I know little about music, rarely listen to it, even in the car, (I like silence) but am just beginning to learn jazz piano simply because I do like the sound of that. I’m currently seventy-eight years old being taught by a former Nothwestern University professor of classical music who just turned eighty-six. We’re making progress.
Yet when I was offered two free tickets to the centennial celebration of the Skinner organ at the Music Institute of Chicago in Evanston, I invited a friend and off we went.
I have not been the same since. . . .
Nathan Laube came on stage, tall, young, handsome, sweet-looking; he flipped the tails of his tuxedo and sat down at this odd-looking organ and prepared to make music. I asked my friend how this could be a pipe organ since there didn’t seem to be any connectors to the pipes semi-hidden behind some louvers above. A woman in the row ahead of us turned and looked at me like I didn’t belong there.
Laube pulled out banks of knobs on his left, pushed some in again, pulled out others on his right, pushed and pulled others on both the right and left, did something mysterious to some squarish levers in front, raised his hands to hover over the four keyboards layered one above the other residing quietly before him and then lowered his hands to touch his fingers to selected keys to begin the magic that would transform the auditorium of this former Christian Science church into a world of sounds that none before had ever heard.
Crashing sounds of harmonious chords moving quickly up and down the scales alternated with quieter moments of simpler chords toying with each other here and there as Laube’s feet moved over those wooden thingies beneath. Suddenly a foot would leap onto a pedal and push it hard, while the audience quickly moved its collective eyes back to the hands leaping from the keyboards to pushing and pulling knobby stops and then, quicker than lightening, moving back to keys on one or another keyboard-layer seemingly stretching into the distance.
Bach-like sounds, technically executed with precision, transformed into the melodious sounds of Schumann and Rachmaninoff in imagined juxtaposition with Saint-Saëns, teasing us with occasional dissonant sounds, until finally coming to the beloved Mozart. But it wasn’t until Laube showed us the beauty of his own interpretations of the classics that we truly learned what this Skinner organ could do.
How could ANY single musical instrument produce the sound of rain, of running water, of fantastical fairy music, or of gurgling. Yes, gurgling. I wanted to hold on to these sounds forever, they were so beautiful, so amazing. Yet they were fleeting, and perhaps the varied ears of this musically appreciative audience perceived other sounds that I could not hear.
When Nathan Laube launched into his final piece of the concert, Strauss’s Die Fledermaus as he interpretively transcribed it himself, the audience sitting out there in the darkened auditorium were totally enthralled, captivated, and emotionally sprawled at his feet with wonder and awe. Curtain call after curtain call. Two more pieces performed for an audience that never wanted to let him go.
I am at home now, writing this, trying to share this experience with you as best I can. It’s broad daylight outside on a cool sunny spring day. Tonight my friends and I are going outside to see the meteor shower that is supposed to appear in the night sky. I will be enthralled. I will again be filled with wonder and awe. I will fool around with my new super-camera trying to take videos to record the sight.
And while doing so, I will remember the sounds of the ancient organ , and I will think about how one extraordinary musician flipped his coat tails and brought to me an experience in sound that I will never EVER forget.