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ISSUE 120 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/2/2007

Celebrating Boe’s new organ: From lightning strike to luminous music

By Andrea Horbinski
Staff Writer

Friday, March 2, 2007

The renewed Boe Chapel seems to lend itself to performers making stylish entrances, and Cantorei was no exception on the night of Saturday, Feb. 24 at the dedication hymn festival celebrating the chapel, its new worship books and, most of all, the new Holtkamp organ. The choir filed in and lined both sides of the chapel as well as the choir loft, and several choristers doubling as bell ringers accompanied their peers as they sang the opening hymn.

Before that, however, President David R. Anderson ’'74 began the evening by telling the crowd that “we are assembled here because the time has come.” Anderson then called representatives of each company taking part in the renovations – the architects, the builders, the organ makers and the publishers – to the front of the chapel along with Assistant Vice President for Facilities Pete Sandberg to answer whether everything was ready for use. The officials responded “yes,” but when Anderson asked, “Is that your final answer?” they clarified that , "I't’s not done, but it’'s certainly ready,"” to the audience’s amusement.

Many of the hymns Cantorei sang, including “"Comfort, Comfort Now My People”" and “"Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia,"” were performed during this year’s Christmas Fest. The service also included several other college favorites such as "“Golden Breaks the Dawn,"” last heard at this year’'s opening convocation.

With the exception of the ungracefully phrased "“In the Singing,”" all the songs were well chosen and, as almost goes without saying when referring to Cantorei, excellently performed.

Indeed, the Chapel’'s revamped acoustics and the organ itself were the real stars of the show. Boe Chapel, which I fondly used to describe as the acoustic equivalent of a barn, no longer hinders performers but actively helps them: its acoustics are resonant and carrying without too much echo. The Holtkamp organ, which cost the school more than $1,000,000, was clearly well worth the expense.

The organ'’s “subwoofer,” the back organ, won’'t be installed and ready until autumn, but the instrument was already leaps and bounds ahead of itself on Saturday. Its sound is rich and dense, ethereal at times but never weak.

In the performance of Benjamin Britten’s “"Te Deum in C"” the organ proved itself capable of matching the choir as an equal and not just as an accompaniment. Its sound was clear and harmonious, well-balanced among its own tones and not overpowering, and particularly supple in the low tones and never mushy.

Dr. John Ferguson, Cantorei'’s director and the school’'s principal organist, really went nuts during “"When in Our Music God Is Glorified."” The organ took two stanzas solo during this piece, showing off just a few of the organ’'s possible sound effects, including an impressive palette of aural colors and bell-like tones, with an overall Gothic feeling.

That Gothic feeling was sustained through the postlude, Jean Langlais’' "“Hymne d’'Actions de Grâces (Te Deum),"” played by Artist in Residence Catherine Rodland ’'87. The hymn was an adaptation of a Gregorian piece, and Rodland used its completely different style to showcase more of the organ’s capabilities. Though at times the organ sounded almost like it was shouting, Rodland demonstrated its depth, its excellent ability to play in three registers simultaneously and its wide range of dynamics. When the back organ is installed, I imagine we’'ll be able to feel the lowest notes vibrate in our very lungs.

In his opening reflection Pastor Bruce Benson noted that, in the case of the plans for the Chapel, now “words have become walls and floors, pipes and pages, keys and colors...not word made flesh, but words made substance.” The Holtkamp organ has turned a lightning strike into luminous music.

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