Pipe Dreaming

January 22

I went to an organ recital at the National Cathedral over the weekend, but didn’t see you there. There was a decent-sized audience, though, and we got to sit in the special sideways benches near the console that I think are supposed to be mostly for the choir and saints and people like that. The benches were carved with elaborate designs and had posts and filigrees and animals on the ends. Reveries abounded. Organ music is good for reveries, especially for me. And thee. Have to write thee when writing about church organs.

Pipe organ music is a bit in a category of its own. The actual sound tends toward the blurry, with all that limestone reverb, and massive numbers of pipes. The pipe organ is in some ways the hardest way to make music, in that each note gets a pipe of its own, and actually several, or sometimes many many, depending on the number of ranks the organ has. So essentially you have a roomful of pipes, like a musical boiler room. So it can sometimes get muddy, but it can alternatively be enthralling. Do I actually know what I’m talking about here? Almost!

Because as it happens I built a pipe organ in my house one day some years ago. Actually it took more than one day, like Rome. It took at least a year to build, or re-build, as it originally came from a church. It was a smallish organ, but still huge in house terms. I thought it would be fun to play one. I bought a music book for a Bach fugue with pages of what looked like swarming ants for notes, but in a few more years I could play it, badly. But I wanted to play a pipe organ, and well, there I was. Then I got tired of it and donated the thing back to a different church.

But anyway, you sit there listening to beautiful music, and looking at the beautiful carvings, and wish that we’d all spend a little more time trying to create and appreciate things like that.

Tom Toles is the editorial cartoonist for The Post and writes the Tom Toles blog.
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Tom Toles · January 21