Six months after the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opened, a new star is about to grab the spotlight in Helzberg Hall.
The Kauffman’s 5,548-pipe, custom-built organ makes its debut Saturday and Sunday, in performances by renowned organist James David Christie.
Built by Canadian organ manufacturer Casavant Frères, the new organ is a significant addition to Kansas City’s pipe organ family.
“Just as any new family member adds excitement and new dimensions to the lives of each person in the family, this Casavant will bring new gifts to our community,” said Jan Kraybill, principal organist at the Community of Christ Temple in Independence. “And of course, the fabulous acoustics of Helzberg Hall will enhance the artistry of all who contributed to the design, construction, and installation of this instrument.”
For newcomers, the sound of a pipe organ likely triggers images of the Phantom of the Opera — or even tentacle-faced Davy Jones in the second “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
But many of those who regularly attend the wide variety of organ recitals in the Kansas City area are looking forward to hearing the new instrument and comparing the sound to the other beloved organs in the metro — including those at Community of Christ Temple and the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence.
This weekend’s concerts by Christie sold out quickly, with patrons traveling from across the country and Canada. The next major organ performance will come in mid-June at a Kansas City Symphony concert, which is also virtually sold out.
In addition to Kraybill, we also talked with Elisa Bickers, organ professor at UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, to create this brief organ primer.
“I encourage listeners to hear the great variety of sounds available in a pipe organ,” Bickers said. “That characteristic is what separates the pipe organ from every other instrument, and has rightly earned it the title, ‘King of Instruments.’ ”Compiled by Andrea Fowler and David Frese, The Star How big is the new organ?
The Kauffman Casavant has 5,548 pipes. By comparison, the Aeolian-Skinner organ at the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence has 6,334. The Community of Christ Temple organ, also made by Casavant Frères, has 5,685 pipes.Where are all the pipes?
More than 90 percent of the pipes — some made of steel, some of wood — are behind the stainless-steel mesh screen in the 50-by-50-foot pipe chamber behind the stage. The pressurized air with which music is made is supplied by two blowers underneath.How does a pipe organ work?
The pipe organ produces sound by driving air (wind) through the pipes selected at the keyboard on the organ console. Each pipe produces a single pitch, and they are divided into sets, called ranks. Each rank has a common timbre, or tone quality, and volume. There are two types of pipes: Flue pipes produce sound by forcing air through a fipple, like that of a recorder; reed pipes produce sound via a beating reed, like that of a clarinet or saxophone. The organist controls the instrument by playing various keyboards, or manuals, foot pedals and button-like devices called stops.What is a stop?
A stop usually controls one rank of pipes, although mixtures and undulating stops control multiple ranks. The name of the stop reflects timbre and construction, and the style of the organ in which it resides. All the stops on the Kauffman Center organ are labeled in French. Generally, a stop can simulate anything from the sound of thunder to the warble of a birdWhat is a manual, and how many are there?
Manual is synonymous with keyboard. The new organ has four manuals. Each is associated with a unique collection of sounds. The organist can go (for example) from a softer, mellower sound to a louder, more poignant one just by changing keyboards.How do the organist and conductor communicate? During orchestral concerts in Helzberg Hall, the organist faces away from the conductor, so a video monitor allows the organist to follow musical directions.