Father's Day, June 15, 2014 was Dr. Blake West's day to demonstrate the Auditorium Organ in Independence, Missouri, and demonstrate he did. Beginning with W. S. Lloyd Webber's (1914-1982) "Solemn Procession," the selections were loosely tied to a father theme, as well as to the task of putting the mighty Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ through its paces.
Webber's piece is solemn, as with stately elephants. Generally homophonic in structure, it features trumpets rising above a militaristic organ orchestra.
Frank L Shepard (1852-1930) wrote "Traditional English Melody," to Terra Beata, the traditional tune for "This is my Father's world." It is a contemplative piece, which Mr. West played with mostly strings and woodwinds stops; the last, very soft verse was played only from the rear antiphonal organ, with the effect of floating the tune in the air.
Dr. West introduced Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) as the father of organ music; he wrote music specifically for the organ. His highly chromatic "Fantasy in g minor" demonstrates the usefulness of multiple modes employing the well tempered scale. There is actually disagreement as to how many keys this particular exercise covers; the performer's determination affects whether certain ornamental notes are sharpened, to serve as a leading tone. Less technically, Bach certainly proved that blue notes were not an invention of twentieth century New Orleans.
Powell Weaver (1890-1951) is part of the Auditorium legacy. He was organist at First Baptist Church, at Olive and Linwood in Kansas City, music department head at Ottawa University, and past director of music at Temple B'Nai Jehudah and Grand Avenue Temple United Methodist Church. He was also organ instructor for Bethel Knoche, who played the dedicatory recital at the Auditorium in 1960. Did you get all of that?
His "A Gothic Cathedral," presents the organ as a soft, contemplative instrument, and as one capable of expressing grandeur of the highest order. It is one long crescendo, starting at middle to low ranges and arching a little higher, then a little higher than that, until the last few measures finish with the piece's highest tones, full chords, and marked ffff; please leave a comment if you know how to pronounce it, but it means really loud. Which it was.
Sonata No. 1 in f minor, movements 3 Recitative and 4 Allegro Assai by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) completed the program. The movements are played without a break, the 3rd ending on a dominant 7th chord and resolving in the 4th movement. The 3rd movement had an intriguing call and response format, as a cantor with a congregation. The 4th movement is celebratory, with lots of contrasting ascending passages, ending with a crash, convincing all listeners of the power of these pipes.
Father's Day connection, Felix Mendelssohn's father didn't want him to be a musician, but he became one anyway.
Dr. West has been a volunteer organ staff member at Community of Christ since 1980. He has studied organ with Bethel Knoche and Mary Lou Robinson. Since 2011 he has been the Executive Director of The Dome and Spire Foundation. He currently teaches computer science and is Technology Integration Specialist at Blue Valley High School.