I can't imagine a pipe organ being played in the Cincinnati Union Terminal. The acoustics in that half-sphere are weird to say the least, and actually amplify any sound made within it's walls. As children and young adults, we would go there fairly often, and shout, talk, and whisper to people at the opposite side nearly 200 feet away who could hear us quite clearly and were startled and sometimes frightened by these sounds which seemed to come from nowhere. A pipe organ, not even as magnificent as the one described, would be deafening and the echoes and depth wrought by the
acoustics would ring on for hours I'm sure.
As I still live only 50 or so miles from that place, and the Cincinnati
television and radio stations are the strongest signals I get, I am surprised and disappointed by the lack of advertising this
concert garnered. Neither I nor any of my friends knew anything of it until today's report in this missive. Perhaps the debut of this organ was for the Cincinnati elite only, and I'll check the society pages for signs of blood in the ears of the mighty.
A Home Away From Home
Right, Geoff and Luan, the instrument is in the Union Station rotunda. I'll keep everyone posted as to upcoming dates, and I wish I lived closer myself, especially if they're doing Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (a very un-Crosleylike tune. Imagine hearing that coming over a CC dash radio.)
Here's an older article about the instrument:
Sunday, April 11, 1999
Historic pipe organ debuts at Museum Center
Volunteers revive 'King of Instruments'
BY JANELLE GELFAND
The Cincinnati Enquirer
It's the ultimate surround-sound, the kind of booming resonance that can be felt throughout your body.
On a recent evening, J.S. Bach's great D Minor Toccata and Fugue reverberates through Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. The magnificent sound comes from the "Cadillac" of pipe organs - a renovated 1929 E.M. Skinner symphonic organ now reigning in the rotunda.
On this night, the organ plays back music from a digital system, recorded by Thomas Murray, Yale University associate organist. Its sound comes from four chambers surrounding the domed hall, where shutters open to reveal a spectacular set of more than 4,000 pipes behind the walls. The console rolls out from a glass case where it rests when not in use.
Organizers hope this organ, once called the "King of Instruments," will be used for frequent live performances, and will be a teaching tool on the science of sound for the Museum Center.
IF YOU GO
What: The first concert on the Grand E.M. Skinner Concert Organ, performed by Thomas Murray of Yale University, with the women of Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Ernest Hoffman, director, and CSO violinist Paul Patterson
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: The rotunda of Cincinnati Museum Center
Tickets: $10 advance; $12 at the door. 606-781-1276.
Program: Saint-Saens, Fantaisie; Debussy, Arabesques; J.S. Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor; Grieg, Peer Gynt Suite No. 1; Rimsky-Korsakov, Procession of the Nobles; Sibelius, Finlandia; William Grant Still, Reverie; Charles-Marie Widor, Two Pieces; Sigfrid Karg-Elert, Fugue, Canzona and Epilogue (with chorus).
"It has a delicacy, agility and sensuousness which should surprise and appeal to even those who never liked organ before," says Mr. Murray, who will present Cincinnati's inaugural concert on the historic instrument Monday.
The rotunda, with its "cathedral acoustics," is an ideal environment for organ.
"There's hardly a bad seat in the house," says Harley Piltingsrud, a physicist and amateur organist who has donated more than 5,000 hours installing the regal instrument into the Museum Center. Were it not for his and others' volunteer work, the organ and its restoration might have cost $2 million, he estimates.
By coincidence, the instrument and its new home are of the same vintage. Ground was broken for the Art Deco terminal the very year that organ craftsman Ernest M. Skinner was putting the final touches on his musical masterpiece.
"It's a prime example of that style of organ building in this country, and can hold its own with organs in Europe," says Ernest Hoffman, organist at Christ Church Cathedral, downtown. "To have a symphonic organ in that kind of space is quite rare."
In the heyday of symphonic organs - the '20s and '30s - virtuoso organists gave concerts in huge auditoriums. They were popular: organist Edwin Arthur Kraft played to 14,000 people in Cleveland; Edwin Lemare played for 12,000 in San Francisco.
"The whole objective was to reach the masses with something that was appealing," Mr. Piltingsrud says.
Gradually, the popularity of the symphonic organ died, and with it went big transcriptions of orchestral music, giving way to instruments that catered to "authentic" musical performances.
Today, organists say, that overblown sound is making a comeback.
Since he first learned from the Historical Organ Society (a national organization) about an E.M. Skinner organ in Philadelphia that needed a home, it has taken Mr. Piltingsrud more than 10 years to move it into Union Terminal.
He contacted the Museum Center, which allocated a special projects' gift to transport the organ to the Queen City. In 1991, he and a crew of workers began installing it.
Meanwhile, he had also heard about another 1929 E.M. Skinner organ, this one a "house organ" in the former home of Cincinnati entrepreneur Powel Crosley Jr. He knew the Crosley organ could enhance the Museum Center project.
"It was in an attic, and had never had a drop of water or dust on it - it was like it had been preserved in a time capsule," Mr. Piltingsrud says.
Providence Hospital was about to convert Mr. Crosley's mansion into office space. Mr. Piltingsrud contacted Crosley family members, who persuaded the hospital to donate the organ to the Museum Center.
The Crosley organ now forms the antiphonal division (another voice located a distance from the main organ). Its 18 ranks of pipes are located behind glass panels near the entrance to the History Museum. It is still undergoing renovation.
"It's another stereo effect in the room," Mr. Piltingsrud says.
Mr. Piltingsrud walks into one of the rooms behind the walls where the pipes are closeted. Each chamber holds a "division" - pipes controlled by the great, swell, choir, solo, pedal and antiphonal keyboards, respectively.
The largest pipes, up to 32 feet long, are in the pedal division. They are heavily constructed and under high wind pressure.
Another chamber holds the powerful swell division.
"This division alone is larger than most church organs," he says.
In restoring the organ to its original grandeur, Mr. Piltingsrud used materials that should last another 100 years, he says. Brass pipes were chemically treated so they won't corrode. The chambers are bathed in pure air - removing acid which causes deterioration - and a sub-roof has been installed to avoid any chance of roof leaks.
He is pleased with the result, and hopes it will play a major role in the Museum Center so that young people can learn how it works.
Meanwhile, there is palpable excitement in the organ community.
The combination of this "landmark" example of American organ building and the acoustics of Union Terminal promise "one of the finest musical experiences in America," Mr. Murray says.
"Historically, it's from a bygone era," Mr. Hoffman says. "It's something the city ought to be very proud of."
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