Last Sunday, some of us traveled to Canandaigua, NY to the Parsons Organ Builder’s Shop and took our new 44 rank, 3 manual and pedal pipe organ for a test drive. While not all of the 2600+ pipes were operational, the instrument was still spectacular. From the bench at the console, the walnut case rises nearly two and a half stories, trimmed with decorative woodwork that provides a frame for the polished tin facade pipes.
I arrived on Friday evening for a quick look, then returned on Saturday to help the staff install and quick tune 5 ranks of reed pipes, including the Swell division oboe and trumpet, the Great division trumpet, festival trumpet, and Positiv division Cromhorne. While I passed pipes into the case for Cal and Graham to install on the windchests, Peter was under the console, lying on the concrete floor like an auto mechanic doing an oil change, adjusting the mechanical key action and coupler mechanism. In between pipe installations, I climbed around inside the case, eventually making my way to the top, which at St. George’s will be 4 inches from the ceiling. It’s a long way up. The console itself is a beautiful piece of work, with custom veneers, curved bloodwood trim and dimmable lighting. The computerized combination action allows organists to store hundreds of sound combinations and recall them at the touch of a button. As Ellen Parsons quipped, the shop looked like an ant farm, with people running to and fro with pipes and pipe racks, adjusting, cleaning the wood shop and setting up for the open house on Sunday.
I got some practice time in on Sunday morning. After a three year wait, playing our new instrument for the first time was a special experience. The open house began at one PM. These are pretty eclectic events. Parsons places ads for the open house in the local newspapers, and many curiosity seekers show up to see what a pipe organ is all about. There were current and retired organists of course, but also lots of locals eager for a close look. Staff took people on tours of the organ’s interior for a look at the pipes up close. I was playing the Max Reger Toccata, which suddenly got very loud and caused a quick exit by the current tour group.
We got to hear some great playing by lots of organists. Fredericksburg native Weston Jennings, now a student of David Higgs at the Eastman School in Rochester, brought some of his colleagues, all of whom played from memory. Look for Weston to do a recital for us in the Spring. An older gentleman named Paul, who needed a walker to move around, played lots of familiar hymns as well as some theater organ standards. Parsons has three employees who are organists. Matt Parsons isn’t one of them, but jumped onto the bench and played the opening chords of “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. Not to be outdone, I countered with the ending of “In-a-gadda-da-vida” by Iron Butterfly.
The staff at Parsons is sad to see their newest creation leave the nest, and is packing it for shipment as I write. Delivery is scheduled for Monday October 11. Installation and adjustment will take about 7 weeks, so we should be up and running by December 1st.
“Non nobis Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam.” – Not ourselves Lord, but to you alone be the glory. – William Byrd