Going to church on Sundays and then having brunch with the family is a time-tested ritual for many. This Sunday (after brunch), music lovers have the opportunity to spend some extra time in the cool interior of First Presbyterian Church to hear a selection of inspirational organ music.
It is not a fundraiser or celebration of a special day, rather the members of the Victoria Crossroads Chapter of the American Guild of Organists wish to promote the beauty and rich history of organ music through a free concert open to the public.
Marylynn Fletcher, Professor Emeritus at Victoria College, holds a PhD in piano from the University of Texas-Austin. She will perform on Sunday. Fletcher explained the group’s purpose was to “promote professionalism” and “the fact that there is a need for organists”.
“We’re trying to encourage young keyboard players who know how to play the pianist to play the organ,” she said, adding, “I’m supposed to retire. I’m one of the few people in town who can play the organ and don’t have a church job. So I played three Sundays in May. I played three Sundays in June and will play three Sundays in July.”
Many local churches, especially those with traditional services, have an organ. They are found in Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, Episcopal churches and many more.
Fletcher began studying the piano at a young age. She attended Evansville University prep school and when she was about 10 years old her music teacher encouraged her to learn organ too, so they split her lessons between piano and organ. “They’re different. They’re very different,” she said.
Glenn Hunter’s PhD in Musicology is also from UT-Austin, but his is Organ. “The real difference,” Fletcher said, “is the way we do things.” Hunter will also perform on the Sunday of the concert. He is the musical director of the Catholic Church “Cathedral of Our Lady of Victory”.
Hunter said to her, “Organists don’t play octaves. Because that’s what a coupler is for. You know, you can play a note on the organ and you can get a lot depending on which stops you pull.”
Fletcher said organ music’s historical association with faith and worship is not what most people expect. “Originally they didn’t allow instrumental music in the churches because instrumental music was associated with dancing, drinking and feasting, right? And so it was considered… a bit of rebellion in there. You shouldn’t have done it. And then they got organs.” Organs were seen as a way to keep the priest and the congregation busy.”
Fletcher added another interesting story, Fletcher said when she was in Paris years ago and toured one of the giant pipe organs in one of the big churches there, she was told that five people were brought out of prison to pump the bellows when it was played.
The organ of the First Presbyterian Church is unusual. “It’s the only church I know of that has antiphonal pipes.” That means there are pipes both in the back and in the front.
“The main pipe cabinet is hidden behind the altar in First Presbyterian Church and you can’t see any of it … then up on the back balcony, against the back wall, there are some pipes too,” Fletcher said. It’s like having a stereo organ.
Fletcher said she always looks forward to playing an organ like the one in First Presbyterian. “There are just so many ways to use stops. It was a bit overwhelming at first. It was like, ‘Oh man, it’s like a kid in a candy store. Which do I choose? I can’t have them all.’ But that gives you the power to make choices… you can actually change some of the way you tune the music.”
On a piano, how hard you hit the keys determines how loud it is. However, with an organ it is crucial how many stops you pull and which stops you use, how loud they are.
On Thursday, Fletcher received tips from Robert Wyatt, the choirmaster of First Presbyterian. Wyatt would normally join the group but is recovering from a rotator cuff injury and is still in a sling.
Since the great pipe organ is partially digital, he showed Fletcher the ins and outs of computer settings to maintain an organist’s preferences. As confusing as it looked to an outsider, Fletcher had no trouble finding the sounds, tones and “stops” she wanted.
Wyatt said computer settings prevent one player from affecting another’s performance. He explained that each note has a separate pipe and the pipes are drawn in sets called “ranks”. It’s the ranks of pipes that determine the “voice” of the organ, Wyatt said.
Obviously, the stretch offered by the ranks was a little too much for Fletcher at times. “There are too many choices,” she exclaimed, laughing.