[MUSIC PLAYING] PETER LEPAGE: This is one of the largest arts projects that the arts college has ever engaged in.
ANETTE SCHWARZ: It is the visual representation of the humanities at Cornell.
[ORGAN MUSIC PLAYING]
We have this musical masterpiece that represents all of our questions. And this is very rare, that you can combine-- or find an object that allows you to ask historical, sociological, literary, theological, and scientific questions.
ANNETTE RICHARDS: It's based on actually two different instruments, both of them built by the master builder of the late 17th century in North Germany, Arp Schnitger.
MUNETAKA YOKOTA: Once again, B flat. [TONE SOUNDING] Repeat. [TONE SOUNDING]
ANNETTE RICHARDS: The main players were the researchers and craftsmen at the Gothenburg Organ Art Center, at the University of Goteborg in Sweden working alongside me and my colleague David Yearsley here at Cornell. And then of course, we collaborated with craftsmen here locally to actually build the instrument, the people at Parsons Organ Builders in Bristol near Canandaigua, and of course, Chris Lowe here locally, who worked with Peterborough to build the case, led, I should say, artistically and really in every way, by Munetaka Yokota.
He's, I think, one of the world's, if not the world's greatest, builder of this kind of instrument.
[ORGAN MUSIC PLAYING]
We've had many, many volunteers from the local community helping out as the organ has been installed, from unpacking the containers to actually some of the very intricate work with the voicing. There's been enormous local interest, which is very gratifying and very exciting.
MUNETAKA YOKOTA: OK.
RICHARD PARSONS: All the techniques that were done here were copied by techniques that were thought to be used by Schnitger.
CHRIS LOWE: The case is-- it's all quarter-sawn white oak. And it's an elegantly simple box. If you take away the moldings and the decorations, it's really constructed of inch and 3/8 thick boards.
And they're all mortise and tendoned together with pegs and made it-- it's a very traditional joinery technique. And many hundreds of years of that kind of joint have been holding things together. And so it was nothing new for me, that technique, but on a much grander scale than I'm used to. And then the decorations, of course, are wonderful molding shapes that are copied from the German organs.
RICHARD PARSONS: Anything metal you see for covers, for accessing the valves that are internal, are all hand-forged by a blacksmith in Sweden. The bellows, these four total bellows, are designed to provide enough air to play the organ under a variety of winding conditions. And this is done by pumping one bellows at a time. And this is done in a relatively slow and even pattern so that the fluctuations of the wind are kept to a minimum, to keep-- that's going to affect the music and how that's played.
MUNETAKA YOKOTA: What I'm doing is called voicing. And voicing is the adjustment of the volume and timbre and controlling the speech, which makes the consonant of a sound, the sound right at the beginning of the sound, as well as this steady state with a sound on each pipe and each stop and as an entire organ. And then at the end, I have to tune this [? entire ?] organ.
SPEAKER: How many pipes are there?
MUNETAKA YOKOTA: Oh, I don't remember exact numbers, but there's something like 1,820-some pipes.
[ORGAN MUSIC PLAYING]
ANNETTE RICHARDS: The instrument is designed specifically to play music from the 17th and 18th centuries. So its real strength will be the big North German repertoire from the late 17th century. One thinks of composers like Dietrich Buxtehude and his contemporaries. But it's also going to be ideal for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, so later into the 18th century, as well as Bach's sons and even 19th century German composers Mendelssohn and Brahms. And I'm thinking that, in fact, it's going to be a very inspiring and exciting vehicle also for new music.
ANETTE SCHWARZ: It is not just an organ for, let's say, the music department. My students and I could follow a history of science, of a craft, of socioeconomic development, of approaches to aesthetics just by following the history of this particular piece. There will be somebody from what-- interested in the physics of sound or the history of ideas or a musicologist, or you have somebody whose interested in the-- how air moves.
SHEFFORD BAKER: Certainly, the social sciences will have a heyday looking at how a big, complex thing like this comes to be. I was interested in material science of this and how you control the structure and properties and materials to get a sound or an effect that you like. And of course, when an organ like this was originally built, this was all done by trial and error.
And somehow or other, they came by trial and error to an interesting set of answers. And now, probably only in the last 25 years or 30 years, do we really have the tools to look in there and answer the questions, what problem did they solve by trial and error that we could understand from a scientific perspective?
[ORGAN MUSIC PLAYING]
PETER LEPAGE: A significant role of the humanities is to preserve culture, to remember culture, to understand culture. And this organ is just directly almost a physical manifestation of that mission. And every time it's played, every time we listen to it, we'll be participating in that exercise, which is just so fundamental to what we do.
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The new baroque organ in Anabel Taylor Chapel re-creates the sound and visual design of historic German instruments of 300 years ago.
Arts and Sciences dean Peter Lepage, german studies chair Anette Schwarz, university organist Annette Richards, organ builder Richard Parsons, cabinetmaker Chris Lowe, lead designer Munetaka Yokota, and materials science and engineering professor Shefford Baker discuss the nearly 10-year effort--by over 100 people on two continents--to bring the project to fruition.
Commissioned by Cornell's Department of Music, the organ will be used for solo repertoire, such as the music of J.S. Bach, as well as vocal and instrumental ensemble accompaniment.