Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Letter to the Editor - Saginaw News
April 12, 2011
The Saginaw News
100 S. Michigan Ave.
Saginaw, Michigan 48602
Residents of the Saginaw Valley have affirmed their interest in the pipe organ thanks, especially, to the staff of The Saginaw News.
Last Saturday I was delighted to be among one hundred people present for the Bay City “Organ Crawl” organized by Robert Sabourin and the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Enthusiasts from Saginaw, Bay City, Midland, and surrounding areas gathered to listen to organ music performed at Saint Boniface Catholic Church, Saint Joseph Catholic Church, and Trinity Episcopal Church. Participant involvement was not limited to an audience-only scope; participants joined in the singing of beloved songs and reveled in the beauty of glasswork and architecture distinguishing Bay City and its churches as historic-unique. Do note that many participants walked from venue to venue because of the favorable weather conditions.
When participants were asked how they learned of the crawl, they were especially grateful and appreciative of your publication’s coverage.
It would be a blunder not to mention that dozens of people have already discussed with me the significance and energies behind the organ project at First Congregational Church. They, too, learned of this unique project from The Saginaw News.
Their comments have been ones of support, ones sharing and embracing Saginaw’s fondness for the pipe organ, and ones of legitimate question.
Firstly, and as a result of your article, people have contacted me reiterating their interest in and the uniqueness of the congregation’s Ernest M. Skinner instrument. Even a quick perusal of the web reveals how efforts scholarly and musical praise the work of Skinner: what the Skinner firm produced is truly unique as an American art form and an example of mechanical ingenuity. Dorothy Holden includes in “The Life and Works of Ernest M. Skinner” one relevant quotation from Ernest Skinner, himself: "I suppose when I am dead for fifty years all my organs will be as dead as I am." (232) What an incredible opportunity for music aficionados in Saginaw, for enthusiasts in the congregation, the community, and the region have the opportunity to see that one of Skinner’s organs does not die: to grasp that a regional gem, a piece of Americana, might be renewed to embrace its original tonal ideals.
Secondly, people have contacted me lamenting the loss of the 55-rank auditorium instrument built by the Austin Organ Co. in 1908 that was demolished with its facility – the Saginaw Auditorium – in the 1970s. While it is not possible to rebuild the auditorium or its large municipal organ, which served at the time of its construction as an installation of national significance, there is the distinct potential for the Skinner instrument at First Congregational Church – due to its tonal uniqueness, eccentricity, potential quality, and location – to serve in a municipal capacity in downtown Saginaw: to serve as a national lure for performers, to serve as a recording instrument for artists, to serve as a “host instrument” for an artist- or artists-in-residence, and to serve as a collaborative tool with the regional orchestra, choral societies, and other arts groups in an outreach benefiting Saginaw and the region.
Thirdly, people have asked what they can do to help. Ultimately and understandably, the scope of any organ project is limited by budget. That being said, financial support is a key. Many times, as you will notice in projects that have been publicized (and are available online), the uniqueness of Skinner-related projects has resulted in partial- or full-funding by regional foundations, charitable groups, or other generous patrons. Grant monies are sometimes made available. These projects are sometimes funded in full by a generous lead donor (or patron).
It is my hope to see this and many other projects in the region come to fruition. I thank The Saginaw News for bringing to public attention a venture that many times is “kept in the dark” or not publicized. And, contrary to what Skinner mentioned, I am convinced that the pipe organ will not be dead in the Saginaw Valley thanks to such musical advocacy. Yours is to be commended.
Nicholas E. Schmelter, MM
Director of Music Ministries
First Congregational Church