Peter Sykes
Organist and Scholar

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Certainly over the years I have had a love - hate relationship with playing this organ, one that directly relates to how I might be feeling about my own playing at the time. On the one hand it can reveal the very best a player has to offer; on the other, it unmercifully exposes any unawareness as regards touch. I remember taking a lesson with Yuko Hayashi long ago in which I complained of the funny noise the pipes made when the keys were released—a sort of bouncing giggle at the end. She told me, (and I am paraphrasing!) "that's not the organ's fault—you just have to make sure your finger doesn't leave the key until it is all the way up, in order to control the release and not let the key bounce like that." I vvidly remember my reaction to that advice—I thought, "that's just fine, but it's impossible to control the release of EVERY note."

Little did I then know how necessary the impossible would become. . .

In this playing this organ reminds me a lot of playing the clavichord. I found, in preparing the recital we'll all hear later tonight, that I had to change a lot of fingerings in order to obtain a degree of control that the organ demanded, and, just like playing the clavichord, one has to hold on to the keyboard for dear life at all times in order to get the best sound—and that the organ lets you know in no uncertain terms whether you are getting a good sound or not.

Certainly one very non - historical aspect that makes all the difference here is the detached console. Being able to hear, for good or ill, the immediate feedback of the organ's reaction to your ministrations makes this organ, as we all know, a superb teacher. Were the console under the impost I'd imagine a very different, and always the same sort of, sound emerging due to unawareness of what was really going on.

Well, I've talked about how the organ looks, and how it feels. What about its sound?

"What makes the Charles Fisk organ at Old West Church so special?"

What's special about any organ's sound?

Now we get into the hard questions.I like to be able to break things down when the going gets hard—all my students know this! Well, what's to listen to in organ sound? I think there are three things—forgive me if this is too simple now. It'll be more complicated later. Let's just listen, metaphorically now, to just one pipe. What sounds does it make, and when does it make them?

The beginning
the middle
and the end.

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