It's Friday, midnight. Students scream ecstatically as the night's M.C.-sporting lime-green tuxedo frills, vintage sneakers, and wild curls-scales the stage of Finney Chapel. The scene is reminiscent of an early 80s rock tour, complete with a frenzied audience dressed to dance. Graduate student Patrick Mitten '98 starts spouting the praises of the Cavaille-Coll school of organ building. Welcome to the season's first Friday Night Organ Pump.
Established five years ago by organ performance majors Bruce Frank '92 and Erik Suter '95 to draw an unusual audience-students waiting to go to the Wilder disco-Organ Pumps continue to be popular. Students perform on an instrument constructed by E.M. Skinner in 1914 and rebuilt by Aeolian-Skinner in 1955. Altered at a time of transition in organ-building techniques, the instrument unfortunately lacks the necessary projection and desired range to tackle effectively the kind of repertoire for which it was intended. A new organ will soon remedy the situation.
During the weeks following Commencement 2001, Finney Chapel will be strewn with organ-builder's tools as a new organ is installed. Initial work will begin in the summer of 2000 and will continue into the following year without interfering with the building's busy schedule.
The new symphonic organ will be built by C. B. Fisk, Inc., a renowned firm that has led in the recent revival of tracker instruments and 19th-century French organ-building techniques, particularly those of French master-builder CavaillŽ-Coll. The instrument is designed to fill a significant gap in Oberlin's distinguished collection. With more speaking power, clearer voicings, and greater expressive range than the current Finney Chapel instrument, the Fisk organ will be ideal for the performance of 19th- and 20th-century repertoire, particularly French romantic literature for which no suitable organ currently exists at Oberlin.
Plans call for retaining the existing faŤade and case-work, part of Cass Gilbert's original design for Finney Chapel. The keydesk, however, will be housed in the center of the organ case several feet above floor level, freeing stage space currently occupied by the Aeolian-Skinner's large console.
In conjunction with the new organ's installation, acoustician Dana Kirkegaard, among the foremost practitioners in orchestral hall acoustics, has been retained to ensure that the project does not damage Finney Chapel's acoustics. Among his recent projects is Chicago's renovated Orchestra Hall. Construction and delivery should be complete by the fall of 2001, although two "voicers" from C.B. Fisk will remain on campus for several months to adjust the organ's sound quality pipe by pipe.
Once completed, the organ will be pressed into service in a variety of capacities, not just late night concerts. It will be available for everything from Musical Union concerts and orchestral parts with the Oberlin Orchestra to solo recitals and music for College convocations.
The $1,185,000 construction cost is being covered by outside donations and the sale of the old organ. Kay Africa of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, gave the bulk of the funds in an unsolicited bequest in 1991; additional gifts were then received from the late Richard Connelley '50 and the Phoebe Haas Foundation.
Come 2001, leave your gel at home. The hair-raising experience of Organ Pumps will be the sound of a truly symphonic organ swelling from gossamer pianissimos to apocalyptic fortissimos in the service of music by Franck, Saint-SŠens, Messiaen ...-- by Tsitsi Jaji '98
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