Magazine article The American Organist

The Organ Historical Society in Philadelphia

Magazine article The American Organist

The Organ Historical Society in Philadelphia

Article excerpt

The city of the cheesesteak and the Liberty Bell was home base for the 60th anniversary convention of the Organ Historical Society. Running June 26 through July 1, with optional pre- and post-convention excursions, the confab bused some 500 fans as far afield as Wilmington, Delaware, and Atlantic City, New Jersey. Attractions included legendary instruments in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall and Philly's Macy's (formerly Wanamaker's) and Girard College.

The OHS has come a long way since its focus was primarily on 18th- and 19th-century instruments. The Philadelphia lineup ranged from the 1791 Tannenberg in Spring City, Pa. (on a postconvention excursion) to 21st-century instruments by Dobson, Rieger, and Mander. There were a couple of splendid Kimball theater organs as well as earlier 20th-century church instruments by E.M. Skinner, Aeolian-Skinner, and Möller.

There's a good deal of overlap between the OHS and the American Guild of Organists, but also a difference in focus. If the AGO focuses more on performances and education, the OHS is [ more about instruments-and that's how I've organized this review. Indeed, the Philadelphia crowd included quite a few organ enthusiasts who don't actually play, or barely do so-scientists, especially-but could discuss minutiae of specifications and wind! pressures. Apart from two dozen Biggs Fellows, college students with interest in the organ, their participation generously funded by the OHS, the attendance certainly trended mature; bus excursions could have been mistaken for AARP tours (say I as a member). But there were plenty of lively minds and personalities and, yes, the nightly cash bars and displays of music, books, and recordings were well patronized.

There were some frustrations. The bus company obviously had not carefully laid out trips, even to determining whether the big vehicles could negotiate narrow Philadelphia streets and intersec[ [ Although registrants were given a hefty new paperback book of essays related to area organ history (many of them reprints) and a collection of hymns by Philadelphia writers and composers, a relatively minimalist program book had very little of the documentation of instruments that has distinguished other recent OHS convention books. So many questions were left unanswered: What changes were made when, and by whom? It would have been nice, too, if performers had given more demonstrations of distinctive stops, but too many got carried away with spoken program notes that were rambling and too long-and often unnecessary.

Especially given the very long days-buses boarding as early as 8:00 A.M., not returning to the hotel until 10:30 P.M. or as late as midnight-I personally would have welcomed a four-day, rather than five-day, convention. In some cases, we could have done with one rather than two instruments of the same make and similar size and basic personality. But there were lots of interesting organs, and the general level of playing was commendable; some was exceptional. As always at OHS conventions, the hymn singing at almost every stop was stirring.

Some performances were more formal concerts; others were more in the nature of demonstrations. Evaluations here, of similarly varied lengths and detail, some grouped together, are products of more than four decades of writing about organs, organ music, and organists, but they're necessarily personal. We all bring different tastes, experiences, and expectations to what we see and hear. Feel free to disagree. Dissonance is the spice of music.


Steven Ball at Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, NJ.

Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall, opened in 1929 and renovated at the turn of the present century, is a barrel-vaulted arena seating as many as 14,700. Four hundred fifty-six feet long inside, with roof trusses spanning 310 feet and the ceiling soaring to 143 feet, it's a space enormous enough for helicopters to have flown around inside. Judging by Steven Ball's demonstration, from the seven-manual console sheltered in a stage-side enclosure topped by flameshaped lights, the 1932 Midmer-Losh organ is on similarly heroic scale. …

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