Newberry Organ dedication

This weekend was cold and rainy: a fortunate happenstance for the gardener, because I was occupied in the festivities surrounding the dedication of Richards, Fowkes & Company’s Opus XIX in the Church of the Covenant in Cleveland, right across the parking lot from work. The Newberry Organ (named after the grandparents of the principal donor, who was not just the donor of the principal rank) is a Baroque-style instrument in 5th-comma meantone at A415. My particular part in this was as a sackbut player in works by Schütz (Alleluja! Lobet den Herren) and Gabrieli (Omnes gentes plaudite).

My first task in taking this was to find a way out of my duties at Mary Queen of Peace, since singers are easier to come by than sackbutteers. Indeed, I only really know 3 in town, including myself, and we were all on duty (there are a couple trombonists I know who have played sackbut, but have no experience doing so at A415). I felt obligated to play, and Jonathan Moyer, music director at Covenant, made it worth my while. So I found a sub; I’ve not yet heard how that worked. And I found face, as I’ve been playing brass very little.

We met Friday night for an instrumental rehearsal.. “we” being a Most Excellent Crew. There were Peter Bennett, James David Cristie and Webb Wiggins on organs, Julie Andrijeski and a band of mostly present and former Case grad students on bowed strings, Covenant’s carilloneur George Leggiero on recorder, and me mates David Betts and Paul Furguson. on sackbuts. And, oh yeah, checks sitting on the stands. When I got my instrument, back in 1981 or so, I got a low pitch crook, but the other guys were reading everything down a half step. We didn’t have a bass sackbut, so I played the bass on tenor, transposing up the octave as needed. Paul plays alto, which was OK for the Schütz (which still could have been played on tenor) but problematic for the Gabrieli. Still the guys rose to the challenge magnificently. The only problem encountered was that one of the organs had a transposing keyboard and had been tuned at A440 (which meant that at A415 it was wretchedly out of tune). That got fixed easily enough afterwards. There were 4 organs in the church for this: borrowed chamber organs on either side, the Newberry in back, and the main one in front. It suggests a performance of Steve Reich’s eponymous piece, though 4 acoustic organs, 3 in meantone and one in equal temperament, would be quite inauthentic performance practice for that work (though it might be less irritating that way.). 4 organs in one church! I saw this as an act of expiation and reparation for all the organs that Calvinists trashed during the Reformation. And if you think that’s just Popish snark, the Catholics have a near-equal need to atone for the organs trashed in the wake of Vatican II.

Saturday morning I had to come into town again for the tutti rehearsal, which was kind of a meeting of old buds (Lynn Glickson, composer Jenny Conner) and folks I see every day in the Case library. The chief problem to be handled was to use eyes rather than ears in keeping together (as there were always 2 choirs separated). I’d done this to an extreme over the Internet, about a decade ago, and this was easier but still not easy. And there was the challenge of intonation (NONE of the partials on this instrument are in tune with each other; the higher you go in the low register, the farther the slide has to come out, which is counterintuitive.) Afterwards, I got lunch at Udupi Cafe (south Indian buffet), tried to do some shopping, tried to go to Mass but I got there way early and was feeling poorly, so I ditched my idea of going to a MQoP Schola member’s graduate recital, and went home to early bed, as I had to be out the door at 7.

Call at 8:45, ran through the big pieces, then sat back to hear the pregame show with strings and organ. I was listening to Castello and the Gabrieli Sonata a tre, thinking “This can’t be church music. Church music sucks, and this is 100% suck-free.” The choir did Byrd’s Sing Joyfully, and we did our big pieces without any great flaw (there are always little things that could have been better). The only problem was in the last hymn. In the bulletin, it was in A. We’d been given another hymn, with a different number and name and slightly different words, but the same tine, in Bb. But we hadn’t been told “play the Bb version”. So we came in, a half-step below the organ. I took out the crook (I might better have transposed), the other guys stopped their transposition games, and all was relatively presentable…and the organ drowned it all out anyway.

Well, then I still had to go to Mass. I shot in to the Mac, ran into Fred, who thought I should sing. So, just in case the morning hadn’t been exciting enough, I sight-read a Latin mass, singing tenor, and reading tiny notes for the Ordinary. I was in good voice and had somebody else on the part, so it went fairly well (less so where the notes were tiny).

Back to Covenant, do the 2 pieces again, listen to the organ recital. The new organ sounds wonderful. When’s the Hauptwerk sample set coming out? I want to take it home. I thought the morning had gone slightly better overall. Reception afterwards. I saw Carolyn Peskin, local recorder maven. for the first time in years, and by the looks of things it may well be the last time. I wanted to talk, but I’d spoke to a stranger who wouldn’t let me go (“…and I’m a Aspie.” “I never would have guessed.”) and she disappeared.

So, a lovely time was had by all. I think I’m going to try to put some work into sackbut solo and try to do something.


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