Sunday, January 19, 2014

Iowa and the amazing technicolor organ builder

I started attending church on a regular basis after leaving home, where regular church-going did not have a high priority, in order to listen to pipe organs rather than preachers. That was in Iowa City, and I've been hooked since, even though my churches rarely have had fine instruments. 

The closest I've come to profound experiences in the filtered light of stained glass has been courtesy of skilled organists and fine instruments, not sermons. Preachers are a dime a dozen; a talented organist --- well, his or her value is far above that of rubies or pearls.

This applies even if the organist is confined to a digital instrument, although of course pipe organs are preferable.

I'm not sure how many Iowans are aware that our state is home to one of the Americas' most renowned small craft-builders of pipe organs, Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, Ltd., headquartered on the corner of the town square in Lake City, a town of 1,700 in Calhoun County.

That's a photo of the company's latest, Opus 91, installed recently in the chapel of Merton College, Oxford, to celebrate its 750th anniversary. It will premiere formally during a year-long festival commencing April 26 and concluding on November 15.

If you go to the beautiful and informative Dobson Web Site, which is located here, you'll enter by clicking on this photo.

The amazing multi-talented man behind the operation is Lynn Dobson, who founded the company in 1974 and continues as its president and artistic director. You can read his "staff" biography here and a related history of the company here. Dobson built his first organ in a shed on the family farm while in college and founded the firm that bears his name in Lake City during 1974.

The first Dobson I heard was one of the earliest, installed in the old chapel at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato (Opus 10, 1979), now enlarged and moved to a new chapel.

Since it's Sunday morning a little music seems in order. Here's Jungjin Kim performing Jean Langlais' "Fete, Op. 51" on Dobson Opus 75 (2003), built in Lake City and installed in the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels," Los Angeles.

And Haig Mardirosian performing Louis Vierne's "Finale Symphony 1" for organ on Dobson Opus 89 (2011) in the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values at the University of Tampa.

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