Off-Broadway Fun Meets Sunday Morning Church

December 2, 2015

Xiaoqian Zhu

Organist plays Finney Chapel Organ
An organist plays the organ in Finney Chapel.
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

When thinking about what to do late on a Friday night, an organ concert may seem like an unlikely choice. But Oberlin’s Friday Organ Pumps never fail to attract an audience with their creative performances and convival atmosphere.

Presented by organ majors in the Organ Pump Committee of Oberlin, Organ Pumps are held a few times each semester in Finney Chapel. They feature a variety of organ performances, sometimes performed round robin, when organists switch in and out while the song is being played, or accompanied by choirs and other musical instruments. The event’s organizers describe it as “a lively mix of total wackiness and legitimate musical performance.” David Kazimir ’99, one of the former hosts for the concerts, calls Organ Pump “Off-Broadway meets Sunday morning church.”

Friday night Organ Pump was created in winter 1992 when a group of organ majors decided to present organ as an instrument independent of religious services. The founding members felt few people were familiar with organ apart from church music. Their approach, a combination of professional playing and goofy antics, successfully drew the interests of local audiences, and a tradition was born.

Mitchell Miller, a senior double-degree organ performance and German studies major, is one of the current Organ Pump organizers. He says the planning process is relaxed and collaborative. “It's nothing formal, we just get together a few weeks before every organ pump and come up with themes, ideas, and pieces.” For Miller, part of Organ Pump’s appeal is increasing the profile of the instrument. “It’s wonderful for me as an organist to see people so excited by the organ,” he says.

The Halloween edition of Organ Pump in particular has become an indispensable part of celebrating the holiday in Oberlin. “Halloween Organ Pump has always been our most popular event,” Miller says. “In the past couple years, the organists have gotten much more into dressing up in costumes than we used to.” This year, student organists made the show even more fun by getting creative with their costumes and setting plots for the fans, according to Miller. “We had the traditional Toccata and Fugue in our signature round-robin style, Halloween carols, and brought back the chanting of the Oberlin police blotter by request of our fans.”

When asked about his favorite part of this year’s Halloween Organ Pump, Miller referenced the event’s two hosts, Annika Sundberg and Natalie Mealey. “They did a fantastic job.“Good hosts help energize the crowd, which is what we are aiming to do.” He says he also enjoyed Organ Pump’s signature finale tradition, when the audience has a chance to directly interact with the performers by lying on the stage as the final piece is played. “It’s lots of fun to see everyone run up onstage for the final piece.”

The next organ pump will be holiday-themed and held at midnight in Finney Chapel on December 11.

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