“This weekend marks a landmark occasion for the city of Portland’s century-old Kotzschmar organ, as it returns from a lengthy and costly overhaul that supporters hope will keep it going for another 100 years. Tom Porter took a look behind the curtain.”
I have never seen a town get behind the maintenance, presevervation, restoration, and re-installation of an organ like this before! Portland knows they have a treasure and they support it with attendance, surcharges on tickets, and newspaper, radio and television reports. Look at these gorgeous photos and listen to the radio report from WPBN, and your outlook on organ life will improve!
Thanks to Harold Stover for this story.
Sometimes Most of the Restoration is Correcting Engraving
Sometimes, people ask me what I mean by “restoration.” What do you do, actually, to accomplish it? What’s it for, why is it good, who needs it? I explain in some detail on my website’s Music Restoration page, but in this post I will show you one of the steps in the process. This is step where a proofreader (not me!) goes through what I have produced in a full size printed proof and checks for problems I missed and engraver errors.
American publishers first sent their hand-written music by boat to Europe, often to Germany or Holland, for the engraving on metal plates. When done, the plates would be returned to America for mounting on the presses and printing the music. The earlier plates and those from certain publishers are well-known for errors, some simple and some serious. They range from missing clefs to incorrect key signatures to wrong notes. Plates were engraved by hand and errors were always a part of their process. Tiny problems would be left in because the organist was sure to correct them and the time to repeat the engraving was deemed impractical. Sloppiness was indeed difficult, costly, and time consuming to correct!
Below are the notes I got from the proofreader on a particulary sloppy piece. If you were to download this piece from one of the “free” websites, you would see all of this in its sloppy glory. If you buy my restored music, all of this will be set to right!
- p2, s2, m4, b3, lh, G overlaps F line
- p2, s2, m4, b3, fermata missing
- p2, s1, m3, b3, in pedal, accidental should be a natural
- p2, s2, m1, b2, pedal accidental needed near E
- p3, s1, m4, “of” should be “off”
- p4, s1, m3, rh, F should be quarter note
- p5, s3, m4, lhm b4, G should be A
- p6, s1, m3, b3, lh, mid C ledger incomplete
- p6, s2, m3, rh, b1, dot missing on D
- p 7, s3, m1, rh, b1, Bs and Es missing naturals!
- p11, s1, m1, lh, b2&4, A should be B flat
- p11, s2, m1, lh, b2, A should be B flat
- p11, s2, m3, lh, b4, A should be B natural
- p11, s4, m6, b1, pedal A should be B flat
(This caused the piece to end with big B flat chords in the manuals and a juicy A natural in the pedal! This is the ultimate sloppiness from a piece from 1867: not checking the very last ff chord!)
- and there were plenty more!
My hat’s off to proofreaders! If you have a compulsive streak, this job is for you! Does anyone remember Walter Ehret? He was a proofreader I was privileged to meet a long, long time ago. He went on to work as an arranger and composer but he did not forget the value of his old job.
Honestly, what I remember about Rahway is that every week driving by on the way to church, I’d see the prison. This is not exactly the highlight of the town nor of my day, but there it was, like it or not. There was no organ of interest in the area so I never stopped, but then again I didn’t know about this Wurlitzer.
The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders recently announced the return of a national musical treasure with the unveiling of the newly-restored Wurlitzer organ at the Union County Performing Arts Center. “It is because of the capacity for impact that the arts have on people — individually and collectively — that the Freeholder Board is committed to supporting the preservation of this facility and access to the arts,” said Freeholder Chairman Christopher Hudak. “Today’s event celebrates the preservation of musical history and the traditions and craftsmanship of the 1920’s, while bringing the theatre organ art form into the 21st Century.”
The unveiling event included historical presentations and a photo montage of the restoration process, highlighted by a live concert and demonstration that filled the historic Rahway Theatre once again with the sound of the original Wurlitzer theatre organ.
The unveiling event included historical presentations and a photo montage of the restoration process, highlighted by a live concert and demonstration that filled the historic Rahway Theatre once again with the sound of the original Wurlitzer theatre organ. Because of its enormous sound, albeit small size, this theatre organ has become known as the “Biggest Little Wurlitzer.”
Kudos to the Freeholder Board!
Watch this short video about the organ.
And, if you’d like to see how versatile an organ can be, here’s Jack Moelmann at the 2/7 Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ from April 30, 1981, accompanying two singers, Rita Rogers and Ron Lee Savin.
“It’s a rare 4-manual Skinner organ that has not been mechanically or tonally modified by anyone other than Skinner himself. The church and the organ are on the National Historic Registry.”
“The downtown United Methodist church is home to the Opus 190, 3,500-pipe Skinner organ built for the church by the Ernest Skinner’s company in 1912.”
Thomas Murray will play this gem on this coming Monday. I sure wish one of our Kansas City readers would write about his concert! There are precious few of these organs left in this condition.
This is the most surreal thing you are likely to see for a while. If you have or know children, or you are a rail fan, you know Thomas the Tank Engine. In this episode, there is a calliope (?) masquerading as a heavily unified pipe organ which is played oh so convincingly by the “Headmaster.” Huh?
I love the part about the very, very short bellows lever which is shown to be the source of the power. Do you wonder what all of those drawknobs and the two rows of couplers are supposed to do? I suppose the creators of the episode thought that children wouldn’t. Anyway, it is fun … but it requires a lot more than usual of what Walt Disney called “suspension of disbelief.” And, yes, it’s been on Youtube for a long time, but this version has been making the rounds in organ discussion groups.
At Tulsa Tech in Tulsa, Oklahoma, there is a Robert-Morton organ, and this is a series of that instrument and its accompanying grand piano. For more information, visit the website of the Sooner State Chapter of ATOS. Be sure to watch their video which is linked from that page.
This is an article on the WFMT Bach Organ Project, a 10-concert series running from September 21 to October 26. While this is good news for Chicago, why do these things always seem to about J S Bach? Why another Bach organ series? There were many notable organists from or who lived in Chicago; why not include Dudley Buck or Clarence Eddy or [insert your suggestions here] in a series called “Chicago Organists Project,” for example? Do they think J S needs the exposure? If it absolutely has to be about a Bach, how about the other Bachs, CPE for example?
Again, contrary to my complaint about the ubiquity of Bach for the organ (Do they really think a Bach series will grab the attention of the young people?), this is good news, for certain. For awhile, everyone everywhere copied the “Mostly Mozart” idea. “Mainly Mendelssohn,” anyone? In case you think I’m joking, our own WDAV produces “Biscuits and Bach” — there’s that name again. If you question the name, click here to see the truth.
According to Alltop, such a concert series has not been attempted before in Chicago. “This is a one-time undertaking for the city of Chicago; I think that’s what makes it pretty historic,” he said. “People have done the complete Bach organ works before, probably also in this tag-team type of way… and I’ve known individuals who have done it.
“But to do it this way, spread all around this great city, in all different venues, that’s what I think makes it really special,” he said. The first concert will be held at St. Clements Catholic Church in Chicago on September 21. Venues range as far north as the Winnetka Congregational Church, as far south as Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago, and as far west as Oak Park and River Forest.
Does this photo remind you of something from 1940s movies, or perhaps the Lawrence Welk Show? This unusual ensemble is out to gain your attention for music, the organ, and interest and education in organ music.
If the thought of sitting through an organ recital is the last thing on your mind, the Philadelphia Organ Quartet, who perform at the Fleetwood High School auditorium Saturday Sept. 20, might just be for you.
Possibly the only ensemble of its kind in the world, the quartet really has just one goal in mind: to erase any preconception that the organ is a dreary instrument, and to put a smile on your face in the process.
If you’d like to hear them, below is their arrangement of a section of the William Tell Overture.
“Made in 1917, the Casavant Frères pipe organ, a 35-ton pipe organ with 7,451 pipes, is 13 metres in height and 12.5 metres in width, and is even larger than the one installed in the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing which is often claimed as the largest pipe organ in China.” If you’re interested in the V/88 Rieger organ just mentioned, see the video below. Thanks to Keith Bigger for submitting this article.
On September 13th, a signing ceremony for restoration work on the largest-ever pipe organ at the Gulangyu Organ Museum was signed between the Gulangyu Tourist Area Management Office and Rieger, an Austrian firm of organ builders with a history of 170 years.
Mrs. Huang Yulian, the widow of Mr. Hu Youyi who founded the Gulangyu Piano Museum, attended the signing ceremony. Mr. Hu purchased the pipe organ from Emmanuel Church of Boston in 2007 and shipped it to Xiamen in October of the same year.
Well, I imagine that Orgues Létourneau does not find this startling; properly built and maintained organs can easily last well past the mark of a century. I was privileged to take a tour of their facilities, and I was as impressed as possible. I only wished that more of the craftsmen spoke more fluent English because my French is terrible!
For a fourth grader at St. Mark’s School of Texas, a boy’s school in Dallas, scoring a spot in the choir is a big deal. It’s a tradition more than 60 years in the making, with a history of performances around the world.
Pretty great, right? Except for the old organ in their chapel. “We lost control of our pedal division, basically. And we had some big, honking pipes that would not stop sounding,” said Glenn Stroh, organist at St. Mark’s and the assistant choirmaster.