Beauty in Sight and Sound
In early March 2005, the much-anticipated arrival of the Richards, Fowkes & Co. Opus 14 pipe organ became a reality.
Dozens of volunteers worked tirelessly for two days to unload pipes and the thousands of pieces that make up the case work and inner workings of the instrument from the large truck which had carried the precious cargo from Tennessee. A smaller truck had delivered hundreds of pipes the previous month, and it soon appeared that every nook and cranny of the sanctuary building held a portion of this magnificent instrument.
In less than a week, the framework of the case appeared on the wall, and in two weeks’ time, a few of the pipes were sounding.
The organ was played in public for the first on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2005, to escort the children out to their church school classes. From that humble beginning, the many different voices of the instrument began to emerge on an almost weekly basis as Bruce Fowkes painstakingly voiced each of the nearly 3,500 pipes. The culmination of this nearly year-long process occurred with the dedicatory recital on Jan. 15, 2006.
Since that time, I have been asked by numerous individuals, both members and visitors, as to the symbolism and design located on the front organ case. The carvings on the instrument are based on Southwest Indian motifs realized in the classical European aesthetic of symmetry, motion and proportion to harmonize the traditional structure of the pipe organ with the native surroundings.
The main element in the design is the rain bird, chosen as the metaphor to symbolize rain in the desert. Based on Hopi precedents, it is recognizable within the carvings as an inward curved head and beak with two large stylized feathers pointing upward. These elements were then combined to create the bulk of the carving seen. Also, in keeping with the rain motif, there are two rain serpents at the top center of the organ on either side of the central star/sun. Almost forgotten, at the bottom of the four largest vertical posts, are geckos to symbolize the ground or earth.
Most prominent, however, are the four large gilded circles with an anthropomorphic cartouche in the center. According to ancient church tradition, the four authors of the Gospels were represented by symbols which depict the four aspects of the same Christ: Jesus as human in birth (the man) and as a sacrificial victim in death (the ox); strong and powerful in his resurrection (the lion); and rising to the Father in his ascension (the eagle).
Looking counter-clockwise from the upper left corner, the man (Matthew), the ox (Luke), the lion (Mark), and the eagle (John) are based on native American concepts of design and form which are most often seen in their pottery.
In the rectangular “boxes” below the groupings of smaller pipes are again found feathers from the rain bird. This time they are overlaid with one of the four Hebrew letters constituting the name of God, “Yahweh” or Jehovah: yud hey vahv hey, also know as the Tetragrammaton. These can be read starting in the upper right hand corner and reading in a counterclockwise direction. Thus, the rays of sun and God are both above all things while God himself is in all things.
In this age of mass production, this magnificient organ stands as a testimony of the quality and care these builders took to build an instrument which will bring beauty in sight and sound for years to come.