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Sojourn in a Foreign Land

Yeo Huan
6 August 2007

‘Didn’t you take any photos of Brisbane?!’

I looked sheepishly at my friend, who had hurled the question at me in astonishment. It was not without some embarrassment that I realised most of my photos were of pipe organs in Brisbane. The personal encounters with those amazing instruments had literally exhilarated me out of my senses. It hadn’t occurred to me that I should have taken more pictures of other sights, and that most people back home probably wouldn’t understand or appreciate my idée fixe of a sojourn in a foreign land.

I was to attend and give a paper at an academic conference at the University of Queensland, but needless to say, I had made sure to give myself ample time to explore the pipe organs located in the Brisbane city centre. As a matter of fact, I had been trying hard to decide if I should contribute an article to the AGO website after I returned, because I realised it really is quite self-defeating to attempt to write about music (or the experience of music). Anyhow, here it is in compendious fashion: at least I know the photos will be appreciated by the right company!

Albert St Uniting Church

I guess I was just being ‘deprived’, but an audible ‘Wow’ escaped me as I entered the church and beheld the organ facade in its serene surroundings. (I think I woke the caretaker from his nap.) It was a pity that I had missed out on this one while I was e-mailing the other churches to arrange my organ visits. As such, I couldn't get access to the instrument (originally built by George Benson of Manchester; rebuilt by Walker & Sons) as the caretaker said he didn’t have the organ key.

St Andrew’s Uniting Church

I had emailed the church administrator Mrs Jennifer Ponting, but she never replied. I had also tried calling her a couple of times, but nobody ever answered the phone. I guess I was really lucky to be able to find her when I visited the church, as she said she had only just gotten back into the office that very day, after having been ill and away from work for the past three weeks. She gave me access to the organ, and I was most grateful for that. It was a three-manual instrument (originally built by W. G. Rendall; rebuilt by Walker & Sons), with very warm and intimate sounds.

Brisbane City Hall

Brisbane City Hall Brisbane City Hall Brisbane City Hall

Gosh. This was a HUGE instrument. Five manuals, and so many stops! I was left all alone inside the hall, and I played to my heart's content on the instrument (Henry Willis & Sons). It took the Banquet Manager (who brought me into the hall) and me some time though to locate the key switch for the organ. The key switch was located at one inconspicuous corner away from the console. The acoustics were rather dry, but the sounds that came from the organ were awesome nonetheless. It was pretty apparent that it hadn't been maintained or tuned for some time, as there were ciphers on some stops (especially on the Great). The pedal had a cipher in the 32-foot reed (I think it was Contra Ophioleide)! I had to switch off the blower (i.e., the whole organ) and turn it on again to stop the cipher. A rattling (pun intended) experience indeed!

St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral

This was a ‘pseudo Cavaille-Coll’ console, which means I got quite confused and had to take some time to figure out how the stops were configured! It was a three-manual instrument (Knud Smenge, Melbourne), and the number of stops was comparable to the one at St Andrew's. This organ was obviously much newer, and certainly very well-maintained. The organ sounds had a refreshing sparkle, and I nearly fell from the organ bench from the divine acoustics! There were at least five to six seconds of reverberation, and it was simply beautiful. I dare say it was even a spiritual experience to just play on that instrument.

St John’s Cathedral

The other organist who had been practising there—his name is Andrew, if I'm not wrong—got off the bench, said hi to me and let me take over. And good golly, both Chris and Andrew decided they should probably leave me alone to have fun with the organ and asked if I would be okay with that. I was quite incredulous: you don't always come across people who are so trusting that they leave a near-stranger alone in their cathedral, and ask him to lock up by himself after he's done playing on one of the largest pipe organs in Brisbane! I was certainly deeply appreciative of their goodwill.

St John’s Cathedral St John’s Cathedral St John’s Cathedral St John’s Cathedral

The four-manual instrument (Norman and Beard) was massive, and sounded much better than the one in City Hall. It was sheer ecstasy: there were at least four to five seconds of reverberation, and Widor’s Toccata sounded splendid.

The Mayne Centre, University of Queensland

I had said I would be happy with just ten to fifteen minutes on the organ, but goodness, the staff at the Mayne Centre were very kind to give me one whole hour! The three-manual instrument (Roger Pogson, Sydney; Laukhuff, Germany) was simply marvellous. Apart from a few ciphers (which was understandable considering how rarely it had been played), it produced quite a magnificent sound. I was genuinely taken by surprise by the wonderful acoustics (about four seconds) as the website had given me the impression that the acoustics at the Mayne Centre were dry. I couldn’t have had a more uplifting start to the day: the music felt like it poured straight from the heavens. It was sheer bliss.

 

The University of Queensland
The University of Queensland
The University of Queensland

Albert St Uniting Church
Albert St Uniting Church

St Andrew’s Uniting Church
St Andrew’s Uniting Church
St Andrew’s Uniting Church

St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral
St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral
St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral
St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral

The Mayne Centre, University of Queensland
The Mayne Centre, University of Queensland
The Mayne Centre, University of Queensland
The Mayne Centre, University of Queensland
The Mayne Centre,
University of Queensland