Special moments in Oberlin: an organ demonstration

On Thursday, February 16th, a group of residents and friends of Kendal at Oberlin were treated to a delightful presentation by James David Christie, Oberlin College Professor of Organ and one of his very talented students. Resident Marie E. writes about the experience below. Many thanks to Jim, Tripp and Helen for wonderful and entertaining program.

It was one of the special moments which occur frequently here in Oberlin. Kendal at Oberlin had arranged an organ presentation in Finney Chapel as part of an open house for potential residents.

The Kay Africa Organ at Finney Chapel

The Kay Africa Organ at Finney Chapel

Jim Christie, long time Oberlin College organ professor began with a talk, relaxed, funny, informative and threaded through with anecdotes*. We learned that Oberlin College has the most and best organs of any college in the world! The world! And they span several centuries. They are located all over town, in churches, concert halls, classrooms and private residences. They have often been donated by alumni. They have been gifted by churches. There are partnerships between the College and churches, in which the church allows students to use its organ and the College provides the upkeep.

At the Keyboard of the Kay Africa Organ
At the Keyboard of the Kay Africa Organ

Finney Chapel has an organ built in 2002. It had been tuned between 4 am and 9 am that morning. It’s beauty, even silent, is overwhelming. It is huge, largely wood, with many different sized silver pipes, stops, pedals, and lights.  Finney, itself a wood lined, clear windowed, beautifully lighted building, is its comfortable home.

But, when played by a college senior, Dexter Kennedy, from Detroit, the organ was magnificent. Carillion of Westminster, by Louis Vierne, started majestically and grew and grew in sound until Finney was straining at the edges, and one’s body expanded to take it all in. I cannot describe the beauty of that moment.

We were taken inside the organ, where the mostly tin pipes are three stories high and cannot be touched for fear of affecting the timbre of the sound. Computer memory is atored inside the organ. There is a plaque honoring Nicholas Owen Perry, who died in its building, short of 20 years old.

All in all, this experience was exhillarating!

* One anecdote: Jim was asked to play the organ at Senator Ted Kennedy’s funeral in the Basillica in Boston. (Most Kennedys were memorialised in a Catholic church, but, because of his vote for a woman’s right to chose, this Kennedy was denied that right). Jim was in Europe at the time of the request. Air France waived a $6000 payment for the ticket home when he explained why he needed to fly that day. At the service, there were five presidents in the front row. Jim had prepared music for the exit after the service, but had no idea that it would take almost an hour. The presidents sat and sat. Jim ended up improvising for 40 minutes! He said, by the end, he might have been playing Baa Baa Black Sheep !