Magazine article The New Yorker

Pipes

Magazine article The New Yorker

Pipes

Article excerpt

It is possible that some New Yorkers remain unaware that July, 2008, marked the beginning of the International Year of the Organ, the King of Instruments no longer exercising quite the royal prerogative it once did. Not so at Middle Collegiate Church, in the East Village, which has invested five hundred thousand dollars in a new digital organ, designed by Cameron Carpenter, who since spring has been Middle Church's artist in residence. "This is by far the most adventurous, and daring, and flamboyant organ in the city," Carpenter explained the other Sunday, in the sanctuary. Such words might equally be applied to Carpenter, whose playing is unusually athletic (when off duty, he figure-skates), whose non-clerical performance wardrobe includes a clingy white T-shirt decked with Swarovski crystals, and who has an alternative identity as a gold-skinned, dance-mad club kid. "The alter ego Shane Turquoise is one that would ring some bells that the name Cameron Carpenter would not," he explained, raising a professionally tweezed eyebrow as he sprawled in a pew.

For those whose bells remain unstruck even by the name Cameron Carpenter, a quick resume: Carpenter, who is twenty-seven, is a graduate of Juilliard and a native of rural Pennsylvania, where his father is an engineer who builds industrial furnaces. Homeschooled until the fifth grade--"I was really delicate as a child, emotionally and psychologically, and my mom was loath to subject me to kids"--Carpenter began playing the organ at the age of four, after being inspired by a photograph of an organist mid-chord. At eleven, he became a chorister at the American Boychoir School. (He wasn't, and still isn't, religious.) "Even as the bus pulled up to the church where we were to perform, I became almost transfixed with this sense of approaching ecstasy," he recalled, his sentences seemingly honed for an as-yet-unwritten autobiography. "It was not even at the knowledge that there was a great organ. There was no poor organ or great organ to me; there was just the organ. I would be filled with this sense of wonder, just to experience the most humble pipe organ."

The enforced humility of the church organist--who is often hidden at the back of the church, obscured by a forest of pipes--is anathema to Carpenter, who last week was nominated for a Grammy Award and who rejects comparisons with the most celebrated organist of the twentieth century, Virgil Fox, by saying, "I have no interest in being the next Virgil Fox. …

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