Today instead of my usual face melting ear splitting rock show outing, I decided to gain a little culture and check out my first ever pipe organ recital. I was invited by a friend who is the most knowledgeable person I know on this sort of music so I was excited to experience something new and maybe even learn something. The show was held at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Green Hills to christen the new beautiful pipe organ. The featured performer was world renowned organist Janette Fishell, whose profile page in the program was full of accolades, accomplishments, and glorious places she has played.
The Covenant Presbyterian Church is a new building, only having been open since last Easter. The sanctuary was pretty impressive. All the beautiful woodwork stood out against the stone walls and the stained glass, which was more abstract than your typical portraits of saints and biblical characters. I found myself imagining being in an old church in Rome or London centuries ago when those places were brand new. It also made me think of how great this place will look in about 500 years. The acoustics of course were enormous with the high ceilings and stones, making even the slightest cough or throat clear boom out in echos.
The man introducing the show referred to the organ as "the instrument". Calling this an instrument is like calling the Titanic "a boat". The radiant steel pipes scaled the wall and the huge sound filled the sanctuary and rang out even after she stopped playing. The range of power was incredible, playing some parts that make you want to raise your arms and hands in that "summoning God" type way, while other softer parts were like a fantasy sequence in a Disney movie. One section would end with thunderous peaking chords only to lead into a whimsical light-hearted portion. With compositions from Johann Bach, Georg Bohm, and Charles Widor, among others, the song selection seemed to cover a range of different ways to showcase this "instrument". My favorite song of the night was her bluesy rendition of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus", the song she learned specifically to play in Nashville. It sounded like a song Ray Charles might play if he were to sit down at this magnificent organ.
Janette Fishnell truly was an exceptional organist. The entire performance sounded flawless. To my untrained ear, there were some chords that sounded like she was just mashing her palms on the keyboard, but she always made them fit in and flow gracefully. Her feel for dynamics was also impressive with her ability to crush us by stomping on the bass pedals and then twinkle around on the keyboard. In addition to being musically entertaining, Fishnell was fun to watch as she navigated all the different tasks involved in her recital. From pulling stops to turning pages to playing with all four appendages, I half expected her to whip out a canvass and a brush and start painting a masterpiece while she was at it. The way her limbs flowed on that keyboard sometimes made her look like a marionette whose strings were being manipulated from above.
I did end up learning a lot at this show, as well a enjoying myself. This timeless genre of music, while not something I would likely play on a road trip or party mix, is yet another art form that I should definitely learn more about. Just the fact that it's been around for centuries proves that it's a special thing. There aren't many other genres in which the current star performers come out and play songs that were written 200 years ago, mixed in with their own compositions. If you're a musician, rock, jazz, or otherwise, and you can't draw some sort of inspiration from this performance, you have a problem with yourself. This music is as relevant now as it was centuries ago and will be for years to come.