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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Pipedreams Oaxacan Holiday

Program document #0242 October 2002

document Return to Oxacan Holiday Feature

Edward Pepe = PLAIN
Michael Barone = BOLD

Tell me a little bit about the foundation of IOHIO or the institute for historic organs in Oaxaca, which in Spanish translates out to IOHO, right?

Pronounced yo-yo. That’s right. Well, it started for me about 6 years ago when I first started to come to Mexico on tours of the organs organized by the Westfield center and Susie Tattershall and Lynn Edwards. Came to Oaxaca. I think I did that maybe four or five times. The last trip was just in Oaxaca itself for 3 weeks. Just fell in love with the place and just decided when I was able to stop work, teaching photography in the states, to head south to Mexico and ended up in Oaxaca.

What makes Oaxaca special in the context of Mexico generally, and then in the context of the organ universe?

Well, it’s hard to say, but I think people who’ve been here know what makes it special. I actually don’t like to say much that it’s a special place because thenthen it will be overrun by people looking for special thingsyes, people or people like me who are looking for special things. But the cat’s out of the bag already, Ed. I know, butand certainly now.

It’s something that we in the United States don’t usually think of but the cultural life of the new Spain, the territory of Mexico was very advanced even before our colonies were, you know, getting rugs on the floor and at the end of the 1600s, Mexico City Cathedral had one splendid organ and very early in the 1700s it had 2 splendid organs that could be compared to anything in Europe and throughout the country a very active organ building and organ playing culture, isn’t that

It’s true here in Oaxaca, of course. The earliest mention of an organ here in Oaxaca is from 1545. And then there are mentions again all through the 16th century. The first large organ in the Cathedral was built here in 1570 by one of the most famous organ builders of the 16th century here in Mexico. And then it turns out that I learned in this conference that he was organist here in the Oaxaca Cathedral for 10 years.

In Oaxaca now, there are as far as you’ve been able to determine, how many extent instruments?

Well, that depends on how you count. We’re up to 51 official instruments. We have different ways of counting. We have to either have seen the instrument our self or see a picture of it before we actually list it on our list of organs, but we have reports of many more, some of them to varying degrees of certainty, actually and of credibility.

Now, it’s kind of an anthropologic process, though, because most of these organs have not been played for years. Some are extremely derelict.

Yeah, that’s putting it mildly, actually. Yes. There are many questions involved in this whole process of course, of to what end to restore an organ. Of the 51 that exist here, there are 6 now that are playable and most of those don’t get played and that’s just the reality of things. Most of the interest comes from elsewhere because most of the knowledge resides elsewhere. I mean, people need to be educated here. It’s a very difficult thing. People everywhere have television now and they’re subject to all the same sorts of pressures that people anywhere are subject to. So, it’s a little bit of a cultural imperialism for us to expect Mexicans some how to be more authentic to themselves and be receptive to a tradition which, in all honesty, we’ve practically lost in the states or even in Europe. I mean, 20 years ago when I studied in Europe, if you played a concert, the church was actually full. Even in a small town and my understanding is that that’s now longer true so much anymore in Europe even, so. Where the organ culture has had a continuity. Where people still use melodies, sing the melodies, use the words thatthe literature that we’re all familiar with that it’s based on. But here there’s hardlythere’s hardly a link to thethere’s hardly anything for people to hang on to. With Vatican II, change in music, change in tastes, guitars, the task of reintroducing music into the churches here and into the life of the people here is really quite overwhelming.

When one walks into one of these old churches, that dates back 3, 4 hundred years, ones that have restored, the decorations of their interiors cleaned, paint repaired, plaster redone, as necessary and they just glisten with vibrant beauty. To turn around then and look up into the choir loft and see an organ there, even if it doesn’t playdon’t you think that makes people wonder what it might sound like and then, if it does play as in the case with those 6 that have been restored, don’t you think it should be exciting to them to have the decoration come alive as it were?

Hopefully. I’m just not sure. I would like to think that. But there are churches, frankly, where the organ has been restored and where people come and play concerts and there’s no one in the village to play the organ so it’s just not in the custom to include it in the mass or to include it in the marriages, weddings. Although, more and more now, we get called as people are getting married in Tlacochahuaya. They at least know that they can call us and we’re happy to do that if we’re available because we’re committed to trying to re-introduce us to the organ into the life of the community and the life of the church. One of our goals is to hire a young Mexican organist who would be here full time, in Oaxaca, whose job it would be to play services like that. We would offer his services to various church and various functions. And for teaching in the villages where the organs are playable.

In putting on this conference, what was your hope. You weren’t really wanting to shine bright light on all of this and call the world in to swarm around Oaxacan instruments and make them their own. Or were you?

Well, I never wanted to do this conference. I see. I have to admit. Now that it happened, I’m very happy that it happened. I am humbled by the experience actually, it’s quite overwhelming. As I said, I’ve worked for the Westfield Center for many years and I spent 10 years of my life playing on conferences and I knew what was involved. One of the things that got us through this was Cicely had no idea what she was getting herself into. Plus she has an enormous amount of energy, so. She pretty much dragged us along through this process and, of course, the original impetus came from Elisa, so. But it’s really been quite incredible and I’ve been very moved and touched byespecially by the organ builders who have worked here and who this is really going to effect. People who live here and restore organs. To see someone like Joachim Waslowski sign this protocol today, knowing that it’s going to affect his life very, very much. He is not going to be able to restore organs in Mexico in the way that he has been able to before. But his love of the organ allowed him to overcome his own comfort, his own way of working that he’s been used to, which is a wonderful way. He’s a wonderful restorer. But this will affect him now. It’s going to mean a lot more work for him. A lot more documentation. A lot more interaction with the government. So, I just have to say for people like that that I have an enormous amount of respect.

What’s either the message here or the lesson that lovers of organ music in the United States who would hear this broadcast should take from listening these performances, listening to these instruments, having history alive in their ears in a place that they never expected organ music to be played?

There are many lessons from this. I think one of the things that affected everyone most deeply here was the reception of the people in the villages, when they welcomed us. When they came to see their organ or to play their organ. And one of the messages, certainly for me, was that all of us involved have a responsibility to the instruments to overcome whatever sort of differences we might have to work together.