Wild Air

Alive and Well

April 1st, 2012


As I travel through the organ world, I sometimes get comments from well-meaning and uninformed folks that seem to imply that my work is about as timely as that of a typewriter repairman.   Even more frustrating is opening my Sunday morning newspaper, the Marion, IN Chronicle-Tribune, to find an article about a local pipe organ of note.   The article quotes a third party quoting me.   I was not contacted about the story, which deals with a pipe organ that I saved in my youth, and maintained for 30 years, after it had been written off by experts.   During those years, it was heard by literally thousands of people.   The organ is not in a church. It is in a gymnasium that has been renovated to become a much-needed YMCA.          

Whether the Y is a good venue for a pipe organ might be an interesting topic for future discussion.   I would only point out here that the YMCA is all about both physical and spiritual development, and music should definitely be part of the latter!  

Broadway United Methodist Church
Broadway United Methodist Church, Indianapolis

What really rankles me about this brief front-page article, apart from some factual mistakes, was her quote from  her third party source  that “It’s still there and it (a renovation)  still can be done, but there’s not a lot of demand for organ music…   It’s kind of a bygone thing.”   From that point on in the article, she and her source pool their misinformation, leading the public down the garden path of ignorance.   So, what should be portrayed as an undeveloped or forgotten community treasure is  in their treatment  shown as a white elephant.   More on this particular organ in future postings.          

In rebuttal, I would like to relate a few experiences I have had recently.          

"Cor Glorieux"  The Fort Wayne Commandery Grand Organ

Cor Glorieux - The new cd by Martin Ellis.




1.   In Fort Wayne, Indiana, a group of Masons, led by Ed Snyder, is working to raise funds to preserve and renovate the Fort Wayne Commandery Grand Organ (Estey Opus 2525).   The organ, which had not been heard in over 30 years, has been rediscovered, dusted off, and is playing again, albeit in need of some major work.   Concert organist Martin Ellis played a concert on it just before Christmas, and donated his time to produce a new cd, entitled “Cor Glorieux,” to promote the project.   Learn more about the organ and get your cd at www.estey2525.com.          



Raul Prieto Ramirez

Raul Prieto Ramirez


2.   A few weeks ago, Spanish organist    Raúl Prieto Ramírez played an incredible concert on the Sursa Concert Organ at Ball State University in Muncie, IN.   He played mostly Romantic works (with a little Bach and Buxtehude for spice) of soaring virtuosity and depth.     In this concert, I encountered a rare phenomonon.   On three separate occasions, as Mr. Ramírez ended quiet, reflective pieces, the audience hesitated to applaud, no person wishing to be responsible for breaking the spell of the music.          

The next day, Raúl Prieto Ramírez conducted a master class for several organ students of Dr. Kirby Koriath at Ball State.   During this event, he showed his skill as a teacher of technique and as a mentor of music.   Technique is a mechanical thing.   Anybody with the right reflexes can learn it.   Music, however, is in the soul.   The ability to help someone learn to reach into  his or her  own soul is really the difference between teaching and mentoring.   At least that’s my view.          

I should also mention that Raúl Prieto Ramírez worked all week last week recording a new compact disc for international release on the big Kimball-Reynolds organ at North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, and organ that I have  nicknamed “The Patriarch.”          

Martin Ellis

Martin Ellis


3.   On January 21, Martin Ellis and Randy Frieling gave a concert of music for organ and piano at the Fayette Concert Hall in Fayette, OH.   What was interesting about this event was that the organ was a century-old Mason & Hamlin reed organ that Mr. Ellis and a friend had lovingly restored.   The room was packed, and the concert, which included everything from Bach to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” was a huge success.   The audience was literally on the edges of their seats throughout.          

(For those who think of the pipe organ as uniquely an instrument of the church, it might be surprising to note that all three of the events above took place in non-church venues, and  featured mostly music that you wouldn’t ordinarily hear in church on Sunday morning!)          

On March 18, Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis celebrated the 10th anniversary of its III/54 Reynolds Associates pipe organ with a luncheon and organ concert.   The concert was superbly played by seven different organists, including Broadway’s former organist, Christopher Schroeder, and their current organist, Schuyler Brinson.   The music was amazing, and we will be posting most of it on our website, www.reynoldsorgans.com.  

5.   On March 25, Martin Ellis and Randy Frieling gave another, and quite different concert on Sunday afternoon at Central Christian Church in Anderson, IN, with Randy at the church’s new grand piano, and Martin at the console of the 1968 Möller pipe organ.   The concert included a completely new work for piano and organ written by Central’s pastor, Rick Vale, an accomplished composer.   Martin and Randy closed with an almost unknown work by Leroy Anderson (writer of The Syncopated Clock, and Sleigh Ride.)          

Why did I tell you all this?   Because is only a partial list of what has been happening in the organ world in our little corner of central Indiana!   I didn’t list all the programs that happened because it was physically impossible for me to attend them all.          

Interest in the pipe organ is supported by The American Guild of Organists, The American Theater Organ Society, The Organ Historical Society, and the American Reed Organ Society, along with many local organizations.    Few instruments have such a  fiercely loyal following.     In future postings, I will  offer some critical thoughts  with which you may agree – or not.   I hope you, in turn, will share your  constructive thoughts with us.    New pipe organs continue to be built, albeit at a slower-than-usual rate because of current economic conditions. In the organ world, as in other areas of the economy, there are many great projects planned, just waiting for “times to improve.”    

Most importantly, thousands of pipe organs continue to lead singing and provide a musical fabric for worship in many, many churches.   These instruments, from the tiny one-rank organ, such as the organ at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Somerset, KY, to massive behemoths such as the organs at North and Broadway, lend their voices to our lives, singing with us in our celebrations, providing balm to our griefs, and enriching our souls.      

The pipe organ remains the most powerful and most eloquently expressive of all musical instruments.   It is an authentic voice in a society that is in desperate need of one.        

Pretty good for a “bygone thing!”          

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