Lucky seventh: Pipe organ fest concludes 'most successful year'

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As organists and organ lovers from around the country travel back to their homes from Kilgore, East Texas Pipe Organ Festival organizer Lorenz Maycher called it the “most successful” in its seventh year.

“The people he gets, it’s basically a who’s who of anyone who’s doing anything in the organ world, so it really is an honor to be asked back,” organist David Baskeyfield, of New York, said.

After performing Wednesday morning with Thomas Gaynor, Baskeyfield said, it is relaxing to get to enjoy other people’s concerts as the festival toured the Aeolian-Skinner pipe organs in Kilgore, Longview and Shreveport.

Over the years, Graham Clarke, of Dallas, said, he has seen the festival grow from bringing people from large Texas cities and surrounding states to attracting people from across the country with many making the festival an annual event.

Ken Cowan, organist and associate professor of organ at Rice University in Houston, brought his students to Kilgore for Alan Morrison’s closing concert.

“I think this is just incredible. I admired it for years, but these organs are just some of the best in the country, so to shine a spotlight on them like this festival does is fantastic,” he said. “Lorenz Maycher has really the greats nationally come play here.”

Jimmy Culp, who served as organist and choirmaster for First Presbyterian Church and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, attended as many concerts as he could, with Thursday evening’s final recital being the seventh annual to honor him as organist emeritus at First Presbyterian.

“This was really wonderful, and I didn’t have to do anything but sit,” he said, laughing.

Morrison told the audience before performing the piece “Dreams” he felt like a fraud for playing it at the church because Culp has “the most perfect recording of it.”

Following the concert, Morrison said, it can be humbling to play such famous instruments.

“These organs are very famous and in Kilgore, who would think that this small town between here and Longview and Shreveport would have all these instruments that were overseen by Roy Perry… People come from all over. It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s nostalgic because there’s so many important concerts that took place here in the past by famous artists. You hear it on recordings on CDs and on YouTube, just to come and experience this space and feel the instrument is really amazing.”

Organist Albert Russell called the festival the best thing he’s attended. “That’s some of the finest playing I’ve ever heard,” he said about Morrison’s performance.

Although people can hear recordings of the instruments, returning guest Phil S. Brown said, it does not compare to hearing them in person.

“They just have so many high and low tones and stuff; you can get good recordings, but it’s just better to be in person and hear them,” she said.

“The organ really does sound different in the room than it does right up there under it. It’s great fun to listen to it out there and to hear what other people’s ideas are about pieces you’ve heard all your life,” Culp said following Thursday night’s concert. “It’s just still the most wonderful organ. It truly is, but so is the one at St. Luke’s.”

In her first visit to the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival, organist Jan Kraybill said, she did not plan to perform, she said, but Maycher invited her when her fall schedule opened to allow for the visit.

“This has been on my list of things to do someday for some time, and I thought I would just be attending… It wasn’t my intent to be a performer the very first time I was here, but I’m very thrilled to be here,” she said. “It’s just fabulous the pocket of historic instruments that is here and it’s great to hear the stories of the people who made that possible, not only Roy Perry, but also lots of donors and just friends of the arts who have created this here and then Lorenz and everyone else who makes sure we all know about because of this festival. It’s really, really fabulous.”

When organists arrive to practice with their instrument, Kraybill said, it is not to rehearse the notes.

“We actually all come with the notes very well learned; we’re actually getting to know the instrument we’re going to be playing,” she said, adding she spent much of her time in East Texas getting to know the organ at First Baptist Church in Longview.

“I always say that getting to know a new organ is like getting to know a new person,” she said. “Every pipe organ is different. Every pipe organ is a custom-designed work of art, and because every one’s different, the challenge and the fascination of it is to get to know it.”

Morrison echoed Kraybill’s comparison, saying each instrument has its own personality.

“You have to find its soul, the soul of the instrument. Work with it, don’t push it. Just make it sing. Don’t fight it… Just make it sound its very best,” he said.

With her first visit to the festival checked off the list, Kraybill said, she hopes it is not her last visit.

Each festival builds upon the excellence of previous years, Clarke said, noting each performer brings his or her own approach to the instruments.

Pieces this year ranged from the 15th century through more recent pieces with a world premiere of a piece written by annual attendee and composer Charles Callahan. The piece, performed Wednesday at First Presbyterian Church by organists David Baskeyfield and Thomas Gaynor, was commissioned by the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival in honor and memory of organ builder Nora Williams, who died in January.

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