Thursday, December 18, 2008

Untitled post about music

Actually, I had a couple of potential titles for this blog entry, which is in praise of the pipe organ. But I thought heading my post with "I love the organ!" might attract the wrong kind of indexing on Google. Same with "I love the pipe!" {Sigh.}

I'm not sure why I decided to write about this today. Maybe it's because I'm seeking escape from all the Chicken Christmas music that is inundating the air. By this weekend I will have played in two Christmas concerts, and Christmas Eve I'm spending playing at my friend's church. And that's a nice way to spend Christmas Eve, but it would feel more special if I hadn't been stuffed full of holiday songs for the past month. Even the usually reliable XM "Symphony Hall" classical channel is filled with Christmas oratorios and other things too unbearable to mention.

So I guess I felt like turning to the one kind of music that always moves me to turn up the volume: the pipe organ. If you read my review of the film Battleship Potemkin, you know a big factor in my enjoyment was the live organ music that accompanied this silent film. One of my favorite pieces of classical music is Saint-Saens's Third Symphony, whose final movement is grandly completed with pipe organ. (They used this movement's musical theme in the film Babe, strangely enough; but the sight of James Cromwell dancing for a pig to this music wasn't enough to dampen my enjoyment of the piece. Hearing it performed live, a couple shades too slow, was more of a disappointment.)

Occasionally pop music has made great use of the organ; Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" is another favorite of mine, and to hear it live in a huge arena was a highlight when I saw him in concert around 20 years ago. Of course, the organ is meant to be heard in a grand space, and I've been lucky enough to hear the organ performed in some of the most beautiful churches in Europe. On a visit to Bath, England, in 1990 we were lucky enough to hear a whole concert of organ music. While living in London, I also took the opportunity to catch the occasional organ recital, including one at the St. Albans Cathedral and Abbey, parts of which date to the 11th century. One time I was even lucky enough to perform with pipe organ, when the honors band I was in played Weinberger's "Polka and Fugue from Schwanda, the Bagpiper" in a grand hall.

So I do love the pipe organ. And here is one of my favorite pieces, Widor's Toccata from his Symphony for Organ #5. It's not the kind of sound quality I prefer (ie, turned up to 11 on my surround-sound system), but it gives you an idea:

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