Sunday, August 30, 2009

"We put organs near things that we find most important."

My husband and I just returned from a trip to Philadelphia where we saw and heard the magnificent John Wanamaker Organ in the Macy's, Center City, Philadelphia. It is truly a magnificent instrument. It is known as the largest functioning pipe organ in the world with 28,500 pipes. But, I will tell you that it is a beautiful instrument, as well. We heard all kinds of music played on it in the three concerts that we attended and all of it fit the instrument nicely.

Upon returning home, my husband remarked in a conversation that "We put pipe organs near the things that we find most important," and I began to reflect upon how very true that is.

Pipe organs take a very long time to build. Many, many hours of labor and concentration go into making the music come alive from the throats of those pipes. Each pipe has to be voiced so that it sounds like its neighbor to create a fluidity of sound. Each piece of wood has to be placed and glued in exactly the right spot, with the right amount of pressure to make sure that wind does not escape where it is not supposed to. Every piece of leather has to be perfectly cut and placed and glued so that the notes all play correctly. It is the work of artisans. The people that I work with, fill me with awe. They do all these things so easily. Pipe organs are truly monumental instruments, in every sense of the word.

For centuries, we have put pipe organs into churches. Then, into opera houses. It was not much of a stretch, then, to add them to the posh movie theaters of the 1920's, but it is remarkable to me that the Wanamaker Organ exists in a department store. What are we saying here?

The Wanamaker Organ is a jewel in the "City of Brotherly Love". It stands as a monument to the dream of a man who wanted to be all things to everyone (or at least sell anything that you might need in a place where you would feel special). The beautiful vaulted marble halls of the Wanamaker building now house, not only Macy's, but also several offices. But, one can easily see the grandeur of the original plan: A place where you could buy anything from a ball gown to a new horse. But even now, after the dream has faded and the stark, sterile and familiar Macy's-look has been exacted on the store, the organ still exists and is maintained and played daily. Why?

Because it honors the value of hard work and a dream for something better for ourselves; something greater than the work-a-day lives we lead. It is a finding of the beautiful in that everyday life.

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