Saturday, June 18, 2016

The neglect of an old friend....

I deplore it when things of beauty (in my perspective) are disused or unused. When I drive by a house that has a classic '67 Ford in the driveway, rusty and decrepit, I mourn. Or when I park in front of that 1920's-era building that is going to be torn down to make way for something else, I feel sad. Or even something that I treasured as a child or youth is allowed to be hidden or fall apart - I feel a keen sense of personal loss. I identify with inanimate objects, because I see the beauty and value in them.

Such is the loss I have felt these last few months for a musical instrument that gave me joy and inspiration.

A pipe organ. Specifically, the pipe organ at my family's old church in Glendale.


Very few of you know that at one time I was an aspiring church organist. In fact, it was through my organ studies that I became involved in choral music, and actually left my pursuit of being a church organist behind. In my youth and college years I had grand visions of leading congregations in worship through meditative preludes, uplifting hymn accompaniment, and finally, stirring postludes. I had plans to attend Biola College (back then it was just a "college") to minor in music and study with a well-known organist. All these plans were inspired by one thing.

A pipe organ. Specifically, the pipe organ at my family's old church in Glendale.

And now, sadly, I believe that instrument is no longer being used.

I was younger than Audrey when our church, heavily damaged by the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, had to rebuild. The new sanctuary was a lofty, A-frame design, with large exposed wood beams, a back wall of palos verdes stone with a small waterfall, and concrete floors. It was typical of how churches were being designed back then. It was to remind those in worship of being in nature. And it was blessed with a very fine large pipe organ. Unfortunately, the building committee nixed the idea of having exposed pipes, so you don't "see" the organ. You see these lofty large boxes with screen mesh in the front, and if the light is just right, you can see the pipes lit from behind. The console (the actual place the organist sits to play) was beautifully designed, with several white drawknob stops, and shiny silver toe pistons (buttons to allow the organist to change his or her selection of tonal color by the push of a toe). The console itself, to me, was lovely. And as a youth, I was occasionally given permission to practice on the instrument, which was always a highlight. The church we were attending at the time had just a small electric organ. To play on a real pipe organ was a treat. 

It has been 41 years since my family lived in Glendale, but I always have felt a connection to that church, and to that organ. I still remember its sounds, the warmth, the brilliance, the quiet stillness that it could create. And in the last few years, I have followed the church through social media, and even attended it's 125th anniversary. The organ was alive.  And as I sat in the worship service to celebrate 125 years of being a church, I rejoiced hearing those sounds again.  After the service I went once more to the console and spoke to the organist, feeling like that young kid idolizing the person at the console and wishing I could play. 

But lately, I've noticed things have changed. There is no staff organist. There is no choir or choir director. The organ sits. 

And I mourn. 

Here, once, was a beautiful instrument that could raise voices in praise at Easter, could herald joy at a wedding, could comfort the bereaved at a funeral, or could simply provide an hour's worth of beautiful and reflective practice - and it is silent. 

Now, this is not a commentary on how contemporary worship has pushed back traditional worship. Yes, I see that happening in a lot of churches, but I also see a strong hold onto the traditional worship environment, and I am pleased. But I still feel that keen sense of loss at this instrument - this one instrument that was so pivotal in my music life - silent now, and neglected.

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