Johns Hopkins Magazine -- June 1998
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JUNE 1998




H U M A N I T I E S    A N D    T H E    A R T S

"Pulling Out All the Stops"
Author's Notebook
By Sue De Pasquale

As the daughter of two Peabody Conservatory graduates, I grew up in a home in which a high value was placed on music, and on the magnificent instruments that produced that music. My father's French horn was a thing of beauty to me--its bell and coils all gleaming gold. Our family piano--a baby grand, more than 100 years old-sat as the centerpiece of our living room. I've long admired it as much for its aesthetic value as its ability to produce moving melodies.

I should have been prepared, then, for the sight that awaited me when I walked through the mammoth doors of Peabody's North Hall and beheld, for the first time, the Conservatory's new Holtkamp pipe organ.

But I wasn't prepared for the sheer beauty of the thing. I was nearly bowled over by the organ's grand physical presence. It sits three stories tall-dwarfing every other instrument and lending credence to its moniker as "the kind of instruments." And though you can't see all 3,000 of its various pipes, the 200-pound bass pedal pipes that you can see are mighty impressive. The Holtkamp Company's craftsmen have also done an admirable job of creating a framework that blends harmoniously with the newly-renovated North Hall (recently renamed Griswold Hall). The organ's creamy white wood scrollwork beautifully complements the restored plaster frieze that stretches around the hall's high ceiling.

I was fortunate to be in the audience for the first "hearing" of the organ on a Saturday afternoon in March. When organist Donald Sutherland launched into his opening piece, I closed my eyes and allowed the stirring chords to wash over me. But then I opened my eyes again. For I realized that my appreciation of the music I was hearing was enhanced by the visual effect of the instrument that stood grandly before me.

We live in an age in which computer-generated music is moving to the fore. I don't doubt the inherent value of such music. I do, worry, however, about what may be lost in our enjoyment of music from an aesthetic sense. Though synthesizers, speakers, and other electronic gizmos are interesting to gaze upon briefly, they don't hold the lasting beauty of a curved mahogany cello or a coppery timpany drum. Or a three-story pipe organ.

For me, music is as much a symphony for the eyes, as it is for the ears.