Holland are not an obstacle to worship, and no-one complains that they may be specialised, as long as they can accompany hymnody and psalms. In America, from what I have seen, there are all sorts of denominations which have little in common with the worship-style of the traditional Anglican Church.

 

Bazuin replied:-

The remarkable point about those builders you mentioned is that they have taken a whole generation's worth of scholarly research and are now applying to modern organs designed to function in enormously diverse music programmes in big Cathedrals. This is completely unique and has nothing whatever to do with the neo-baroque.

 

Absolutely right! This is the true value of finely detailed research, which starts as a hobby and an obsession, and results in something quite unexpected and new.

 

In some of the more affluent churches, the organ is only one instrument among many, and some even have orchestras, concert grand-pianos, drum-kits, bands and sub-choirs. In England, we just don't have the financial resources and the pool of talent from among the ranks of church-goers, with the result that it all seems a bit lame compared to America.

In some churches, of which the Crystal Cathedral, ("The hour of power"), is a good example, worship-music can alternate between Choral (Handel for example), Big Band, Piano, Orchestral music, Jazz, Blues, Soul and Gospel; with due respect given to all genres. So church musicians may be organists, but they are principally Musical Directors, who know how to put on a show. So really, the organ can be anything, and Musical Directors can use it to best advantage or to none at all, as the case may be.

 

As someone who has much wider interest in music than just organ-music, I thoroughly enjoyed the religious Variety Shows I witnessed, and furthermore, I was just blown away by some of the Youth Jazz Bands I heard on the streets of Boston.

 

As I said originally....."Only in America!"

 

MM

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One thing I have found constant is that most folks from across the pond honestly don't have a real grasp on how huge a place the USA is...

 

in a country so large there are a multiplicity of flavors of organs, performers and regional predilections - and widely divergent culture.

 

 

As much as I disliked the excesses of the worst of the Neo-Baroque, I hope some of the examples are preserved for posterity - they did, after all, inspire a

certain style of composition and playing, and are part of our history and heritage.

 

Best,

 

- G

 

====================

 

 

Go on, remind us how big Texas is; why not? :lol:

 

We do have Google Earth in the UK you know, and I notice how it turns to the British Isles first. ;)

 

Anyway, so long as organ-builders keep their filthy paws of the lovely Harvard, Flentrop, I will die happy.

 

MM

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"The main point of my argument (for which I fully expect to be shot down in flames by some, but would hope for some support from others) is that many of the smaller instruments to which I (obliquely) referred would be excellent for teaching, study and recitals of a narrow range of organ literature in an academic institution, but much less suitable for accompanying the liturgy."

 

I think the incredible size of the USA is also reflected in the un-imaginable diversity in liturgical traditions. It is no wonder, for example, with so many German settlers that the Lutheran tradition has remained alive and well. And, in such instances, the organs you referred remain as relevant in a liturgical setting as in any other. I have an Austrian colleague who visited a service at this Mennonite College:

 

http://www.goshen.edu/

 

where the gorgeous Taylor and Boody organ accompanied the congregation singing Lutheran chorales in 4-part harmony...

 

"There are still isolated incidents of someone spec-ing a totally unenclosed Baroque-inspired organ for an Episcopal (Anglican) parish, but they are more rare as those folks who loved the shriekers slowly pass to their eternal reward."

 

Meanwhile in Catholic Huddersfield...

 

Bazuin

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Meanwhile in Catholic Huddersfield...

 

Bazuin

 

 

======================

 

 

Nay lad, tha cannut be referrin t'Uddersfield I knows, which was alas t'Messiah and t'Willis at town-hall and that yon choir at Gledholt Methodist Church.

 

Unless tha's referrin' to yon upstart neo-classic job at t'University.

 

I can't think what tha means about Catholic, cos it were all t'Sally Army and Methodist teetoallers when I were a lad.

 

MM

 

PS: Huddersfield gave us an amusing story, when the local paper advertised for a Carpet Salesman, "...to cover the Yorkshire and Lancashire areas."

 

The actor James Mason was born there, so it can't all be bad.

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======================

 

 

 

Unless tha's referrin' to yon upstart neo-classic job at t'University.

And how DREADFUL this sounded on Radio 4 last Sunday. Turning on half way through the programme (Morning Worship with the Choral Soc - splendid Messiah singing) I didn't know where it was from and, from the sound, assumed it was a small parish church with a Victorian organ that had had a high-pitched, narrow scaled Cymbal crammed into the Swell, and a Swell Fagot made available on the Pedal. Never having heard St Paul's Hall before (but having heard plenty of hype), it was disappointing. Excellent playing from Darius Battiwalla however :lol:

 

Meanwhile, back in the US of A...

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And how DREADFUL this sounded on Radio 4 last Sunday. Turning on half way through the programme (Morning Worship with the Choral Soc - splendid Messiah singing) I didn't know where it was from and, from the sound, assumed it was a small parish church with a Victorian organ that had had a high-pitched, narrow scaled Cymbal crammed into the Swell, and a Swell Fagot made available on the Pedal. Never having heard St Paul's Hall before (but having heard plenty of hype), it was disappointing. Excellent playing from Darius Battiwalla however :lol:

 

Meanwhile, back in the US of A...

 

 

----------------------------------------------

 

 

I am genuinely surprised by this, and particularly puzzled by the reference to the pedal reed. Actually, the pedal reeds are rather splendid in the hall, and I've heard some very good recitals on this instrument; not least by Nicholas Kynaston and Piet Kee, among others.

 

I wonder if the problem was not with the sound team, who normally seem to get things more or less right.

 

MM

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----------------------------------------------

 

 

I am genuinely surprised by this, and particularly puzzled by the reference to the pedal reed. Actually, the pedal reeds are rather splendid in the hall, and I've heard some very good recitals on this instrument; not least by Nicholas Kynaston and Piet Kee, among others.

 

I wonder if the problem was not with the sound team, who normally seem to get things more or less right.

 

MM

Indeed, perhaps so. Wrong to judge from one choir-covered broadcast. Must get up there and hear it.

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======================

 

 

Nay lad, tha cannut be referrin t'Uddersfield I knows, which was alas t'Messiah and t'Willis at town-hall and that yon choir at Gledholt Methodist Church.

 

Unless tha's referrin' to yon upstart neo-classic job at t'University.

 

I can't think what tha means about Catholic, cos it were all t'Sally Army and Methodist teetoallers when I were a lad.

 

MM

 

I suspect our dear Dutch pedal reed friend might have been refering to this:

 

http://www.dioceseofleedsmusic.org.uk/orga...uddersfield.php

 

For those of you of a technical bent, the photos of the organ's installation give an intrigiuing insight into this organ's interior design:

 

http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/saundersbp/S...ation11July2009

http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/saundersbp/S...ation21July2009

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I didn't know where it was from and, from the sound, assumed it was a small parish church with a Victorian organ

I, too, have to confess that, not knowing where it was coming from, I also thought it sounded like a Victorian village organ.

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I, too, have to confess that, not knowing where it was coming from, I also thought it sounded like a Victorian village organ.

 

 

=========================

 

We're wandering off-topic, as we tend to do, but never mind.

 

The organ St Paul's Hall, University of Huddersfield, I quite like, but I don't think I would regard it as one of the best organs I've ever heard. What it did do, very interestingly, was to break the cycle of severe classicism in the area, and re-introduce warmer, more romantic sounds within the classical framework. In that respect, whether by accident or design, it marked the way forward and got us out of a trap, That's what I like about it, and it seems to work quite well in a rather nice acoustic.

 

I suspect that the problem with the recording, may well have been the sheer volume of the singers as compared with that of the organ. The men unbutton their collars in Yorkshire, and the women roll up their sleeves!

 

I'm sure Philip Tordoff will not mind me mentioning an amusing tale he told me, when during the accompaniment of a Messiah in a big Yorkshire Chapel, he transposed everything up a semi-tone while playing the harpsichord.

 

"It was so loud, no b----r noticed; not even the conductor!"

 

:lol:

 

MM

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I suspect our dear Dutch pedal reed friend might have been refering to this:

 

http://www.dioceseofleedsmusic.org.uk/orga...uddersfield.php

Why on earth do we need to have unrecognisable stop names on an organ in the UK, especially somewhere as down to earth as Huddersfield? I thought Konicasta Flavta was one of the professionals in "Strictly Come Dancing". Perhaps it is just a case of my Pozavna is louder than yours?

JC

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