Saturday, June 27, 2009

Pez Handel

Last night, I attended a pipe organ concert with the music teacher from my school. She majored in the instrument in university and she is a student of the classical genre, so it was both enlightening and entertaining to go with her to something that I would never realistically seek-out on my own.

The pipe organ is a curious instrument. It produces sounds that you naturally can only hear directly from a few select places on Earth - most of them being places "of God." It's really only comparatively recently that secular places have included them in their own performance architecture. Calgary's own Jack Singer Concert Hall has one of the largest pipe organs in Canada, though I've never heard it played. The one here at Seoul in Sejong Arts Centre is named as the largest in Asia - it's an impressive site, and it's pretty amazing to see the little doors and walls open and close to produce the higher octaves.

But it is a curious instrument. I asked 성숙 what drew here to the instrument - away from the piano - in university, and she replied that it was the complexity and power that drew her there. Fair enough. There were times last night when David Sanger, the organist brought in for the concert, looked like Captain Nemo stirring the depths in his Nautilus and playing his pipe organ like a madman - feet dancing across the pedals and hands flying across five sets of keys and hundreds of stops. At times, the music was undeniably stirring and it shook the concert hall. There were other times however when it was just plain weird. I'm not sure that the pipe organ is something I could listen to with regularity outside of perhaps 1930s horror films or the 1970s era Chicago Stadium.

The Hallelujah Chorus, with the addition of a 50 piece orchestra and a 40 member chorus was certainly a highlight, but the most memorable moment was when an empty seat in the row in front of us was suddenly occupied. Neither 성숙 or I had seen the person enter the seat, but suddenly, there she was - just this non-descript head of black hair. 성숙 pointed at the strangers head in fear, just as the organist launched into a particularly sinister moment in his concerto. I remarked that the woman was a ghost and that she had no face. 성숙 then leaned forward to look more closely at the woman's face from the side and reported back to me in ominous tones that she, the woman, had "one eye".

I realize that the humour doesn't translate in written form, but that was enough to send us both into quivering, then crying, giggling hysterics. For about 5 minutes we had tears streaming down our faces, trying to not be too conspicuous in the concert hall. The only comparable moment that comes to mind is this.

The concert was interesting, but it left me rather cold regarding the instrument. It's big, it's complex, it's purposes seem designed for the grand, for the masses, not for the personal. Of course, that depends on what is being played, who is playing, and for whom. When we got back to 성숙's apartment, I asked her to play something on her own rather gargantuan pipe organ that takes-up more than half of her home office. After some protest, she reluctantly sat down and gently played an impossibly layered and symphonic version of "Happy Birthday." It was, as she would say "my joke."

So here's to the June birthday's in my life - most notably, Shaners, Pauline, my Auntie, my Dad, and my best friend in Korea who I will be celebrating with this evening.

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