By Brooke Whitaker
Don’t get me wrong: I like the sounds of the pipe organ as much as the next person, but last week’s performance of “Hymns and the Heavens: A Chronology of Sacred Organ Music,” performed by Rob Vanover (who also arranged several of the pieces), left something to be desired.
There was nothing inherently wrong with the music— in fact some of it was quite beautiful in its own way— but the performance was not what it could have been. Some of the reasoning for this was unavoidable, but some of these issues could have easily been avoided.
One of the main issues that I had with the performance was the atmosphere in which it was presented. Our chapel is oriented towards stage performances, and it works beautifully for this purpose. One of the problems with having an organ-based performance in our chapel is that while there are pipes everywhere in the chapel (hence the name of the “original surround sound,”) the actual musician sits behind everyone else in the back of the chapel on the balcony. I never actually saw the musician from where I was sitting.
One of the things that I enjoy most about a live performance is seeing how absorbed the musician gets within their work. This is one of the things that separates a live performance from simply downloading a song off of the internet—it’s why we sit in a room for an hour and a half— and that was missing from this performance. Instead of coming from a person, the music seemed to spring into being on its own.
The other main problem that I had with this performance was that it was dark. The darkness combined with the fact that there were very few people actually in the audience, led to a performance that should have sounded powerful and majestic sounding like something pulled straight out of “The Phantom of the Opera—” eerie and leaving me on edge. I have nothing against the pipe organ; in fact, I generally enjoy its music, but the instrument has been used so much within songs that are supposed to sound dark and scary that it’s sometimes hard to leave that image behind.
While this is unfortunate, it needs to be taken into account when staging a concert. Leaving the audience in the mostly-dark and not being able to see the performer then, is probably not the best idea (especially not if the performer is going to take full advantage of the lower range of the instrument, which is used for the traditionally creepy songs).
While I would have probably really enjoyed this performance in a different setting, this particular event did not live up to what I have come to expect from the Noteworthy concert series.