“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
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It’s amazing when a magician snaps his fingers and a ball disappears right in front of our eyes. But it’s beyond amazing to witness first hand, masters of magic like Siegfried and Roy causing an elephant to evaporate into thin air not 20 feet from where you’re sitting as I once did in the 1980s.
However, the magician’s manual dexterity and manipulation of the mind are not responsible for some of the magical things disappearing from everyday life—often without our noticing the absence until they are nearly gone.
A little more than 20 years ago, my retired and world-traveled neighbor and I sat in the open doorway of his garage “man cave” spending a Saturday afternoon enjoying idol chitchat in the shade of huge hardwood trees resplendent with fall colors. Making the afternoon most memorable was organ music drifting across the street on the fall breezes.
Yep, organ music. The lady across the street, once a professional organist in New York, was known to pass an occasional Saturday afternoon playing her heart out with the windows in her house open for all to hear. She played because she didn’t want to forget how adding how the music made her happy as it brought back memories of people and events from throughout her life. Music of any kind performs that same magic for me.
My fascination with the majestic melodies of an organ originated somewhere around my second or third-grade year in Seymour, Texas, where we lived at the time. Don’t ask me details, who it was other than my mother’s friends, or why we were treated to a mini recital. Those details are foggy, but vivid are the memories of being mesmerized by the music. I was small and it seemed enormous.
Not only was the sound large, but so was the instrument with its semi-circular row of foot pedals, multiple keyboards, and an assortment of buttons. Mom’s friend skillfully used every extremity she possessed with hands moving across the different keyboards and both feet dancing on the pedals. I was captured by the music that filled the room. While that was my first recollection of seeing an organ, and I’ve seen few since, memories of the music and the times in life it evokes are many.
Perhaps it’s fair to surmise my appreciation comes from my mother. Besides her friend who played, she also listened to “Ken Griffin at the Console” every afternoon on the Mount Pleasant, Texas, AM radio station KIMP. FM radio was yet to arrive. Griffin was one of the many popular organists of the era whose music filled the airwaves and the record stores before WWII and into the 50s and 60s.
Being a one-car family, mom took dad to work and kids to school then ran the reverse route in the afternoons. The routine ended with her parked in front of Perry Brothers about 5:15 with a carload of kids waiting for dad to close up while she listened to the radio.
Organ music records were also standard fare at the skating rink, my hangout well into high school. Although rock-and-roll and pop music were the predominant records played, rink proprietors played organ records as well for the “older” skaters like mom and her friends.
Enjoying the music and the memories that fall afternoon a couple of decades ago, it occurred to me that I had not heard organ music in East Texas in a long time. And if what I am reading 20 years later is true, we could be nearing the end of time for the organ.
Supporting opinions offered include the view that churches may be the last bastion of organ music and that audience is diminishing where traditional hymns are giving way to contemporary praise music. Another reported factor is the difficulty of finding organ players as the current generation of organists reach retirement age with fewer music students interested in learning to play the instrument.
Will organs and organists disappear right in front of our eyes like the magician’s elephant in Las Vegas? Will they someday be gone like the magic of shade tree Saturday afternoons with neighbors and organ music in the breeze?
I hope not. But for now, I’ll hang on to Mom’s Ken Griffin records and keep that little hardwood tree in my backyard healthy…just in case I need a dose of magic.
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