There was a lot of press coverage on the near miraculous survival of the Notre Dame pipe organ. The flames didn’t get it and the fire hose water was channeled to the side of the instrument by stonework detail. While French president Emmanuel Macron’s pledge/wish to have the cathedral restored in five years is probably impractical, financial contributions have come from all around the world for restoration. The daily recitals will be heard again. It is my hope that some of this publicity might generate interest in the pipe organs in Aspen.
The organ is far and away the oldest musical instrument still in use today. Records from ancient Greece show a primitive pipe organ as early as 200 B.C. It found its way into churches around 800 A.D. It was Mozart who coined the phrase “The King of Instruments,” though he wrote very little for it. That said, surprisingly, it is not the piano with the most repertory, but rather the organ. There are a huge number of compositions from the Renaissance and the Baroque period. The piano historically is the new kid on the block.
The pipe organ has grown in size over time. The Notre Dame organ at 8,000-plus pipes is large but by no means the biggest. That honor goes to the Wanamaker organ in the Philadelphia department store, with 28,750 pipes. Truthfully, the Boardwalk Auditorium organ in Atlantic City is bigger, but only about one fourth of it is playable. One pipe makes one sound. There are 61 notes on an organ keyboard. And while there are such things as mixtures which have more than one pipe per key there aren’t a lot of them in an organ.
The organ is called the first great synthesizer for its ranks (sets of pipes) imitate many orchestral instruments. You will find strings on the organ and in the case of the Wanamaker organ there are 150 ranks, but an organ the size of Notre Dame has only five. Aspen’s Community Church has the largest pipe organ on the Western Slope with over 2,000 pipes and just two strings. Pipes on this Aspen organ run from the size of a pencil to more than 16 feet tall. Organs like Notre Dame have bass pipes more than 32 feet high. Trinity Church in Denver has a 32-foot one that’s so big you could crawl into it. Pipe organs also have many kinds of flute ranks and reeds galore — trumpets, trombones, French horns, oboes, bassoons and even something called a vox humana (human voice). The Community Church organ has one.
The Community Church doesn’t have daily recitals but does offer several every year.