Dr. Jeannine Jordan, Concert Organist

Jeannine: Let’s go back to the Kotzschmar organ and your position as the Municipal Organist. What is the history of this unique organ and position?

Mr. Cornils: The position began in 1912 when Cyrus H. K. Curtis gave to the City of Portland a magnificent Austin Organ (opus 323) in memory of Hermann Kotzschmar. Mr. Kotzschmar was the pre-eminent musician in Portland for over 60 years. He died in 1908, the same year that City Hall burned to the ground. When the city council decided to rebuild City Hall with its auditorium, Mr. Curtis (a Portland native who was the publisher of the Saturday Evening Post and The Ladies’ Home Journal) gave this instrument as a testament to the power of the arts and music in the general health of a city. On August 22, 1912, Mr. Curtis gave this speech at the dedication ceremonies of the organ:

     “Mr. Mayor, I present to the City of Portland, through you,

        this memorial to Hermann Kotzschmar, who for more

    than fifty years was pre-eminent in this city as an organist, composer and teacher, a man who was loved by all classes

for his kindly spirit, his high ideals, and his devotion to

music. He cared little or nothing for material things or

for fame – he never sought them. But here is his monument –

a monument to one who did something to make us

better men and women and to appreciate that indefinable something that is an expression of the soul.”

Will C. Macfarlane came from his position at St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, in NYC to become the first Municipal Organist. Over the years, now 11 fine musicians, including the legendary Edwin H. Lemare, have served the people of Portland as Municipal Organist.

In the early 20th century many cities throughout the country had city organs and city organists. The “King of Instruments” was able to bring a wide variety of music, from organ literature and orchestral transcriptions to sing-alongs and silent movie accompaniments to the general public. In addition, the organ can be a member of symphony orchestras to join in the substantial literature that employs the organ in either an ensemble or solo role.

Over the centuries, a number of cities were no longer able to maintain their civic organ, and with the advent of other forms of musical opportunities and entertainment, many cities abandoned their municipal organist program.

In fact, in the late 1970’s the City of Portland, in the face of dire financial straits and budget tightening, removed all support of the Municipal Organists meager salary and the curator’s repair and maintenance budget from the city finances. In the light of that, the current Municipal Organist submitted his resignation.

When a number of local organists and enthusiasts heard of this, they banded together in support of the organ. In 1980 the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ (FOKO) was formed. They negotiated with the City to become the official caretakers of the organ on behalf of the city. The city continues to own the instrument, however, FOKO raised money to hire a Municipal Organist and began a program of regular maintenance and repair of the ailing instrument. The good news is that in the mid 1980’s the city reinstated partial funding for the care of the instrument.

Without FOKO, I am afraid that the Kotzschmar Organ would be silent now and probably would have been removed from the auditorium when the building was renovated in the 1990s.

The organ is an excellent example of early 20th century American symphonic organ building. It has a wealth of 8’ sound (there are eight 8’ principals dispersed through the organ, over 25 ranks of strings, many orchestral reeds, and a wealth of percussion). Most all of the instrument is also under expression and over half of the instrument’s 104 ranks are voiced at mp or softer (although it can also generate a very heroic sound), allowing a huge range of dynamics and timbres. It has a strong bass, making it a worthy partner in much of the orchestral literature.

The organ has had a number of additions. In 1927 Mr. Curtis payed for a substantial enlargement which included adding an entire Antiphonal Division, substantial additions to the Swell, minor additions to the Orchestral Division, and adding many more toys and percussions to the instrument. In the early 2000’s a Great Mixture was added and in 2012, a new pedal 32’Contra Bombarde, a 16/8/4 Open Diapason unit to the pedal, as well as a couple of stops to the Swell and additional cymbals and a “toy counter”. The instrument now stands at 104 ranks. 7,101 pipes distributed over 7 divisions with 5 manuals and pedal.

The only other Municipal Organist in the US now is in San Diego (the Spreckle’s organ in Balboa Park). It is also an Austin (built in 1915). The Civic Organist in San Diego is Raul Prieto Ramirez.

While there are a few other organs in the country owned by cities, San Diego and Portland are the only cities with a paid position of Municipal Organist.

Excerpted from the September 2018 Pro-Motion Music e-newsletter.  Dr. Jeannine Jordan, organist and her husband, David Jordan, media artist are the creators and performers of From Sea to Shining Sea, Bach and Sons, and Around the World in 80 Minutes — audience-engaging organ and multimedia concert experiences.

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