I had hoped to go the OHS Convention in Western Massachusetts but couldn’t make it this year. Here’s a short piece about it and the purpose of OHS generally. This article by Rachel Rapkin was published in The Recorder on July 4, and the web version will not load reliably with some browsers, so I am including it here.
Drivers passing by the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church on Friday probably wondered why two green charter buses were parked out front. Every year, members of the Organ Historical Society travel to a city touring sites of historic organs and Northfield was one of the many stops as the group celebrated its 60th annual convention touring throughout Pioneer Valley.
Bill Weary, a member of the OHS, said those who take part in the conference spend five days traveling from site to site, usually a church, comparing and contrasting various aspects of each historical pipe organ the group sees. Syracuse, N.Y., Chicago and Washington, D.C., have hosted the convention in years past. Western Massachusetts was chosen because the numerous organs within the area have been maintained and are still in operation. “The Connecticut Valley had so much wealth during the 19th and 20th centuries, that the churches could invest in these beautiful organs,” he said.
Lubbert Gnodde, a Vermont resident and acclaimed organist, performed on Northfield’s 1842 E. & G.G. Hook organ. As a child, he would listen to his sister play the electric organ at home and when he turned 5, he began playing the instrument by ear. He continues to practice at church and at home on his grand piano.
“Some organs can be abrasive sounding, like really loud and sharp, and this organ was filled with wonderful sounds,” he said. “I really enjoyed it … It’s about playing the pieces as beautifully and musically as you can rather than playing without any mistakes.”
Gnodde said many organs in churches these days are electronic, but they just don’t create the same sound quality as a pipe organ. He said it’s similar to making fake coffee; there isn’t a similar alternative. “A mechanical pipe organ, when you press the key down, it opens a valve somewhere and lets air into the pipe,” he explained. “An electric organ doesn’t have any pipes. It tries to imitate the sound of a pipe organ, but it can’t.”
Weary said he was amazed at how well Gnodde played the instrument, saying the older the organ, the harder it is to play. “When organs are this old, there is a difficulty and resistance to them, but (Gnodde) understood this instrument and made the most out of it,” he said. “I just loved the sounds he produced.”