Recording Moravian Organ Music
The Moravian Music Foundation preserves, shares, and celebrates Moravian musical culture.
“All the ducks in a row” – that sounds too often like wishful thinking, but for the Moravian Music Foundation, it really happened, the week of January 14-18, 2019, when everything worked just like it should have to record more music than we need for the forthcoming CD of Moravian organ music!
A lot of work went into this ahead of time. The project was three or four years in the “dream” stage, and in early 2018, things began to come together. Organist Mary Lou Kapp Peeples (with, I’m sure, the consultation and counsel of her composer husband Wade Peeples) reviewed dozens upon dozens of compositions, to begin to narrow down to the selections on this CD.
“But wait,” you say, “Nola, you’ve been telling us for years there isn’t much Moravian organ music. Where did all this come from?” And you’re right – if you’re thinking early Moravian. There’s very little pre-20th-century organ solo music written by Moravians (at least that we now know). There are the preludes by Christian Latrobe, Francis Florentine Hagen’s arrangements and transcriptions, and in the early 20th century, E. I. Erbe’s preludes. These are all good pieces, but hardly enough to justify a whole CD.
But in the latter quarter of the 20th century and the early years of this century, Moravian composers have been busy! With careful work, and that indefinable factor called “inspiration”, many composers are writing wonderful pieces based on Moravian chorale tunes old and new. And even since we recorded in January, we’ve become aware of many more pieces … dare I sniff out a second CD coming in a couple of years?
So. What “ducks” had to line up for this recording, this year?
There is, of course, the usual cast of characters – performer (Mary Lou Kapp Peeples); producer (Gwyn Michel); recording engineer (Wade Peeples); liner-notes author and general “project manager (yours truly). And then we throw in another cast of characters – the instruments themselves! Mary Lou had the ambitious thought to make this an exploration, not only of Moravian music, but of Moravian organs, and so the recording takes place not at one location, but at five. That meant five organs had to be tuned and checked over; five locations had to be reserved; air-handling units in five locations needed to be turned off or minimized; all the recording equipment to be hauled in and out of Frank’s truck (not 5, but 6 times, as we had 2 sessions at Home Church!). Everybody had to stay healthy, and (in January, no less!), the weather needed to stay cooperative. OK, I’ve lost count of the “ducks” that needed to be in a line. The organs featured were: 1798 Tannenberg, Single Brothers House; 1800 Tannenberg, Old Salem Visitors Center; 1830 Henry Erben, Single Sisters House; 1926 Hook and Hastings, Calvary Moravian Church; 1959 Aeolian-Skinner, Home Moravian Church.
So you have an idea of the week, here’s the schedule, starting on Sunday, January 13:
Sunday Gwyn flew in from Bethlehem (NC folks, you’ll remember there was a LOT of ice here that weekend! Gwyn was able to arrive safely, but her drive in from the airport was strange, in that there were very few lights along I-40 and Silas Creek Parkway all the way into Winston-Salem!)
Monday We did not plan to start recording until late in the day, in case Gwyn’s Sunday flights were delayed or cancelled. As it turns out, she did arrive on time. We began at 5:00 p.m. in Gray Auditorium of the Old Salem Visitors’ Center, with the 1800 Tannenberg organ, and recorded until about 10 that evening.
Tuesday All day at Home Moravian Church
Wednesday 5:30 p.m. at the Sisters House, Salem College, to record on the 1830 Erben organ
Thursday evening at the Single Brothers House, on the 1797 Tannenberg
Friday Morning at Home Moravian Church
Afternoon at Calvary Moravian Church on the 1926 Hook & Hastings organ.
But wait! (my turn to say that) … That’s not ALL we recorded that week! You’ll note that we had sessions on Wednesday and Thursday evening, so on Wednesday and Thursday days, we worked with violinist Warwick Lister and pianist Barbara Lister-Sink to record the three-movement Sonata for Violin and Piano by Charles G. Vardell. This lush, mid-20th-century work will be part of a forthcoming recording project, to include many of Vardell’s piano solos. This was a great opportunity to do this, as Frank and Gwyn were “booked” for the week; Warwick was free to visit here from his home in Florence, Italy; and Warwick and Barbara had had rehearsal time the summer before to prepare the piece.
So now we’re up to 8 recording sessions, 6 locations, 5 days, 3 performers, 1 producer, 1 engineer, 1 project manager, organ technicians, facilities managers, staff of Old Salem, Salem College, Home Church, Calvary Moravian …
And it all worked. And when you hear the recording (coming this fall!), you’ll know, as we already do, that it was worth it. Can’t wait to share this wonderful music so beautifully played!
Next time: What does the “Psalm of Joy” teach us?