'Organ Crawl' demystifies pipe dreams in Fairfield sanctuaries
Updated 5:10 pm, Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Even though it was called an "Organ Crawl," the music soared Monday as members of a local organ guild and the public trekked to Fairfield churches for an introduction to two imposing -- but different -- musical instruments.
At Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in the Greenfield Hill area, the 10-foot tall, 600-pipe English-style Hutchings-Cooper dates to 1840. The tracker organ has one manual, or keyboard, and sits in an ornate black walnut case in the plain structure that was meant to house a gym, not a place of worship.
By contrast, the new German-made, 2,103-pipe, Klais tracker organ sits in the Romanesque revival sanctuary of First Church Congregational in downtown Fairfield, and stands three-stories tall and has three manuals.
The Lutheran organ's roots can be traced to Boston and served churches in York and York Beach, Maine, for decades before it was disassembled around 1959 and stored in a New Hampshire horse barn. Many of the pipes for the once hand-pumped G compass organ were "rolled up like toothpaste tubes," according to Alice Caldwell, a musicologist and director of music for Our Saviour's Lutheran Church, where the restored instrument has resided since last June. It was a gift to the local church from the congregation of Ascension Lutheran Church in Queens, N.Y., which closed in 2011.
"It was rebuilt (in 1978) using the principles of the organ revival movement. It's full but also bright and clear. When I play hymns for the congregation to sing the texture is clear and the rhythm is distinct. It's a beautiful instrument," Caldwell told the group of 20 people on the Organ Crawl. "It's about as small as an organ can be and still have the sound resources that we need for the music we do in this church," said Caldwell. She played Nicholaus Bruhns' Prelude and Fugue in E minor -- which she performed at the organ dedication ceremony last October -- and two Lutheran hymns before she opened "the bench" to musicians and members of the Greater Bridgeport chapter of the American Guild of Organists on hand for the event.
"It's great to see it has new life. It's nice to see a historic instrument being used to this day," said guild member Rian Grimmer of Shelton, who had a chance to play the organs at both churches. As a bonus, he and others got to play the harpsichord at Our Saviour's Lutheran.
The congregation at Our Saviour's built an alcove to accommodate the 7-by-5-foot organ there and visitors were able to walk behind the organ and view the back.
At First Church, visitors were invited to walk inside the organ chamber to see the inner workings of the instrument that was built using 15th century technology and installed at the historic church in 2010.
Aymeric Dupre la Tour, director of music and organist, told the visitors that the organ was built from slow-growth spruce and he was as enthusiastic in showing guests the grains in the wood in the chamber as he was pointing out the screens of trackers and pure tin pipes. Dupre la Tour also played portions of musical compositions and demonstrated the organ's ability to replicate various orchestral instruments -- flutes, oboes, bassoons, trumpets.
"See how it voices the melody," he said.
Although some of Dupre la Tour's comments seemed to denigrate the new organ, which Klais craftsmen are still adjusting, others mentioned the esoteric nature of such instruments.
"An organ is not a one-size-fits-all instrument," Caldwell said, adding that Dupre la Tour is trying to fine tune the organ to have it suit the acoustics of the First Church sanctuary.
Despite its need to be tweaked it is still a magnificent instrument. David Harris, music director and organist at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, called the Klais organ "incredibly exciting to play."
Dottie Cameron of Milford, sub dean of the organist guild, said she appreciated Caldwell and Dupre la Tour's tremendous understanding of the instrument.