Laura Mayer is an Associate Producer at WNYC.
When you think of a pipe organ, you probably hear a distinct, eerie sound. On Sunday, you can experience that sound for yourself in Greenwich Village at the Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue and 10th Street. You won't hear just any pipe organ. The Manton Memorial organ will be played for the public for the first time.
The Manton Memorial organ was built specially for the church by the French master organ builder Pascal Quoirin. Tracking him down was no easy feat given how rare musical pipe organs are. There are just a handful of qualified organ builders in the world.
"I went all around this country and I didn't find exactly what I was looking for," said Dennis Keene, the music director at the Church of the Ascension. "I called one of my old teachers in Paris and said, 'Are there any builders in Europe that I don't know about?'"
That's how he found Quoirin. Within a few minutes of meeting him, Keene knew he was the organ builder for the church's instrument. Quoirin learned how to build organs through an apprenticeship he began when he was 15 years old.
The Manton Memorial organ has 6,183 pipes, which are integral to making the instrument play. (Organ sounds come from pushing air through the pipes.) The instrument also has 95 stops, which control the flow of air in the pipes; 111 ranks that divide the pipes into sections; two consoles and seven keyboards.
The organ’s numerous pipes, stops and ranks allow it to emit a wide variety of sounds, and to play music from many different eras.
“Organs can be built in a historic manner where they try to replicate one particular period such as North German Baroque or Spanish Baroque,” Keene said. “I have never experienced such range in one instrument…everything from a whisper to a thunder. And the fact that all of these sounds are so beautiful, so human, is even more amazing."
Pipe organs date back to 250 B.C. when they were used in Greek gladiatorial combat. By the 8th century, the organ began to take on a major role in the Catholic Church. Now, they are also used to play secular music.
In addition to the inaugural public performance of the Manton Memorial organ on Sunday at the Church of Ascension, there will be six other public performances in May and June. To get the schedule, visit the church's Web site.
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Check out images of the Manton Memorial Organ below.