Magazine article The Tracker

A Century-Old Organ in the Andes

Magazine article The Tracker

A Century-Old Organ in the Andes

Article excerpt


IN THE HEART of the verdant Andean mountains lies the pleasant and peaceful city of Manizales, referred to as La Ciudad de las Puertas Abiertas (The City of the Open Doors). A century ago, it was a small, forgotten town without electricity or paved roads. Freight and commodities of all kinds, from eggs and coffee to a fully disassembled pipe organ had to be transported over high mountains and deep valleys by mule and ox drivers ("arrieros").


According to the records of Father Bernardo Merizalde, the idea of procuring an organ for the neo-Gothic Church of the Sacred Heart in Manizales arose on the morning of the last day of June 1903, in a sermon on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.1

During his sermon, Father Angel Vicente of the Order of St. Augustine enthusiastically proposed to his parishioners that they offer of a monumental pipe organ to the Lord. Although few knew what a pipe organ was, they reacted enthusiastically and joyfully to the proposal. Five months later, prior to having received a single donation, the Augustinian Friars wrote to the Alberdi-Marti firm of Barcelona, Spain, a company that continued to build organs "a la vieja usanza" (in the olden style), expressing their interest in acquiring an organ for their church.2

"A la vieja usanza" probably referred to a mechanical-action organ with a few "jeux-de-fonds," strong mixtures, and a few loud, strident reeds, common in Spanish Baroque organs. As we will see, the builder succeeded very well.

Since the friars had yet to raise funds and could count only on the public's enthusiasm and small donations, they undertook a series of fundraising ventures in the form of dinners, plays, festivals, and the raffling of small parcels of land donated by two parishioners. The following note appeared on the reverse side of the raffle tickets: "We raffle off these parcels of land donated through the piety of two people for the purpose of providing the Redeemer of the World with a pipe organ worthy of our race, the people of Antioquia." During the three years that the organ was being built, fundraising continued in Manizales and nearby towns.

The Marquis de Comillas, the owner of a Spanish transportation company, "graciously acceded in a noble and gentle manner" to the friars' request to donate his firm's services. Thus, our organ began a very long journey from its birthplace in Barcelona to a seaport along Colombia's northern coast from whence it commenced the most hazardous part of its journey. First, the organ, with its large 16' pipes, was loaded on a small boat for a 4oo-mile journey down the Magdalena River. Then it was loaded on mules and oxen to climb more than 7,000 feet through the central range of the Andes to Manizales, where it finally arrived in June 1907. It was inaugurated in a solemn and joyous ceremony on the 2ist of June 1908:

At 8:00 in the morning, the Bishop, vested in pontifical robes and accompanied by several priests, ascended to the choir loft to give a solemn blessing. At its conclusion, the organ broke out in torrents of symphonic music, which Father Leonardo Azcona and Brother Manuel Pérez alternated in playing for the rest of the day.3

At a time when only small guitars where played, it is not difficult to imagine the joy and astonishment shared by the peasants when first exposed to the powerful tonesand delicate melodies of their organ.


It is now customary to highlight characteristics of organs on the basis of their national origin; thus, we distinguish organs as German Baroque, French Romantic, English, American, or Italian and organists tend to select their programs based upon the main features of the organ to be played. Notwithstanding its long tradition, the Spanish organ industry is not usually included in the list of principal organ styles and thus merits some discussion here, precisely because it has been ignored by many writers. …

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