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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Pipedreams Oaxacan Holiday

Program document #0242 October 2002

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document Return to Oxacan Holiday Feature

Cicely Winter = PLAIN
Michael Barone = BOLD

How did this all happen? What was the spark of inspiration that got IOHIO going and got this conference going?

I guess I could say it was meeting certain people at the right times and events conspiring. I meet Ed Pepe down here in December of 1999 and he’s an organist. I was a pianist without an instrument to play so, I started hanging around organists and listening to organs and listening (this is a dangerous business you know) was entranced by the sound of the Tlacochahuaya organ. Ed, having had the experience of running the Westfield Center, had centers and institutes already programmed into his mind and so he could immediately see the possibilities of forming a project around the historic restored organs that were in need of being played. So we decided to propose a project based on promoting the restored instruments. Playing them, talking about them, just making sure that they were cleaned up and being maintained and just trying to reintroduce them into the culture. That’s how the IOHIO started and that was the original ideawas music and playing the restored instruments that were basically just being ignored after they’re being inaugurated and restored at great cost. Then the project took a new twist as we started exploring the countryside and seeing the unrestored organs and realizing they were in serious danger of possible destruction. We know of a few cases where organs were still being burned or taken apart for house repairs. We even saw a toeboard once in a roof, a church roof, somebody had grabbed for a repair job. And so, it became obvious that protection was as high priority as promotion. Even we continue to play occasional concerts and there was a huge response to those, people were dying to hear the organs. It was just a revelation at just how much interest there was in Oaxaca about this. It was actually the trips around the countryside and visits to different villages and seeing the organs in the state that they were in, realizing that there was absolutely no official set of rules or regulations to control their well-being although the INAH officially does control the national patrimony and so on, these fell between the cracks. There was really no, no attention being paid to the organs, even though they were in the churches, there’s plenty of attention to church projects, but they were kind of on the margin. So, talking to Ed, talking to Elisa Freixo, when I got to know her here a year and a half ago when she was here with a group of Brazilian organists, she had mentioned that they had similar problems in Brazil. We put our heads together and thought, gee wouldn’t it be nice if we could figure out something that could work for all countries of Latin America. We had no idea that it would turn into this but it took on a life of it’s own. There was obviously a need for it. The response was immediate and enthusiastic. We picked a couple of key people at the beginning: Guy Bovet and Gerhard Grenzing, representing the organ players and the organ builders who, they were for us really the key people. They responded immediately and that gave us the clue that maybe we were on to something.

How many people ended up coming to your conference and how many nations were represented?

I think all together there were about 80 people. 13 countries represented. Probably half from Mexico and half from other countries.

And part of the process was to, basically, ratify the set of protocols which are a recipe for the long term protection and benefit of these antique instruments.

Yes, that was the goal of it. There we had the background and experience of Ed Pepe and Lynn Edwards with their Westfield Center experience and they spent the past summer working on this code of regulations. Getting feedback from different sources, studying codes from other countries, taking the best of what they saw and then I went over it, tried to modify it to try to tailor it to specific Oaxacan, Mexican needs. Judging from peoples response to reading it during this past week, I think we covered all the bases. The beauty of the conference is that we seem to have actually achieved a goal of having a unanimous positive support of this declaration of this document. The conference would have been fabulous and wonderful even without it, but this really gave everybody a focus. A serious focus to feel like you’re really doing something instead of just enjoying each others talks and concerts.

Did you realize you were trying to do something that was essentially impossible or if not quite impossible, certainly had never been accomplished satisfactorily anywhere else?

Not at all. I had no idea. It’s like if you build a house in Mexico. If you have any idea of what you’re getting into, you’ll never start. I oversaw our house construction 25 years ago in the countryside and we wouldn’t have a house if we knew what that meant. I won’t say that about the conference, I never would’ve cancelled it, but I had no idea what I was getting into. I’ve never done anything like this in my life. I’ve never managed a conference. I’m new to the organ world. I’ve got a sense of issues of national patrimony because of my husbands work. He’s an archaeologist and his involvement with the INAH for 28 years. So you just absorb a certain amount by living here and associating with anthropologists and historians and so on. Maybe that detachment saved me and made some of that possible because I certainly don’t have any base of comparison. I don’t have any personal stake, I have nothing to prove to anyone. I’m not an organist, I’m not an organ builder. I’m really new to all of this and as far as your saying that it’s unique in the world, I have not a clue about this because I don’t even know what has been going on in the organ world.

Well, in the United States for instance, we don’t think of our pipe organs which are far more numerous, although not nearly so old, we don’t think of them as a part of the national patrimony of the United States.

I think when you’re a foreigner, a foreigner resident in a different country, your antennae are out there all the time. You live on the edge a little bit and you’re just always, you have to be a little bit hypersensitive to clues about heritage and patrimony and traditions and all that. And actually, I think that the heightened sensitivity makes you appreciate things more. Maybe you see things that other people don’t see. Maybe it’s like the tourists coming to town who sees things that the resident doesn’t see. It’s kind of like the inverse of the prophet in his homeland not being honored. The prophet out of his homeland is honored. I think that could very well be true. So, it was an advantage to be kind of an outsider, an ignorant outsider and just do what had to be done. It’s like the project took on a life of it’s own, you know and in a way this conference started out as a conference with just a few people. It had just started building and building and pretty soon a festival got thrown in because we were going to have all these wonderful artists. So, of course, we were going to have concerts, but that5 concerts means a festival and we had a photo show, we had a technical drawing show, we even had a philatelic cancellation. So you’ve really put your stamp on the organ scene in Oaxaca in a literal fashion, right? We really have. The organs deserve it, I must say. They’re quite seductive, quite charming.

Tell me about your hearing the organ out at Tlacochahuaya and what the experience was.

This was about two years ago. First time I probably played and heard an historic organ. Actually, that’s not true. I was president of the inaugural concert of the Tlacochahuaya organ in 1994. And I heard it and I remember liking it. And it was Dominic Ferand who played and who’s CD I have and I love that CD, but it’s like I just wasn’t ready for it. I probably was still trying to be a pianist, I was still hooked into things that I didn’t have as a pianist and maybe not open to organ. I also have children and a home and so on, so it just wasn’t the time to jump into something new. Then there was a time when I was ready because II had been back at school, I had been at Indiana University in 1997 and ’98 and studied performance program in piano and came back to Oaxaca just in time for the earthquake to close the theater and trap the concert piano inside. So, I was kind ofyou know, just events conspiring. Looking around forI was dying play. I didn’t have a piano to play anymore, I hadn’t really resolved what to do about that, I met some people who had been financing organ restorations in Oaxaca. They, in fact, introduced me to Gustavo Delgado and his wife Ophelio Gomez a few months before I met Ed. I knew about their restoration projects in Oaxaca. Once again, it didn’t really click. I was just roaming around you know, this kind of loose energy, looking for a focus. My focus was supposed to have been the piano and that was gone. My kids were out of the house. So, I went out to Tlacochahuaya sort of, by chain of events met Ed through another organist and I remember when I was sitting downstairs in the church looking around and Ed played the fauxbourdon of Cabézon. I just remember it, I remember sitting here thinking this is the real thing and this is the real music. It’s the gutsy stuff that I love. It’s the sounds that I love, it doesn’t matter if it’s piano or organ or what it is. It’s the real thing. I’m hearing it and I want to participate in it. That’s all I knew at that point. And then the way it unfolded is where we are today. So it was sort of good enough to eat. Yeah it was good enough to eat. Well, if you go out to that place and sit there and are surrounded by the beauty of that church and the smells and then the sound of the organ, youit’s pretty hard to resist.

Do you think of yourself as gardeners? These marvelous blossoms, these restored organs have come up in your garden, in your home garden, as it were and now you’re their caretaker, you keep them watered, you bring people by and say,“Look, isn’t that beautiful?”

Perhaps although a lot of them haven’t quite flowered. They’re still sprouting. We want them to flower and we’ll work toward that but yeah, that could be. Guardians and custodians. They’re just wonderful little treasures. We think of them sort of like our children and one thing that’s fun is this photographic survey that Ed Pepe has been doing on our trips with this incredible archive of photographs. Thousands of them and it’s sort of like name that tune. You know, to be able to look at different views of an organ and to know which one it is. They each have their own personality, most definitely.



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