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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “The ‘Real’ Mr. Barone?”

February 1, 2007

Dear Michael,

I have enjoyed Pipedreams for several years. You have an excellent way of expressing the sometimes obtuse nature of organ music. My curosity has been elevated to learn more about Mr. Barone. How did you develop an interest in organ music? Do you think that composition is similar to mathmatical algorithms? I know from your brief biography that you are an early student of computer science at Yale (1969). Do you think that the abstract reasoning skills developed through mathematical computation and computer programming is transferrable to music appreciation? Without a doubt, organ composition is Transcendent and it is easy to visualize why organs are the centerpiece of many places of Western worship with the accomplement of the refractive abilities of stained glass. Thanks for your sharing and great weekly thematic dev.

Michael O’Tuel
Greensboro, NC

Dear Michael,

Thanks for your kind words. I confess to being somewhat bemused by the biographical ‘background’ you have researched on me, which would make for interesting discussion if it were true. I have been to Yale on several occasions (usually related to organ performances), but attended Oberlin Conservatory (graduated with a BM in Music History in 1968), and pursued that line of study almost specifically because I proved to have no aptitude in math whatsoever (I imagined that I might be involved in music through acoustics or electronics…hifi, etc.).

Yes, likely there is a connection between the architectural essence of music and the ‘math mind’. But then you’d need to further figure out why so many organ buffs (including builders and performers) are fascinated by railroads/trains (actual or model) or antique cars. Is it about primal technologies at work (is the tracker organ the most perfect example of pre-industrial machinery)?

Personally, I am as enthralled by Bach’s tonal architecture as by Messiaen’s literary/pictoral evocations, and I am succeptible to a good tune, too. Organ music was appealing to the curious kid that I once was, perhaps because of its relation to but difference from the ‘other’ keyboard music I was studying (piano…and, of course, later the harpsichord joined the party in my mind).

And there is so much of it, more than 500 years of changing techniques and theories, and the various national styles of composition and organ-building, enough to provide questions (and answers) for a lifetime. (And then there is all the other music, too…!)

PS: the one “Michael Barone” with whom I am sometimes confused is a Senior Correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, a brilliant political theorist. More recently, I’ve seen a photograph of the Archbishop Christophoros II of Cyprus that bears a striking resemblance to me. Perhaps the ‘real Michael Barone’ only exists in your radio?!



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