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More than 50 years after construction, historic SU organ comes back to life
More than 50 years after construction, historic SU organ comes back to lifeSeptember 24, 2003Amy Schmitzaemehrin@syr.edu
Sept. 26 and Sept. 30 public concerts to celebrate Crouse organ’s restoration
In 1948, acclaimed music instructor Arthur Poister asked for a new organ – actually, for several. He was the best organ teacher in the nation, so Syracuse University’s then-Chancellor William P. Tolley, agreed to the request, successfully luring him from Oberlin Conservatory. One of the unique instruments commissioned for Poister, with its 3,823 pipes, was constructed and installed by the renowned Walter Holtkamp in SU’s Crouse College Auditorium, now the Rose and Jules R. Setnor Auditorium.
Fifty-three years later, Poister’s organ has been restored to its original majesty by Kerner and Merchant Pipe Organ Builders. To celebrate, the University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James R. Tapia, will rededicate the Crouse organ Sept. 26 by performing “Symphony No. 3 for Orchestra and Organ” by Camille Saint-Saens. Christopher Marks, University Organist, will be featured on the organ. The concert is free and open to the public.
“‘Symphony No. 3’ is the great piece for organ music,” says Joseph Downing, director of the Setnor School of Music,”and it has not been heard with a live organ in Syracuse for more than 30 years.”
On Sept. 30, Tom Fielding, who is this year’s winner of the national Poister organ playing competition and a doctoral candidate at Indiana University, will perform on the Crouse organ. Admission for Fielding’s performance is $10 with discounts for students and seniors.
“The Crouse organ’s character lies in the unique blend of the bright, clear Holtkamp aesthetic and the smooth, orchestral romanticism of the Roosevelt organ that previously resided in Crouse,” says Marks. “It is a curious sight-the organ’s modern appearance contrasting with the Romanesque environment of the auditorium.”
According to Dan Lemieux, tuner and technician for Kerner and Merchant, “the Crouse organ is one of the finest examples of 20th century organ design.”Marks says the decision to restore rather than technologically update the organ was “monumental- Modern technology provides valuable tools, but when organs are updated, important historical records are lost. Because the Crouse organ is so significant to American organ building and teaching, the University felt it was very important to preserve its historical authenticity.”
Though nothing was changed tonally, all leather and relays on the organ were replaced, many reed pipes were re-tongued and the pipes on the organ’s chests were removed and cleaned. The work began in December 2002 and finished this August.
“Restoration is really an American trend,” explains Downing. “Increasingly, Americans are appreciating their heritage and valuing the old, saving and respecting the integrity of things from another time. This was part of the rationale for restoring the Crouse organ.”
As an alumnus of the University, Ben Merchant, president of Kerner and Merchant, has a particular affinity for the organ. “This is my favorite organ,” he says. “I began learning to build organs while I was an SU graduate student, and it means a lot to me to restore this one so students can enjoy it in its original form for the next 50 years.”
The Crouse organ is one of the youngest to be designated as an historic instrument by the Organ Historical Society.
“This organ has its own musical personality,” says Will Headlee, SU professor emeritus and former professor of organ. “Organists love this organ the way violinists may love a particular Stradivarius. It’s really a piece of art, and one of Syracuse University’s most precious possessions.”