We Made Beautiful Music Together
This theme has been manhandled here many times, but never before with the pious urgency that prevails this morning.
The subject is revived by the inaugural recital on the Van den Heuvel organ at the Church of the Holy Apostles in New York City, March 3. This is the Episcopal church with the celebrated soup kitchens that feed the hungry, which is another story, and so is the story of how it lost its great organ in a fire and restored it in a long, expensive, but successful effort. The new organ, of interminable parts and ponderous tons, was in place by March 3, when Ben van Oosten, organist at The Hague, came to demonstrate the new organ's ability. And the nave resounded as never before. The organ does not require the services of a boy to pump.
I was not invited to attend this dedicatory program, and as a consequence I did not attend. But I was free that evening and could have gone. I might have lent dignity and charm to the program, which had otherwise been prepared meticulously by a large committee of able people. I am not a musician and I am not an organist, but my credentials are on record and my competency is historical. I may very well be the last of my kind - the remaining alumnus of the Guild of Former Pipe Organ Pumpers. I appear in the records of the First Parish Church (Congregational) of Freeport, Maine, where I am enshrined week after week under "disbursements" in the hand of Edward H. Davis, parish treasurer, who would write: "Boy to pump, 25 cents."
Not too long ago, I was told my old organ is still playing the old hymns every Sunday, but it long since was fitted with an electric blower. Many former pumpers were thrown out of work when electric blowers came along. I, it happened, retired. I left home to pursue my education, and for several years new boys were found, one after another, and one day the aged instrument gave up and needed either permanent retirement or expensive repairs.
I'm glad the parish fathers decided to repair, but it took time and much money. When the organ, good as new, was finally returned to its place, the Freeport parish also had an inaugural recital. But as the restored organ now had an electric bellows, I was not consulted. Now, I was not consulted again, and it goes to show how little respect the modern world of music holds for us veterans of a lost talent.
Once in my career as an organ pumper, I was involved in the cleaning and tuning of my instrument. The parish had engaged a gentleman to come for this exercise, and when he arrived I was home cleaning out the poultry house. Mr. Davis found me, and said the organ tuner would need my help for part of two days. It was school vacation, so I was free.
The man and I completely unlimbered the organ, and everything was cleaned and wiped. I came the next morning, and we put it back together. Even the stool on which Miss Pratt, the organist, sat was wiped and given furniture polish. And when the last great pipe was reseated over the small hole through which the wind would come to be transformed into lovely music, the man turned to me with a courtly bow to say, "And now, sir, if you will favor me, we'll see if we have everything a-right!" I pumped, and the man played.
And talk about inaugural recitals! Just the two of us. I pumped as I never pumped for Miss Pratt, and he played as no Congregational organ was ever played. He didn't monkey around with the old Watts hymns. Started off with the Camptown racetrack, and rode home again with "That Ragtime Couple Over There." We met Louie at St. Louis at the fair, and we did "Yankee Doodle" and "A Hot Time in the Old Town." The man played on, and I kept the gauge high.
We did the overture from William Tell, and we did the Toreador's song. We did the Yale Boola, and Scotland's Burning, Fire, Fire, Fire, Fire! We had winds running through that organ like a southerly blow at Pemaquid Ledge. The man rocked back and forth on Miss Pratt's clean stool, and kicked the pedals as if on a bike on the Tour de France. My tongue was hanging down and my arms were numb. Still I pumped, and still he played, and our staid old First Parish Church rocked in its own jubilation and joy.
THEN I grew up, but for many years I came home every Easter to go with my mother and father to that church, and the different Miss Pratts would strum that beautiful organ with the Sunday respect that was due. I would listen to "O God Our Help in Ages Past," and other durable favorites. Of course I knew them all from having pumped them so very many times when I was the boy to pump, 25 cents.
There was the old story of the celebrated organist who was applauded tumultuously, and said, "And I will conclude with 'The Afternoon of a Faun.' " But no music came, and the boy to pump stuck his head out from behind the curtain and said, "And now we will play 'The Afternoon of a Faun.' "
I never told my parents how that beloved old organ could rip things apart when the tuner and the boy to pump let themselves go. We did have a rip-snortin' good time, faintly clerical as it was. And as we parted, the man to tune said to me, "I trust you will have your emolument from Mr. Davis?" I did not. Some things are beyond price. As a former pipe organ pumper, I wish the Church of the Holy Apostles well.