November 17, 2014
An unusual treat yesterday: we participated in a community hymn festival in Portland at Merrill Auditorium. Participating were about 15 church choirs, an audience that filled the lower two tiers of Merrill and, of course, Portland’s Kotzschmar Organ.
The choir at First Parish Church (Brunswick) — Ellen’s choir — was one of the participants. Of course: Ray Cornils, its director, is also the municipal organist for Portland. That is, he’s the person who most frequently plays the Kotzschmar. It’s a magnificent organ, first installed in 1912 when it was the second largest organ in the world, and most recently renovated in 2012. (“Today the Kotzschmar boasts 102 ranks, 6,862 pipes in eight divisions: Swell, Great, Solo, Orchestral, Antiphonal, Echo, Pedal and Percussion.”)
Together we sand hymns old and new, gospel and patriotic, evangelic and progressive, familiar and not so familiar. And not just Christian: the cantor of Beth Israel in Bath led us in Yigdal (God of Abraham Praise) and then in Shalom Chaverim as a round.
Local choir leaders, members of the Portland Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, took turns at the Kotschmar. The Salvation Army New York Staff Band also played.
Ray Cornils explained that back when the Kotzschmar was new, the municipal organist regularly gathered people in the city auditorium for a hymn sing on the proposition that people who sing together will be transformed. It is an amazing experience to sing with so many others.
A special treat for all of us was hearing Mark Thallander, a marvellous organist, play a Toccata on Hymn to Joy that he had arranged. It was a striking rendition playing most of the melody on the pedals rather than the keyboards. Only after he stopped did I realize he plays now with only one arm.