Rare Organ Adds a New Dimension to Music Studies

Author: Carol Bradley

Music Professor Craig Cramer plays a 17th-century Italian chamber organ recently installed in the Reyes Organ and Choral Hall

The anonymous loan of a rare 17th-century Northern Italian chamber organ—installed in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s Reyes Organ and Choral Hall in 2011—is transforming students’ understanding of early Italian music, says Craig Cramer, professor of music.

“It adds a wonderful dimension to our organ studies,” says Cramer. “It’s tuned in meantone temperament. Eight acoustically perfect thirds. It’s a pure sound, so relaxed and beautiful.”

Playing an instrument such as this is a great benefit to music students, he adds.

“It enables students to learn about how 17th-century music should sound. They can hear the original pipes—how they speak. They can do fine gradations of touch, and see how that affects the expressiveness of the music.”

The organ can be played with an electric blower/motor, but sophomore Benjamin Stone typically pumps the instrument by hand, with the ropes on the side, for recitals. “He’s learned to control the wind so it is calm and delivered without any interruptions,” says Cramer.

Cramer equates playing the instrument to a violinist being able to play a Stradivarius, or a researcher working with primary materials.

Says Cramer, “The transformation of their understanding of early Italian music is remarkable to watch—and to hear.”

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