“Though I may speak with bravest fire, And have the gift to all inspire, And have not love, my words are vain, As sounding brass, and hopeless gain.”
I can remember how my college organ professor started my very first lesson. “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Just like Uncle Ben in Spiderman. I can recall going with him to tour some of the instruments in Fremont, Nebraska, where I learned about the different sounds and combinations of pipes that the king of instruments could create.
Up until then, I’d had lessons on my church’s old – I’m talking really OLD – electronic instrument! As my professor demonstrated, I remember being amazed by the twinkling fairy sounds of the tiny little flutes coming from a mere 2-inch pipe, while being humbled by the rumbling tremors of the brass and reed pipes that stood 32 feet tall!
One of the registrations (or combinations of sounds) on the organ that I’ve always loved is used in the piece I recorded, The Gift of Love. It uses an oboe solo combined with a celeste registration. A celeste registration creates that “wah wah” ethereal sound that you hear. I loved this sound, not only because it is beautiful, but from the science of how it is created. When you hear the celeste sound coming from a pipe organ, it’s actually 2 sets of pipes playing simultaneously, but one set is tuned just a tiny bit sharp, so it is the clashing of two tonalities. It’s actually out of tune on purpose!
Some composers are very specific about the registrations and sounds an organist should use while playing their pieces, while the composer of this piece leaves it for the player to decide. As I was thumbing through my library of pieces I could play for our online service, my inner voice kept reminding me of all the news and the terrible things happening in our world. Doesn’t it seem like our world needs to be reminded of love more and more regularly these days? I chose the celeste registration, not just because I love the sound, but because it reminds me of our world – two voices out of tune and neither really trying to get along, but we just keep on with the struggle.
At the beginning of the piece, that’s all you will hear – the struggle! The two string celeste sounds moving along through the tune, one just a little sharper than the other, never quite agreeing on what “in tune” means.
However, if you keep listening, you’ll hear the oboe gently enter, almost near the end of the piece. The oboe is the clarity. The oboe sings the melody and reminds us of the text we sing. The oboe is, for me, literally God’s voice singing the song.
As an artist and musician, I have a great power under my hands to choose music, texts, and sounds for all of us to use. I have the power to speak with bravest fire and to all inspire, but I must always remember my responsibility to listen for the oboe above the other sounds and to listen for the message of God’s love.
We all must do this, so that our actions and words are not vain. Thank you for listening, Emmanuel!
— Ryan Fitch, Music Director, July 2020
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog