The Organ Connection
The Organ Connection
“The commonwealth of the arts is the church. The organ is a gift and a statement of faith to future generations.” -Michael Hart, organ builder
Our church was nearly bursting at the seams the week of VBS. While all the kids were having a splendid time learning of Rome and the early church at one end of the building, we were playing host to the American Guild of Organists (AGO) at the other end. University Park UMC has a rich history of music in worship and musical leadership which led to the installation of a truly unique instrument that would ensure the vibrancy of worship and music in our church for decades to come. Many extraordinary organists have graced UP with their service – names that are widely recognized in the organ community. Mary Preston, Damin Spritzer, Kathy Johnson, and Annette Albrecht, among others, have all held the post of organist at UPUMC. And, Jody Lindh is an excellent organist in his own right, of course! Our instrument is a large part of what drew all of those fine musicians to our church, and certainly what drew the 2017 AGO Southwest Regional Convention here earlier this month.
Every year the AGO gathers for a regional convention that features many organ recitals and educational workshops for organ professionals and enthusiasts. Dallas, boasting a rich arts scene and a handful of brand new organ installations, was the host city this year and drew a record number of registrations from around country. The convention weaved its way through north Dallas over the course of four days to see and hear a variety of organs, most of which have been built in the last five years or so. As a part of the convention, our church was chosen as the site for the final round of the Regional Competition for Young Organists, held June 12th, and for a day of workshops and recitals on the 14th. Though our organ was built nearly 40 years ago in 1978, it is always one of the primary attractions for organists and organ builders passing through.
Some in our congregation may know that UP houses a truly significant and unique organ. It was built by Alfred Kern in Strasbourg, France, whose firm (now run by his son, Daniel) is renowned for its restorations of instruments hundreds of years old, and for its construction of new instruments using the ancient methods of organ building which Alfred (now deceased) studied and perfected over his career. The Kern firm has built many instruments, mainly throughout France, Germany, and Japan, but there is only one of his organs on the North American continent, and it adorns our beautiful sanctuary. It is a fusion of European and American styles that is able to play historic repertoire, but can also accommodate more modern playing traditions that developed in the United States. Jody Lindh has said that it has the best principal sounds that he knows. One of the competition contestants remarked on the beauty of the console. Builders from Fisk were in town and requested to see inside the case to examine the inner mechanics. After the competition winner gave his Wednesday performance, there were audible murmurs from audience members, perhaps hearing the organ for the first time, of its brilliant sound quality. Former UP organist Damin Spritzer shared on Facebook that our Kern is one of her favorite organs anywhere in the world. It really was a sight to observe hundreds of people enter our sanctuary and turn, mouths agape, towards the organ and then back towards the rest of the sanctuary in total awe of the whole space.
Now, I mention all of this not merely to shine a light on some history and interesting factoids about our church, but to bring to the forefront something that we share weekly which can be extremely connectional. The quote at the head of this article isn’t an official AGO doctrine, but is surely representative of what many of us do hold as a core tenet. Music comforts many of us with its meandering melodies; it fascinates us with driving rhythms; it mystifies us with radiant harmonies; it is an interlocking chain that binds us to our faith. The organ is an aural and visual monument, as much an integral and holy part of a sanctuary as stained-glass windows, pews, altars, or fonts. Its music can connect our minds to our hymns, our hearts to our prayers, our singing to our scripture. When we engage in music and art in the church and allow it to in turn engage us, the result is something special and unquantifiable that can be taken into the world and shared, be it through word, deed, or more music. As musicians and artists, we hope not just to produce something beautiful and worshipful, but something transformative that when heard or felt, can change someone’s day, week, or life. Such was the effect of the AGO convention, which, by week’s end, left me with a sense of immense fulfillment and gratitude.
UPUMC Organist and Associate Director of Music Ministries