Organ fantasy

August 29, 2007


It was organ week for me. This past weekend I had to good fortune to meet the warm and brilliant, Manuel Rosales, the man who, with Frank Gehry, co-designed the Walt Disney Concert Hall Organ and built it. I also ran into quite a few other organ enthusiasts, builders and players at Shinji Isozaki’s exhibit “36 Scenes in Los Angeles” which featured terrific water colors and ink illustrations of many of the places we Angeleno’s know and love. The organ connection is that his partner, Lee Burns, is an organist, author, city planner, retired UCLA professor, and long time friend.


The organist is a dying breed. There is a paucity of students of the organ in conservatories, schools, and departments around America. Jobs for organists are plentiful. Because of this scarcity of organists, pianists sign up for the job and either take lessons to learn, or they teach themselves.


The piano doesn’t really work for me as a substitute for an organ in a large resonant church, synagogue, or cathedral. It’s always so echo-y; the presence. The organ succeeds in its sheer ability to fill up the space with sound. Perhaps in the future, it will be electro-acoustic music that will fare best in a church acoustic in the future. (Pipes are too expensive to keep up, and electronic organs are quickly taking their place.)


So many people have “issues” with organ music. I’ve heard it a million times. “It reminds me of the church.” Yes, I’ve gotta admit, there is a lot of baggage.


What we really need is the Marilyn Manson of the organ to come along and blow everyone away with some new musical language and presentation. Teens will be lining up to come to church to hear MM play. S/He’ll go on tour and play in any denomination, and charge huge admission fees. (Churches by then will be paying taxes and need the revenue.) This Marilyn Manson organist dude will spawn a whole new generation of organists. The organ will come back to life and will be sought out as the sonic power that it has.



Fast forward to today: Mark Carlson sent me this YouTube video of the son of composer Larry Lipkis (pictured above) playing the organ. In this video, Rory Lipkis, age 10, plays the “Priere a Notre-Dame” from Leon Boellmann’s “Suite Gothique” on the Walt Disney Concert Hall Organ in Los Angeles, CA. Recorded August 13, 2007.

[Image: Manuel Rosales, Walt Disney Concert Hall Organ, Opus 24.]

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

citrus August 29, 2007 at 6:53 pm

All these years I’ve had the idea that church organs were a part of the composite ministry. Still feel that way.

Word. Sacrament. Architecture. Tradition. Music. Community. When any part becomes the whole the church is weakened, appearances notwithstanding.

Roger Bourland August 29, 2007 at 7:55 pm

The evolution of the organ in the context of churches would be an interesting study. Perhaps not unlike how Beethoven demanded louder pianos as he got more deaf, as churches got bigger, so did the organs.

I think organs and churches DO go together. My lament is that the love of learning to play the organ is on a decline and something needs to happen to bring some new life into the instrument and its literature.

I don’t want to deal with the issue of people who are anti-church and therefore anti-organ. That seems prejudicial.

Mark Carlson August 30, 2007 at 12:00 am

That video of Rory made my day. For one thing, I played that piece myself, back in my organist days, though I was probably the riper age of 15 or 16 at the time. And also, it was touching to see such a young person playing the organ so musically and with such obvious relish for the instrument.

I have a hunch you should re-word what you wrote about Manuel R. and Frank G. co-designing the organ. I think that they co-designed the facade of the organ, if that is what one calls the pipes that we see, and that Manuel did the design of the instrument itself.

Hmmm I just found this page of facts about the organ, which is very interesting.

In any case, it’s a wonderful instrument, isn’t it?

Brad Wood August 30, 2007 at 3:31 am

I confess that when I house-sat for Alden Ashforth and his partner on one of their pre-move forays to New Orleans, one of the principal treats at the end was their recently acquired Ahlborn-Galanti synthetic pipe organ (see at Despite AA’s fits of pique when the supplied amplifiers and speakers did not deliver the cataclysmic sound pressure levels he had thought were guaranteed by the vendor (“If I had wanted a CLAVICHORD, I would have bought….”), it was pretty impressive.

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