Sunday, April 03, 2005

Organs and their Music. Walter sent me the program from an organ concert given on March 16, by Elaine Dykstra at West Hills Presbyterian Church. I wish I could have been there to hear it!

As I grew up at Central Baptist Church in Downtown Miami, I heard its wonderful pipe organ at least twice a week. I thought it natural that when you went to church, there was a pipe organ. Off I went to Duke in 1964, but in the early 1970s, when we moved back to Miami, we attended Central for awhile, and about that time they were installing a new one and raising the money for it. (The old one had several ranks of wooden pipes, and the termites had done their vandalist work.)

Duke Chapel had a huge pipe organ, a "tracker" organ. That means that it used old technology to connect the keys to the mechanism that opened the airways to a particular pipe to make the sound. That old technology was mechanical - the key on the organ console was somehow mechanically connected all the way to the box where the airway was opened. Among other things, it meant a delay between the piont where the organist pressed the key and the time when the music rang out. So, when the choir was singing and the director gave a down beat, the organist, anticipating because of the tracker delay, had already pressed the keys.

(The Duke Chapel organist's name was Mildred Hendrix. Two weeks ago, a group from John Thatcher's prep school, Darlington School at Rome, GA, came down to see him and they met at my office. The group included the president of the school, Jim Hendrix, a Davidson grad who had been raised in Durham and whose mother was Mildred Hendrix. She was a marvelous artist, and Jim told me she had been a pianist early in her life and one day had been asked to fill in on the Duke Organ. She taught herself the instrument, and there she was about 30 years later when I showed up.)

Another feature of the tracker organ is the initial sound it makes when the air is first released into the pipe. It makes a "shoosh" sound or so I was told at a lecture I heard at Duke given by the organistE.Power Biggs. He said that the "shoosh" differs from the initial sound that the electronically actuated pipe organs make at that point. Biggs said that this initial, almost imperceptible sound, makes a significant difference in the beauty of the music that follows it. (I think I hear that "shoosh" when I hear a tracker.)

He saw the tracker organ not as just beautiful but as a sort of metaphor for beauty.

I would be interested in knowing whether the WHPC organ is a tracker. (If it were not, it would not mean that it is not a beautfiul organ. I have heard it, and it is beautiful.) Has any of you heard a tracker?

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