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Sharing the Beauty: Organ Class

This past Sunday MJ and I went over to Congregation Sherith Israel to learn about the organ that graces the sanctuary.

The organ has always been a big deal for me. Even though I’m not religious, I do have warm feelings and memories surrounding the stunning, old cathedrals that have organs and I’ve made an effort to visit more from Dublin to San Juan. As such, having an amazing one in the synagogue we attend made me feel at home and I’ve really enjoyed the music there.

For the class we had Jonathan Dimmock, regular player of the organ at the synagogue (and at cathedrals and more around the world) there to tell us all about it and play for us. The first thing we learned is what the organ is. It’s a symphonic organ made by the Los Angeles Organ Company, reorganized from the Murray M. Harris Organ Co. so they call it a Murray Harris.

It was also interesting to learn that in the Reform Judaism movement that the installation of organs in synagogues was something that started in the Western United States and moved east, making this one in San Francisco one of the first in a synagogue and a magnificent example of this history. It was also the first in a house of worship in San Francisco to have a three-rank echo division, which is located in the dome and created ethereal and “far away” sounds, which he demonstrated.

It was really interesting to hear about his experience around the world playing on different organs and how they all have their own character. He explained that one of the things of note with this organ was due to its age and purpose (worship accompaniment), it is one of the warmest, softest organs he’s ever worked with, as it had to account for services where there were no microphones.

Now I’ve seen organs up close before, so I was delighted by the opportunity during this class to learn more about the internals and to see inside. There are several pipes that are visible and decorated, but the organ has over 2000 pipes total! And we had the opportunity to walk behind the facade to actually look up at some of the other pipes.

Below the pipe room, was the guts of what powers the whole thing, a surprisingly loud machine with a belt that powered the wind going up to the pipes. I had to walk from the room to the sanctuary a couple of times to reconcile how loud it was in the room with how silent it is where congregants sit.

In all, it was a great learning experience.

This was the last class to wrap up Sharing the Beauty, I wrote about all previous ones too:

More photos from the organ class are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157642824330104/