Cascading Organ Delight, part 1
- "Cascading Organ Delight" is in 3 parts. The first part recounts
events leading up to Sri Chinmoy's performance on the Grand Organ at
the Sydney Opera House on Monday, 30th November, 1987.
Part 2 is a personal account of the performance itself, from an
Part 3 consists of an interview Sri Chinmoy gave immediately
following the performance. I am most grateful to Vidagdha for her
contributions to Part 1.
Towering high above the stage in a shell-like concrete chamber 50
feet high, 43 feet wide and 27 feet deep, the ten thousand pipes of
the Grand Organ dominate the magnificent interior of the Concert
Hall, the largest of the Sydney Opera House's famous white shells.
Like the building it inhabits, the Grand Organ is regarded with a
mixture of apprehension and awe.
Apprehension - because ten years' labour and over 3 million dollars
for a musical instrument seemed a bit extravagant to taxpayers who
had seen the construction expenses of the Opera House balloon to such
an extent in the late sixties that the State Government had to
institute a special "Opera House Lottery" to raise the funds.
And awe - because this 37-tonne colossus is the largest mechanical-
action organ in the world and, certainly, the most intricate. While
most organs fall into a particular category (one hears of the "German
Baroque organ" or a "late French Romantic organ"), the Opera House
organ covers all likely options, simply by containing a lot of all
the different sorts of pipes, and some amazing ways of combining the
various sounds. It also has a generous complement of ancillary
stops - bronze hand bells, two types of bird-call (cuckoo and
nightingale), and even an eerie drum-roll reminiscent of distant
It is an instrument designed to cater to every conceivable musical
demand, concealing within its endless combinations and permutations
myriad marvellous possibilities...
For Sydney organ-builder, Ronald Sharp, the Grand Organ was the
fulfilment of a life's dream: his darling child. When the organ was
not ready for the opening of the Opera House in 1973, he continued
his painstaking perfectionist work under mounting pressure and
criticism for 6 further years, until the organ was finally
inaugurated in 1979. Even a decade later, it was difficult to
separate him from his instrument; he was often to be found making
minute adjustments to tiny pipes and, indeed, he was doing just that
at 6.30 pm on Monday, November 30th, 1987, when Sri Chinmoy arrived...
When first smitten with the ideal of Sri Chinmoy playing on this
great instrument, we had commenced by approaching organists who were
familiar with the Grand Organ to see if they would endorse an
application for Sri Chinmoy to be allowed to perform on it. As a
general policy, the organ is only made available to organists of
considerable renown, and an application from someone with only 6
months playing experience would not normally be considered!
Our strongest supporter was the Chairman of the Department of Organ
and Sacred Music at the most prominent music conservatorium in
Sydney. He was also organist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and
a touring organist of distinction. Having heard recordings of Sri
Chinmoy's earlier organ performances, he even informed all his
students that they could not afford to miss such an important
performance. At this time, Opera House administrators were saying
that only 3 people, including Sri Chinmoy, would be admitted to hear
the performance. The lecturer in organ had readily and eagerly
agreed to be the one to intruduce the organ and its many particular
features to Sri Chinmoy, so he would certainly be one of the three.
Yet he was determined to find a way around these restrictions, so
that his students and others could be there!
Once the authorities had confirmed that permission was granted for
Sri Chinmoy to have a 'private rehearsal' with two other people in
attendance, it began to seem very sad that such a momentous occasion
would only reverberate through the vast emptiness of the Concert
Hall. This was something the whole of Australia, and eventually the
world should hear!
We once again consulted with our organist-friend, who gave us the
name of the Head of the Music Department of the ABC, Australia's
(then) only national FM broadcaster. This lady immediately expressed
interest in the idea of recording Sri Chinmoy's performance and began
to formulate the concept of building an entire program around Sri
Chinmoy which would include an interview. As an afterthought, she
mentioned that she knew of someone who would do an excellent
interview, if only he were available... she mentioned the name of our
organist-friend! The intricate threads of destiny were being
After some weeks of discussion, the ABC proposal became definite, the
Opera House agreed to this new arrangement and granted official
recording rights, thereby enabling a much larger crowd to attend.
(To be continued...)
While awaiting the next installment, may I recommend you lose
yourself amongst some of Sri Chinmoy's writings on music, which you
can find at http://www.srichinmoymusic.com