How was your summer?
Mine was transformational.
It began with a phone call last spring. A singer and retired teacher contacted me and asked, “How would your church like a pipe organ?”
My ears maximally perked. As a church musician for about fifteen years, I’d been playing a 1960’s Allen electric organ, a workhorse at the end of its life. Pipe organ purists would call it a toaster.
To be honest with you, I didn’t quite believe this benefactor was serious. Over several years writing about classical music for City newspaper and WXXI, I’d interviewed a lot of church musicians and never heard of a “free pipe organ.”
But he was in earnest.
We met at Parsons Pipe Organ Builders in Canandaigua to look at the instrument, a vision in silver and white oak with sweet, flute-like voices and a neo-Baroque clarity. On hearing it for the first time during that visit, a musician friend of mine welled up in tears.
After that initial meeting, things happened quickly. The trusty old toaster was rolled away to a landfill and the church floor and walls reinforced to hold the weight of the new instrument. Then, thanks to our anonymous Rochester donor with a passion for pipe organs and sacred music, the Parsons’ Opus II was installed in St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Brockport, New York.
Why "Opus II?" It was one of the first instruments built in the 1980’s by three generations of the Parsons family: a grandfather, father, and son. It served the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas for thirty years until the church closed. The Parsons brought it home to their workshop, and it’s easy to see why they wanted it back.
Opus II is a mechanical action tracker organ with nine ranks and more than 600 pipes. It even has a “cymbelstern” (“cymbal star” in German), a set of bells mounted on a kind of wheel which rotates to create a magical, tinkling sound. It's a one-of-a-kind instrument that needed a good home.
I feel incredibly fortunate to be its present steward and rejuvinated with a fresh enthusiasim for practice and discovery. I'm taking lessons from Eastman graduate and First Inversion conductor Lee Wright, a fantastic teacher who's meeting me where I am as a player, helping me take my modest skills to the next level.
I hope it’s the beginning of long and lovely relationship.