Even in New York City, it doesn’t take much to realize how small the world can be at times.
Candice and I had a flashback to our wonderful 15 years of living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia when we realized that Grace Church – just four blocks from our friends’ apartment in Greenwich Village – is home to one of the most astounding Taylor & Boody organs (Opus 65) I’ve seen. (More on that in a minute.) George Taylor and John Boody are longtime friends as well as world-class organbuilders, and as soon as I found this on the Grace Church website, it was clear where we would be on Sunday morning.
It all started coming back as we entered the church. Candice and I had watched this organ being installed through John Boody’s Facebook page. Kate Harrington – our friend and the wonderful daughter of dear friends Jim and Constance Harrington – was one of the pipe makers for this organ and helped with the installation. Andrew, when he was at Brown University, stopped by to see the organ being installed and chatted with John and George. We knew this organ.
So today was book-ended by two wonderful services of music on a magical organ.
This morning, we went to a Eucharist and heard the choirmaster and organist – Dr. Patrick Allen – take the instrument through its paces with a beautiful prelude and postlude, a wonderful improvised intro to In the Bleak Midwinter as well as a thoughtful rendering of Lift Every Voice and Sing in celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
We returned this afternoon for an hour-long organ “meditation” (part of Grace’s gift to the city, six days a week). And this is where this beautiful, 77-stop instrument was allowed to really shine.
Patrick (by this time we had met him following the morning service and were on a first name basis), had programmed a Sunday afternoon meditation that called on different eras of music and different colors from the instrument. Pieces by Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, Johann Pachelbel, J.S. Bach, Gerre Hancock, and Louis Vierne were featured. Bach’s “Präludium und Fuge in e-moll, BWV 533” sounded right at home on this organ, while the “Air” by Gerre Hancock – a composer I was not familiar with* – was quiet and meditative: a perfect fit for a late afternoon respite in the bustling city.
As we talked with Patrick and looked at the two beautiful instruments at Grace (they also have a small continuo – Opus 61), I began thinking about how many of the 73 (to date) Taylor & Boody organs I had seen in my lifetime. While I won’t try to see them all (this doesn’t equal my quest to visit all 32 major league baseball stadiums), I still am off to a good start. Here’s the list so far (with the ones I’ve heard live in bold font):
- Opus 3 – Westminster Presbyterian Church, Charlottesville, VA
- Opus 11 – St. Helena’s Episcopal Church, Beaufort, SC
- Opus 24 – Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA
- Opus 27 – St. Thomas Episcopal Church Fifth Avenue, New York City, NY
- Opus 34 – Trinity Episcopal Church, Staunton, VA (The organ in our home church in Staunton, which includes some walnut from a tree that we cut down in our side yard and donated to the project – we visit “our” organ every time we stop in at Trinity.)
- Opus 40 – Restoration of 1800 David Tannenberg Organ, Winston-Salem, NC
- Opus 47 – 1798 David Tannenberg Organ, Winston-Salem, NC
- Opus 61 – Grace Church in New York City, New York City, NY
- Opus 65 – Grace Church in New York City, New York City, NY
- Opus 72 – Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, MD
Which makes 10 out of 73…and some I haven’t seen are pretty easy to visit (such as Opus 70 at the Virginia Theological Seminary). Perhaps I’ll set a goal to see one-quarter of these instruments in my lifetime. That sounds like a good bucket list number. And as long as George, John, and their talented staff of organbuilders continues to turn out beautiful instruments, I’ll just keep stretching that goal.
Thanks George, John, Patrick and all for a wonderful gift to Grace Church, the city, and two travelers who got a bit homesick for the valley while in the Big Apple.
More to come…
*After posting this, Andrew texted me to say that Gerre Hancock was one of the best improvisers and American organists ever and the long-time organist at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue. Several friends of Andrew studied under him.