Peter Sykes
Organist and Scholar

Page 1  Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5

Maybe this organ can play anything.

A lot has been said about the proportion of old pipework in this organ—that it is responsible for a certain "romantic warmth" of the sound of certain stops, that it makes the organ sound "older", not so new and antiseptic, and that it gives the organ a character that is different, and better, than an all - new organ. Indeed, there is pipework in this organ coming from as early as 1840 (the Choir Chimney Flute) and as late as 1898 (parts of the Pedal Trombone and the Great Clarion). (I note, however, that there is no pipework from 1926 in this organ.) Indeed, these stops, and the others as well, are quite beautiful in their full, focused sound. What's remarkable to me, however, is that the rest of the organ matches it so well. There's no leaning on the qualities of pre - existing materials; rather, all is woven into a whole so that the new is informed and inspired by the old, and the old is slightly modified in order to better blend with the new. These old stops were not just plunked in, mind you—they were carefully worked on in order to be a part of this new organ. And, let's not forget, this organ's sound (as a result of pipe scales and voicing techniques) was inspired by the sound of one organ more than any other—the Silbermann organ in Marmoutier. I'll never forget hearing that organ for the first time—it was eerie, how much like this organ it seemed. (Yuko said to me last week as we were talking about that organ that she got homesick when she heard it, it was so much like Old West.) Some interesting differences between that organ's home and this one make crucial differences in the way we hear them though, and I need to make clear what they are. First, of course, the church at Marmoutier is, shall we say, a bit bigger than Old West Church. Secondly, it's quite high, one of those places with two balconies, and the organ is in the second balcony, right under the ceiling, two stories above your head. Hearing that sound swirl around in that church makes one yearn for the same effect here—and Fisk said as much when he said "the acoustics of the West Church, which though by no means ideal, are free enough to permit the mind to imagine how ideal acoustics might sound."

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

What does any special organ do, after the last notes of yet another recital or church service have sounded? It reflects honor on the builder long after he has left this earth. It is the pride and joy of the church and congregation that houses it. It is a must - see item on the visiting organist's itinerary. It continues, year after year, to attract listeners. It continues, year after year, to attract players. Here's a very partial list of people who have given recitals here: Mireille Lagacé — Harald Vogel — Rene Saorgin — Guy Bovet — Peter Planyasvsky — Bernard Lagacé — Ton Koopman — Zsigmond Szathmary — Peter Williams — Umberto Pineschi — Christoph Albrecht — Montserrat Torrent — Susan Landale — Bert Matter — August Humer — Michael Radulescu — Jean Boyer; and those are only Europeans. If we list Americans, from NEC students to esteemed recitalists, we'd be here a lot longer! It lasts for generations, speaking of the aspirations of one generation to the next. It teaches its values to students—and everyone who plays it is a student. It inspires new music to be written. It gives new meaning to old music played on it. It forms community among those who love and care for it.

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

The feeling that, as this talk is now over, I think I've only just started to begin.

Page 1  Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5