Lunch with a Pipe Organ

by Carey Rutherford

Tim Pyper, Musical Director of the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer
Photo by John Boccabella

I’m learning from Tim Pyper, Concert Co-Director of the Organ a la Carte Series:

If you’ve been in the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer in downtown Calgary (perhaps for one of the many excellent concerts it’s been putting on with different musical series over the past years), you might have missed the fact that there is a pipe organ built into the church.

That is about to change.

“It’s a really wonderful instrument: parts of it are from about 1910, with significant additions in the ‘30s and ‘50s, and then it was completely restored in 2001, so it’s really in tip-top condition. It’s a 3-manual (keyboard) organ by the Canadian builder Casavant (Casavant Fréres, founded in 1879, who also did the Jack Singer Hall’s pipe organ in the late ‘80s).

“The Cathedral has a really lively acoustic (with about a 2.5 second reverberation time as the sound travels outward and then back from the walls), so it’s really well suited to organ music, and the sound just spins around the room in a really wonderful way.”

Having been in the Cathedral on several occasions, while recognizing that with my low vision I could easily miss many architectural features, I’ve never noticed a pipe organ there. Admittedly, I’ve been trained by the Jack Singer Casavant, which is a bit like a structural Mack Truck when you enter that hall. Front. Center. Big. Bright. Bold. (and when played) Loudly Impossible to Ignore.

“If you’re facing front in the Church, on your left-hnad side there’s a series of pipes there that you can see fairly easily, but on the right-hand side they’re a little more hidden.. . . . The organ console is located just behind the choir screen, and depending on where you’re sitting in the Cathedral, you can see the performer.”

Tim mentions that, should you sit on the left side of the Cathedral, you will definitely have a partial view of the organist, but that many pipe organs in Europe provide no view of the performer at all.

“It’s just a quirk of the instrument. In Europe it’s not even questioned: you sit in the church, and there’s beautiful architecture, and you hear great music. You can’t see the organist, (but) in North America we can sometimes see the organist, which is a bit of a bonus.”

Let’s let the ProArts Society have their say about this spectacle:

“Organ à la Carte is Calgary’s longest-running concert series that offers FREE noon-hour organ recitals to Calgary audiences.”

For over 20 years, summer concert goers have enjoyed the unique opportunity to hear the King of Instruments – the pipe organ – played within the grand space of Jack Singer Concert Hall. Now, for the third consecutive summer, Organ à la Carte will be staged in the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer – a century-old Cathedral located on the NW corner of Olympic Plaza.

“When you walk through the arched doorway, you enter into a historic space of stained-glass and gothic architecture…..and are introduced to one of Calgary’s oldest musical instruments.”

I never said they had to be restrained.

You might be wondering, if you’re new to this long-running event, why it’s called ‘a la Carte’. Simply bring yourself a bag lunch and find out for yourself. For once, it’s alright to be crinkling wrappers and sipping on drinks while the concert is going on. It is, after all, a lunch-time concert. On occasion, there’s an excellent hot dog stand outside the Cathedral, and if you want to risk mustard and relish on the century-old pews within, they’ll let you.

No pressure.

Organ à la Carte offers three summer pipe organ concerts in 2012. All begin at 12:10 and end around 1:00:

August 3rd: Graceful Company; 10th Neil Cockburn; 17th Tim Pyper.

VENUE: Cathedral Church of the Redeemer (corner of 7 Ave and 1 St. S.E. You can get more information through the Concert Line by email, phone (403-214-1811) or online.

DO NOT stick your gum under the pews!