Tallman concert to explore organ’s roots

The Tallman Tracker Organ may look like it was built for the Hall of Christ, but this week’s concert will take the instrument back to its true roots.

Chautauqua Insitution Organist Jared Jacobsen will perform a concert on the Tallman Tracker Organ at 12:15 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ. The concert is titled “Softly and Tenderly,” a reference to the Baptist hymn, “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling.”

“We are back to what this organ was intended to do,” Jacobsen said.

The organ was originally built for the First Baptist Church of Nyack, New York, in the late 19th century. While Jacobsen has no way of knowing what hymns that congregation preferred, hymnals from the era provided inspiration for the concert’s program, he said.

“It’s all part and parcel of this organ being built for a Baptist church,” Jacobsen said. “There isn’t a way you can build organ pipes to sound Baptist, but you can build an organ that plays hymn tunes that that congregation is singing extremely well.”

For Jacobsen, this concert is part of fulfilling the obligations taken on by the Institution when the organ was donated in 2000.

“Part of our charge when we first got [the Tallman Tracker Organ] from the Baptist church was that we had to take care of it and to nurture it,” Jacobsen said. “So I need to go back and touch upon its roots periodically so that I can be faithful to my charge as the organist here, to say that ‘this gift to us included this baggage,’ in the best sense of that phrase.”

In addition to the music, this concert will include a discussion of why some hymns become well-known classics, while others remain obscure. In this way, the concert is a celebration of the history of hymn-singing at Chautauqua as well as hymn-playing on the organ, Jacobsen said.

“From the very beginning of Chautauqua, there has been a tradition of hymn singing and introducing people to new hymns and helping [them] have the tools to decide for themselves what makes a good hymn and what’s not a good hymn,” he said.

The Massey Memorial Organ Mini-Concert will celebrate a different set of musical roots as it continues the season-long theme of “The Virtuoso Organist” with music by English composers. Jacobsen will perform the concert at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater.

Edwin Lemare, who began his career as the organist for St. Margaret’s Church in London, is among the composers to be recognized.

“[Lemare was] the greatest organist at the beg of the 20th century,” Jacobsen said. “[He] was beyond brilliant. In a century that produced many brilliant organists, Lemare was at the very top.”

Lemare moved to America to begin a career as a concert musician after a new priest fired him for his elaborate improvisations, Jacobsen said. The composer landed in San Francisco, where he performed at the 1915 World’s Fair.

Lemare’s music eventually fell out of public favor, but remains a favorite with organists whose instruments are designed for the sonic impact his compositions created.

“We were hungry for [Lemare’s music], because we were trying to recapture that era and to try do justice to the instruments and keep them from being thrown into the dumpster and replaced with other things,” Jacobsen said.

Compositions intended for royal weddings and coronations, as well as pieces by William Mathias and George Friedrich Handel will round out the program.

Jacobsen is looking forward to the concert, because it will showcase not only the compositions, but the Amp’s acoustics.

“This music won’t work when it’s in a place where the acoustics also don’t work, because it doesn’t have the fire and the sparkle and the excitement,” he said. “But in here, you can sort of get on top of a piece like a surfer gets on a wave. You just ride the wave.”