From the Municipal Organist — Summer 2016

This May, over 600 fourth through sixth grade students came to Merrill Auditorium for our annual Meet the King of Instruments Concert. Students heard a variety of music and genres from Bach’s Little Fugue in g minor and Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster to Nigel Ogden’s Penguin’s Playtime (with accompanying videos which captured the antics of those furry arctic creatures) and John Williams’ Theme to Jurassic Park. Two high school students, Sophie Blair and Seamus Gethicker, were also featured organists in this 45-minute exploration of the organ. The use of a video screen, a camera on the console, and a number of slide and video presentations captured the interest of the students.

For many of the students attending, this concert was the culmination of various in-school educational programs this past year. As part of our partner schools, we worked with 4th and 5th grade students from Hartford-Sumner School and Loranger Middle School (OOB) as they studied the music of Bach and the organ; 200 6th graders at Mt. Ararat Middle School, Topsham where they and their teachers used the organ as a vehicle for exploration of sound wave energy in science classes. I taught 400 students K-4 grade at St. Alban’s VT, and worked with 6th grade students at Farwell and Longley Schools in Lewiston in a general program about the organ.

For the past 12 years we have used Kotzschmar Junior (K Jr) as a hands-on learning experience to teach a number of musical topics focused on the pipe organ. In the classroom we: listen to cantatas, concertos, toccatas and fugues; dance a minuet; learn basic musical structure; explore the many parts of the organ; take a scientific approach to understanding pipes and vibrations and how they relate to frequency, amplitude, other aspects of sound waves; and more!

Before the first visit in the classroom, teachers receive background resources to the pipe organ. During two consecutive weeks, I am in the classroom with K Jr engaging with the subject. The classes then visit a local pipe organ, where I play a short program which reinforces the topics we discussed in the classroom. Sometimes the students go on a pipe organ related “scavenger hunt” exploring the console, the pipe chamber with the components of the key and stop action, the reservoir and pipes, and the building which often explores local history.

The final step in this learning adventure is a trip to Merrill Auditorium to experience and explore the great Austin organ, to revisit topics from previous lessons, and to explore the workings and windchest of the Kotzschmar.

The result is, instead of a single one-hour field trip to hear and tour the Kotzschmar Organ, each class of students has at least four opportunities to learn about and experience the organ on the musical journey created by myself and the FOKO education team. Students, teachers and chaperones are wowed and excited by the experience, often remarking about how they had no idea the instrument and its music could be so interesting, fascinating and complex.

It is a real honor and joy to open the ears, eyes and minds of our youth to this amazing instrument and its music.

—Ray Cornils