This article first appeared in issue 297 of Longwood Chimes, from Summer 2018.
“This isn’t about performance, it’s about experience,” explained Performance Supervisor Dwight Weaver as he welcomed the eager—and perhaps a little nervous—participants to Open Organ Console Day on April 7. Since 2015, Longwood has invited guests twice a year (in April and October) to sign up for a five-minute time slot to take The Longwood Organ on a test drive, so to speak, and see what it’s like to have the organ’s 10,010 powerful pipes at their fingertips. It has become a popular tradition, with available slots filling up quickly and attracting a diverse group of participants.
On this day, they came from as far away as Atlanta, Georgia; ranged in age from six years to well over 60; and possessed no musical training to more than 40 years of playing experience. Organist Rudy Lucente, a frequent performer on The Longwood Organ and Assistant Organist at the Grand Court Organ at Macy’s in Philadelphia, was on hand to assist the performers, suggesting which organ stops might sound best for their selected piece, setting those stops, and answering any questions the guest organists may have about the instrument to ensure they can make the most of their five minutes of fun.
Gus Goodwin, a self-described organ “hobbyist,” picked perhaps the perfect piece to start the day: selections from The Sound of Music. As strains of Do-Re-Mi filled the Ballroom, the audience, which included fellow participants, supportive family and friends, and curious guests, settled in for a parade of musical moments to remember.
There was the Serbinenko family, including father Andrey, and brothers Julien and Remy, who all took a turn at the console. Julien was celebrating his 8th birthday and happily fulfilling his birthday wish—to play The Longwood Organ. A piano student for two years, Julien played Domenico Zipoli’s Minuet. Was it worth the trip from Morganville, New Jersey? “It was so great,” Julien said with a huge smile, before heading off to 1906 for a celebratory birthday lunch with his family.
Bill Callaway journeyed the farthest—from Atlanta, Georgia—for the event. A church organist for more than 40 years, Callaway was not exactly new to The Longwood Organ, having performed a concert on the instrument in 1999. He recalled first hearing the organ in 1973 when he was a student at the Eastman School of Music, and then again on occasional visits over the years. “The organ has such a romantic and full-bodied sound,” Callaway enthused. To showcase that romantic sound Callaway selected a piece he knew would “work well”: Edward Lemare’s transcription of Camille Saint-Saens’ My Heart at My Sweet Voice from the opera Samson and Delilah. Judging by the audience’s reaction, it certainly did work well.
Callaway was not the only one inspired by an early visit to Longwood. Savannah Jeffery, a 13-year-old from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, remembers her first visit to the organ museum sparking a desire to learn to play the King of Instruments. Now five years into her piano studies (as well as percussion for her school orchestra and band), Savannah’s organ journey will continue this summer when she plans to attend the Pipe Organ Experience Camp in Philadelphia. As for playing The Longwood Organ? “I’ll be back next year,” she said with a grin.
If there was an award for the most frequent Open Organ Console Day alum, it would go to 13-year-old Danny Murphy from Kennett Square, who has participated every year since the program began. Murphy delighted the crowd with a rousing performance of his own organ transcription of Abe Holzmann’s Blaze Away. While Murphy studies piano, he was bitten by the organ bug after a trip to the Gardens with his grandmother. “I was just amazed with all of the parts of the organ when I saw it,” he enthused. “I want to play everything. There are endless possibilities to make interesting music.” Danny has not ruled out the possibility of pursuing music as a career, and judging by the audience’s response to his performance, he is already garnering fans.
Isaac Zerbey, who was proud to share he was “almost seven,” was the youngest participant of the day. He and brother Westen (8 years old) were both getting their first introduction to the organ, as neither had any previous musical experience. But what they lacked in experience, they made up for in enthusiasm. It was a bittersweet moment for the family, as father Jason shared that the boys’ mother had signed them up for the experience in early winter before passing away unexpectedly in February due to complications from the flu. “This was one of the last things she signed them up for,” he said. Lucente created a magical moment for each of the boys, taking the lead in an impromptu and poignant duet of Over the Rainbow.
Westen declared the experience “really cool” and wondered if lessons might be in his future. Isaac, too, was thrilled with the experience. “It sounded like fun, but it was so much more fun than I thought,” he gushed. He also gave this advice to other potential players: “It looks very hard if you want to do it yourself.” But gave kudos to his playing partner, adding, “Mr. Lucente was very good.”
The day certainly was about experience—very good experiences indeed.
Photography by Becca Mathias.