BENJAMIN HOSTE | File Photo
Jared Jacobsen with the Massey Memorial Organ in 2013. Jacobsen is now in his 19th year as Chautauqua Institution organist.
Jared Jacobsen has always wanted to be the organist at Chautauqua.
“I really have the dream job I always wanted,” said Jacobsen, who is now in his 19th season as the Institution’s official organist.
Jacobsen plays a concert on both of the Institution’s organs each week. He performs on the Tallman Tracker Organ at 12:15 p.m. every Tuesday in the Hall of Christ. Concerts on the Massey Memorial Organ are at 12:15 p.m each Wednesday in the Amphitheater.
“I feel a great responsibility to honor the people that made these [concerts] possible here,” Jacobsen said. “As the Chautauqua organist, I feel like I have an obligation to use these [instruments] in the best way I can.”
Jacobsen said the theme of his Tallman organ concerts will change every week. Today’s concert is titled “Tallman Organ 101,” and will include a “show and tell” on the mechanical workings of the instrument.
The program will include a “guided sonic tour” of the organ, which will feature a variety of concert-style pieces.
Jacobsen will also ask an audience member to assist him by turning the wheel that pumps air into the organ’s pipes. This assistant will become an honorary member of the “Tallman Aerobic Society” and receive a button.
Wednesday’s concert will kick off the season-long theme, “The Virtuoso Organist.”
Jacobsen said that these concerts will feature music from a different part of the world each week in an effort to showcase the Massey organ’s abilities. However, the first concert will feature music that Jacobsen closely associates with that particular instrument rather than any particular place.
Pieces to be played include Charles-Marie Widor’s “Toccata,” “Toccata and Fugue” by Johann Sebastian Bach, and “Sunshine Toccata” by Firmin Swinnen.
The Tallman Organ is a mechanical instrument, which means there is a mechanical linkage between each key or pedal pressed by the organist and the trackers, or valves, that allow air to release from the organ’s pipes, producing sound.
Jacobsen said the Tallman organ was constructed in 1893 for the First Baptist Church in Nyack, New York. It came to reside in the Hall of Christ in 2000.
The experience of playing the Tallman Organ reminds him of chamber music, Jacobsen said.
“Chamber music is a handful of people who get together to jam and have a good time, and that’s how I feel when I play the Tracker Organ,” Jacobsen said. “It’s just me and a small group of pipes jamming and having a good time.”
In contrast, the Massey Organ is an electro-pneumatic action organ, which employs a computer system that forms an electronic link between the organ’s control panel and the pipes. This eliminates the need for a human-powered pump like the one required by the Tallman Organ.
“People always say that [an organ concert in] the Amp is a visceral experience because the Massey Organ instrument is built into a wooden frame, and that wooden frame is bolted into the wooden frame of the Amp,” Jacobsen said. “Because the seats are also wooden, you can actually feel the organ music coming up out of the floor and feel the air vibrating around you.”
The Massey Organ was donated to the Institution in 1907, and the instrument was fully renovated for the 1993 season. In addition to the weekly concerts, the instrument contributes to various other programming in the Amp, including Sacred Song Services, Old First Night and, occasionally, Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and Music School Festival Orchestra performances.
“[Playing the Massey Organ is] a more dramatic experience,” Jacobsen said. “It’s almost larger than life.”
Though Jacobsen has been experiencing this larger-than-life music for nearly 20 seasons, he has not forgotten his beginning.
“My job is to give them an experience that they can kind of only have at Chautauqua,” Jacobsen said. “I feel called to do this because when I came as a little kid, someone gave me that experience. Now I’m hoping to pass it on to the future.”