“Pulling Out All the Stops” WHYY-TV, PBS, 3/22/2015.
For years I ignored Longwood Garden’s display of their organ. I can barely play the radio, so why would I care about an organ? When I finally did see it, I was stunned. Five of the nine rooms housing the mechanism and over 5,000 of the 10,000 pipes are on display. Each room is two or three stories high. The organ, built by Pierre S. du Pont in 1930, was rebuilt in 1957-58 and rebuilt again in 2004–2011 (so Pierre never heard this one). It is probably the only chance most of us will have to see the inner workings of a major organ.
The organ display is behind the ballroom in the main conservatory and is always open (except when the ballroom is closed for a special event, which is often), but the best times are when someone is playing, or even when it is playing automatically. You can then watch the mechanisms in operation, particularly the shutters to the ballroom that open and close during a piece to change the intensity of the sound. ( The back shutters are open in the photo. The ballroom is on the other side.) Even when not operating, there is more to the display than just the rooms. You will come out knowing more about organs than you even knew there was to know.
The focus of a recent PBS special called “Pulling Out All the Stops” was Longwood’s International organ competition of June, 2013, with ten finalists selected from all over the world. They were young, like top athletes anywhere, like the athletes they had to be. Playing an organ at their level demands the quickness and dexterity of a professional basketball player. Since they had to share limited practice time on the competition organ, Longwood arranged for them to have additional practice on local organs. Each contestant had a volunteer assistant stay with them during their practice, and my wife was one of them. Everything was first-class. All she had to do was go to a Wilmington church. A Longwood van delivered the contestants, picked them up at the end of the day, and even returned midday with a gourmet packaged lunch for both the contestant and the volunteer. My wife was delighted with the whole experience and became a lifelong fan of her organist from London. He was one of the non-winners. There was only one winner, but the other nine were certainly not losers.
Watch for any rebroadcast of the program, and do not miss the display when you are at Longwood. The next competition is scheduled for June, 2016. Details are on Longwood’s website. After seeing the PBS program, I expect many distant visitors will arrange their vacations to include it.
You can see a trailer for the program and an interview with the winner on the Longwood website. At the website, search for the program title. Searching for just “organ” will bring up more.