Sunday, March 17, 2013

Photo Essay: First Congregational Church Organ Crawl

What exactly is an organ crawl?

I didn't know, but I bought my ticket to one at the First Congregational Church in LA's Wilshire Center neighborhood anyway. I'd been wanting to take one of their monthly architectural tours, but kept missing them.

So is an organ crawl like a pub crawl, where you hop from organ to organ after spending a bit of time at each? Or is it an opportunity to actually crawl through some pipe organs?



Actually, it's both.

The FCC's multiple organs - some of which can be played together in a synchronized, ear-blasting duel - have a total of more than 20,000 pipes, controlled by various consoles placed in the Nave, Chancel, North and South Transept Galleries.



The Gothic Cathedral hosts a variety of organ concerts played upon these instruments...



...but they are also used for regularly scheduled worship services.



No one (except visiting organists) is allowed to rehearse on the big organ in the Nave, despite how many different stops and ranks it has. This big boy is reserved for performances only.



It's a modern pipe organ for sure, whose computerized signals allow it to project sound out of pipes that aren't situated right by the console, but rather placed in the less deafening, far upper reaches of the cathedral.



Another, smaller console and set of neighboring pipes is located in the back of the sanctuary, nearly a city block away from the main console in the front...



...making a long distance (and somewhat significant time delay) for a dueling organs partner.



Up there, you can get up close to the pipes themselves...



...illuminated in pink and blue hues.



This console contributes yet another set of ranks and stops to the church's collection of 346 and 265 of them, respectively...



...allowing the organist to play in a variety of musical styles from Gospel to Italian, and in a variety of musical instruments from string to reed.



Behind the consoles and the pipes of the organs, you can find narrow, dimly lit walkways...



...the blowers that push air through the pipes to make the sound...



...wires and various electronics...



...and, of course, the computers that control everything.



This is where the tuners hang out, sometimes for an entire day, getting the organs to be pitch perfect.



In the West Gallery, we climbed into the tiniest of crawlspaces...



...getting my vertigo and claustrophobia going...



...to see even more inner workings of the "do not touch" variety.



And, to our surprise, we discovered the real pipes that actually make the music...



...situated behind the ornamental pipes that are often on display, but produce no sound.



There are armies of metal pipes back there...



...standing at attention...



...prepared to make nearly every sound imaginable...



...at inconceivable volumes.





Some of the pipes are even wood...



...and rectangular!



Off the sanctuary, there's another, smaller draw-knob organ...



...painstakingly restored...



...and more readily playable than the large, Moller console in the front of the sanctuary.



With less knobs to draw...



...and in a less enormous room...



...it's a softer, more intimate setting...



...to get up close and personal...



...to the pipes themselves...







...and the music that vibrates through the floors into your chest.



Although you can find pipe organs in various concert halls and other venues (like Scotty's Castle's music room in Death Valley), this instrument was built and designed to be played in a church. And with the FCC's sprawling footprint, and the size of not only its individual organs but also the entirety of them collected, it is an epic site for a concert, demonstration, or even just a crawl.

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