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Notes from the Longwood Organ

By Justin Hartz, on January 28, 2011

Editor's Note: Longwood Gardens is pleased to welcome guest blogger Justin Hartz to "Behind-The-Plants." Justin made his recital debut at Longwood Gardens in 1989. He has played many programs for Longwood's guests, and presented programs on the Longwood Aeolian for the Organ Historical Society's national convention and for area chapters of the American Guild of Organists. His CD recording "Hartz and Flowers", recorded at Longwood, has introduced many listeners to our historic instrument. A scene from his video "Midnight Pipes" featuring the Longwood organ and fountains may be seen on Youtube. Justin Hartz is a graduate of The Juilliard School and Westminster Choir College. He serves as Organist and Director of Music at Christ Episcopal Church, Riverton, New Jersey, and teaches piano and organ.

Close-up of Choir pipes with labels. Close-up of Choir pipes with labels.

One December afternoon, a young family wanders among the lily-scented Conservatory at Longwood Gardens. The children, dressed in bright Christmas sweaters, stroll along the path, stopping to smell the paperwhites and point to poinsettias in unusual shades. Suddenly the ground begins to shake, and the rumble of distant thunder is heard. But wait! There’s snow on the ground and the sun is still shining. Curious to find out the source of this new sound, they begin walking in the direction of the vibrations and find themselves in Longwood’s elegant Ballroom. There they discover the source of the sound: a white-bearded gentleman sits at the controls of a massive pipe organ console. The organist stops, turns around, and from behind from his handlebar moustache, says “Welcome to Longwood Gardens! My name is Justin Hartz, one of the organists, and I’m very happy to be here today to play for our holiday sing-alongs” My name IS Justin Hartz, and playing the organ for Longwood’s visitors is one of my favorite things to do! Many people discover our 10,010 pipe organ by chance, just as I’ve described. Some folks come year after year to our organ sing-alongs, often bringing several generations of family members as part of a holiday tradition. Then there are those who know about our wonderful Aeolian Organ and have heard it before, live, on CD, or on the internet. The great news is that the restoration of Longwood Garden’s pipe organ is nearly complete! All 10,010 pipes have been restored. When the restored organ debuts during Longwood's Organ Fanfare Weekend, February 4–6, the organ will sound just like it did when it was brand new in 1930. You can get a preview of the new organ on Longwood's website, where you can listen to the sounds of the pipes, learn the history of the largest residence organ in the world, view pictures of the pipes, find out about upcoming organ concerts, learn about the extensive restoration, and more!

The Organ Console in the Organ Museum. The Organ Console in the Organ Museum.

The Current Organ Console in Longwood's Ballroom. The Current Organ Console in Longwood's Ballroom.

East Pedal chamber with 372 pipes. East Pedal chamber with 372 pipes.

Like everything else at Longwood, there is much going on “behind the scenes” before any guests hear a note of music! First, there is the organ itself. Pipe organs are often shrouded in mystique. Some are located in high lofts in dark cathedrals and castles. The motion picture industry often places an organ in a haunted house or subterranean dungeon (while the opening bars of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d minor are played). Fortunately, even though Longwood’s pipes were hidden from view, visitors can now see them and their associated mechanisms through the glass walls of Longwood’s Organ Museum. Now it is easy to comprehend the diversity of sizes and shapes of organ pipes—from the towering 32-foot pedal pipes to the tiniest string and mixture pipes.

As effortless as it looks, one can’t just sit down at a console the size of Longwood’s and just “play.” Lots of practice, preparation, and training is involved (Yes, Virginia, Santa’s Helper really did major in Organ at Juilliard)! The first thing I do—after learning the notes, of course—is to “register” the piece I’m going to play. Does the music require soft, medium, or loud sounds? Should this section sound majestic, like a Cathedral organ, or would it sound better with the light-hearted, throbbing tremolo of a Theater organ? Would this section sound best with a clarinet, a trumpet, or an oboe? Should the pedal rumble like an earthquake, or sound lightly like a bass violin? Strings, flutes, vox humana or all of the above?

Percussion Division of Longwood Organ—Glockenstern. Percussion Division of Longwood Organ—Glockenstern.

Deciding which stops to play on the Longwood organ is like selecting colors for a painting. And like the rest of Longwood Gardens, the variety of sounds I can create with our organ are as varied as the wonderful color combinations our gardeners create with flowers. Over this past holiday season, I’ve been preparing music for the re-dedication of Longwood’s organ. I hope you will join us as we celebrate the return of the organ on February 4–6. My contribution will be a recital of "Organ Music Inspired by Nature” on Saturday, February 5 at 3:00. I look forward to seeing you and your families then!

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