Pipes, Pedals of Praise; Organists United by Love of Instrument Traditionally Used in Christian Worship

By DeWitt, Patricia | The Florida Times Union, October 5, 2014 | Go to article overview

Pipes, Pedals of Praise; Organists United by Love of Instrument Traditionally Used in Christian Worship


DeWitt, Patricia, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Patricia DeWitt

They are the octopus-like manipulators of keys, pedals, buttons, tablets and slides.

They are church organists, and their group has been around for the past millennium, as long as organs have been used in churches.

As a city of churches, Jacksonville has many organists, about 80 of whom are members of the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

Despite the popularity of praise bands in some churches, organs and organists persist because of their versatility and excellence in accompanying congregational singing. Most area church organists also lead one or more choirs.

Tony Cruz serves St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church on Hendricks Avenue as its cantor, or "leader of the church's song." His full-time position also entails directing two handbell choirs and three singing choirs. Like many organists, he sees himself as a minister.

He sums it all up as "my dream job:" "I get to work with people, preach the gospel - not in the same manner as a pastor, but in the manner of a Bach chorale - provide music for the festivals of the church and play music that gathers people into the divine presence and sends them as servants into the world. There is nothing I would rather do."

LEARNING TO PLAY

Most organists had their first music lessons on the piano. This definitely helps with finding the keys on an organ, as well as the pedals, which are arranged the same way.

But the sound of a piano (usually classified as a hybrid combination of a stringed and percussion instrument) results from a hammer striking a string or group of strings, after which the sound dies away gradually. The sound of an organ, however, comes from many pipes powered by air. Each pipe resembles a wind instrument without any holes or keys. So when the organist presses a key, the note sounds until he or she takes the finger off.

It takes a pianist a while to get used to this - and to playing with one's feet.

"I think the toughest thing for any pianist is learning to use the feet and separating the tenor and bass lines," says Lynne Radcliffe, organist/choirmaster at St. Paul's By-the-Sea in Jacksonville Beach.

Zeek Smith, choir director at Community Presbyterian Church in Atlantic Beach, agrees. "Getting my feet to match the technique level of my fingers has been the biggest and most rewarding struggle."

What are the rewards of that struggle?

"As a lifelong pianist who has recently made the transfer to organ, I have loved the expansion of options for texture, timbre and color," Smith says. "While the piano remains an incredibly versatile instrument, the organ's copious banks of stops and registrations open up the door to a more orchestral sound."

Rather than making the move to the organ as an experienced pianist, some organists made a beeline for the instrument. Timothy Tuller, canon for music at St. John's Cathedrala (Episcopal), started the organ at the age of 8.

"For several years I'd been fascinated by the sound of the instrument in my childhood church, a small Presbyterian church in upstate New York. I hounded my parents until they bought a small electronic Kimball organ that I started taking lessons on. I got serious at age 14 and started taking lessons on the church organ."

Radcliffe finds that the most alluring aspect of the organ is the potential for variety.

"In many cases, the sheer size of the sound can be thrilling," she says. "I find the organ a better vehicle for improvisation due to the sustained sound and combinations of timbre."

VARIATION IN ORGANS

Pipe organs can range in size from a single keyboard to huge instruments with more than 10,000 pipes. They can be found in churches and synagogues.

The four basic kinds of pipes are principal, flute, string and reed. The first three come from pipes that work like whistles, with the air hitting a sharp edge, and the shapes make the timbres, or tonality, different. …

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