Friday, October 06, 2006

A Hallmark Moment

When I was a wee lad of sixteen in my little-bitty hometown in Texas, I learned that the South Texas American Thespian Society was offering a theatre tour for high school students. The tour lasted two weeks and included three nights in Washington D.C., five nights in New York City and two days at the Shakespear festival in Stratford, Ontario. My speech & drama teacher was taking names of those who wanted to go. Transportation, hotels, and theatre tickets were all included for (are you ready for this?) five hundred bucks. Would I want to go? Yes!

I was working at the local Dairy Queen at the time. (Stop laughing). Having been raised in a little-bitty town in South Texas, I had always wanted to visit New York City. I ended up slinging a ton of Dairy Queen burgers that year in order to go. I also failed Algebra II.

Finally, it was time for the trip. June 1975, and off we go on the Greyhound bus, (stop laughing) headed for Washington. The first play we saw was Death of a Salesman with George C. Scott playing Willie Loman. Wow! It was heaven. Sheer heaven.

While in New York, we saw Grease, Pippin, Equus, Chicago, The King and I, and a little-known performer named Bette Midler in The Divine Miss M. (How providential. And they say there isn't a god. . . )

Of course, we saw as many sights as possible. One day while at Rockefeller Plaza, we slipped into St. Patrick's Cathedral across the street on 5th Avenue. I had never seen anything like it. Better yet, the organist was giving a concert on the huge pipe organ. I'd never heard anything like it. The only organ I'd ever played was the cheesy little Hammond at my local Baptist church. Now, I was getting to hear the organ of all organs. It was glorious. I even cried a little.

I didn't want to leave, but we had lots of more things to squeeze in that day. As we were leaving, I was thinking that I'd probably never get to visit New York again, much less hear that magnificent organ. I had to work so hard at the Dairy Queen for this experience (and flunk Algebra II) and the bus ride made New York seem like a million miles away. . . .

Flash forward 23 years to September 1998. I was now a Franciscan Friar in a province based out of New York City. The province was about to celebrate its 100th anniversary and the Centennial Mass was being held at . . . guess where . . . St. Patrick's Cathedral.

By that time, I'd had about twenty years of experience as an organist so I suggested to the priest in charge, "Wouldn't it be nice to have one of our own Friars play the organ for the Mass?"
He was an angry, prissy thing, and replied, "Just to even touch the organ at St. Patrick's, one has to be a member of the American Guild of Organists!"

I scowled and replied, "What makes you assume that I'm not a member of the A.G.O???"
I wanted to give three snaps up at that point.

(Actually, I had been a long-time member of the A.G.O while in Dallas but had let my membership lapse. I quickly joined the New York chapter.)

I wanted to play something really big for the postlude so I worked long and hard on a 4-part Bach Fugue.

Finally, the day of the mass arrived. The organist at St. Patrick's let me in and turned on the monster motors for me.

That thing was incredible. It was tucked way behind the altar; so far away that it required closed-circuit television to see the goings-on at the altar. The pipes were at the other end of the cathedral; so far away that there was about a 1.25 second delay from the time you pressed a key until you heard the sound. It made it very difficult. That thing was really a monster. It was like flying a jet with a Rolls Royce engine.

As I was examining all one hundred sixty of the "stops", I noticed it: A sixty-four foot Bombarde stop. I couldn't believe it. I thought the 64' Bombarde was merely an organ urban legend! It actually had one.

The monster and I got along pretty well. During the big Bach Fugue, I yanked out that Bombarde for the closing measures. I know that was not an authentic way to play Bach, but I did it anyway. As my mom says, "No guts, no glory."

There were about 2,700 people in attendance that day along with lots of Bishops and some Cardinals. Hopefully, a cardinal or two got their pointy hats blown off during my fugue.

But I wasn't playing for any of them. I was playing for a certain 16 year old kid who once thought he'd never get back to New York, much less ever hear that pipe organ at St. Patrick's Cathedral again. Much less, play it.

PS: That spot on the front of my habit was sweat, baybee!


At 8:43 PM , Anonymous A said...

Wow, you are full of surprises Jon. Someday I would like to hear the story of how you went from being a Franciscan to being a Cistercian. Or was it the other way around?

At 3:20 PM , Blogger Lorraine said...

Maybe God got a little something out of it, too. I hear he has a fondness for bombarde-d Bach.

At 6:40 PM , Blogger Elaine Wheat said...

This made me cry. I pity the people who just know you through you blogs. I get to know you from beginning to end and you still thrill and surprise. L. and P. Mom

At 7:48 PM , Blogger Jon said...

Thanks Mom!

At 8:17 AM , Blogger Kyle said...

Very cool.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home