Go ahead, hit play and listen while you read:
Scott’s a pianist, and a member of the ATOS (American Theatre Organ Society) and the AGO (American Guild of Organists). Never having taken a music lesson, he learned from his mom and began to play by ear at a young age. He would practice on the Emery Theatre’s Wurlizter organ, before the theatre closed down in 1999. Scott’s passion for the organ is only matched by his year-round love of Christmas.
“Music directors don’t usually let just anyone play their organs,” his friend John told me. “It was kinda like pulling teeth trying to find one in the city that Scott could play.”
We pull up to the Christ’s Community Church in Price Hill and wait for Amy and Chris, a couple of Westsiders who offered to let us into the church midday. The church was built in 1886, and stands today a mammoth, brick structure, with tall, tall windows of stained glass. It dons an impenetrable holiness over the neighborhood.
“The music director here has been trying to find someone to play this organ for over a year,” Chris tells us as he walks up the steps to unlock the church.
We walk past the words: “THE HILL IS ALIVE”, painted in rainbow fashion on the blacktop beside the church. It feels like a covert operation, getting let into a vacant church – for the sake of music.
“What kind of organ is it?” Scott asks, anticipating the moment he can sit down and put his hands on the keys, his feet on the pedals.
“I’m not sure!”
“It’s an old one!” the couple chime.
He’ll need to find a brass ensemble and choir soon, if he is to turn this old organ into the star of a Christmas show, as he plans. But for now, he’ll get the organ back in shape and worry about finding sopranos, altos, baritones, flutists, trombone and tuba players, later.
Outside, the neighborhood has come to a quiet, still halt. The blacktop radiates under the unrelenting, midwestern sun, and pedestrians move like molasses on the sidewalks. Inside, we creak our way up the stairs to arrive at the entrance to the sanctuary.
“One generation will commend your works to another… Psalm 145:4,” reads a quote, framed beside the church’s double doors.
Our eyes capture the glory of the architecture, the hanging medieval style lanterns, the raised altar, the choir loft, scanning every corner to locate the organ. There it is, we point, and like a pack of tourists, we move toward it.
Closed in its wooden case, a beast in hibernation, it is a somber, dusty mass of polished wood. The air grows thick as Scott settles in, slipping off his shoes to play the pedals.
The necessary nobs get a twist and buttons a punch, and slowly the organ pipes emerge from behind their wooden shutters. The keys and stops fan around Scott like a generous embrace from a sophisticated and distant relative.
I blink and my eyes stare off, looking deeply into the carpet below, watching as the sound of worship, celebration, rebirth surrounds us, the chords bellowing into my chest.
Aside from our motley crew, it seems a pity that no one else is there to bear witness. The pews try their best to look more like a potential audience than empty row upon empty row. The dust and sunlight pouring in from the warmth of the colored glass dance about, attempting to be part of this unique spectacle. The statue of Mary whispers to Cecilia, the patron saint of music, “Hear it!? Do you hear that? Stand tall, the organ is being reborn! O Bethlehem! O Faithful! Hark, angels sing!”
“An inspirational day,” the couple tells us before they head a few blocks away, back to their home. A bit of hope in a neighborhood where rainbows painted on pavement represent the site of a homicide, where the hot sun bakes on crumbling roofs, on half burnt houses.
So we took pause, for the sake of Scott’s passion and nothing else, and perhaps, if we let the music move us so, we left feeling a little more alive.
Scott is looking for a brass ensemble, choir, and other organizers (musically inclined or not!) in the Price Hill area willing to work together to put on a Christmas show this year during the annual “Holiday on the Hill.” Please contact John for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org