WOW!! It was Saturday Evening, September 27th and the Hermann Kotzschmar Memorial Organ was about to be played for the first time in two years after a complete renovation. There was a totally sold out Merrill Auditorium (For an Organ concert!!). The Board of the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ showed up in tuxedos. There was electric excitement in the air for all of us. I remembered two years ago when I was sitting next to Peter Plumb, a founder of FOKO, and Kathy Grammer, FOKO’s Executive Director, at the closing concert of the Kotzschmar Centennial. The workers of Foley Baker (the company doing the renovation) removed some of the “show pipes” at the front of Merrill as the Organ, with Ray Cornils, our wonderful Municipal Organist at the console playing the final number, and we all had tears in our eyes. This unique symbol of Portland’s musical culture was being taken away.We had every confidence that our efforts to renovate it would be completely fulfilled, but still, the reality of removing the Organ was emotional.
Now, here we were two years later. The hall went dark. A scrim was backlit. And then it fell, revealing the show pipes and console. The Foley Baker workers gathered up the fallen scrim and carried it off to thunderous applause. The Organ, with Ray Cornils back where he belonged, and the Kotzschmar Festival Brass under the direction of Peter Conte, the Organist for the Wanamaker organ in Philadelphia, launched into a special fanfare written by Carson Cooman and commissioned for the opening. It was glorious.
But the real highlight of the evening for me was the beginning of the second half of the concert after intermission. I was on stage, standing between Peter Plumb and Kathy Grammer, and I thought “what a fitting way for us to be positioned considering where we were two years ago.”
We launched into the Star Spangled Banner with the Organ behind us and the sold out audience in front. Both Peter and Kathy are excellent singers and it was quite an experience to hear them on either side of me with the cascade of 2000 voices rolling down from the house. Kathy said I was only a little flat. I didn’t care. I sang as loudly as I could, because I was proud to be the president of FOKO and stand before the people of Portland at this wonderful moment in Portland’s cultural history.
FOKO and the people of Portland had done what had never been done before in the history of our country. We represented in our efforts, the finest in volunteer initiative and public service and for that moment we were the American Ideal. We had done more than bring a 100 year old musical Icon back to life.
This is what ran through my mind as I sang our National Anthem. Hundreds of municipal organs have disappeared over the last 100 years (the Kotzschmar was the first municipal organ in our country). Our Organ was still alive, and better than ever thanks to the people of our community.
— Laurence H. Rubinstein