Editors Note: Cameron Carpenter is a world-renowned, Grammy nominated organist who plans to build his own touring organ. Watch CNN’s “The Next List” this Sunday at 2 p.m. ET to hear his full story.
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An unreasonable man (or organist)
By Cameron Carpenter, Special to CNN
(CNN) - I'm unreasonable -- as most organists will tell you. (My agent would agree).
If you play the guitar or the violin, or if you're a singer -- or if you play any reasonable musical instrument that can be moved from place to place without a five-figure tab and a debate-ridden crew of experts; if you play any reasonable instrument that you can mention to your friends without invoking images of "The Abominable Dr. Phibes," "Phantom of the Opera" (and "Dr. Phibes Rises Again") - if you play any instrument that doesn't cost millions of dollars to build -- then you are LUCKY. Because you sure don't play the pipe organ.
Even the Brobdingnagian double bass is Gucci-bag fashionable and portable in comparison to the pipe organ. There's something ominously metaphorical about an instrument that literally isn't going anywhere. One has to wonder: does this earthbound immobility extend to the attitudes that surround the instrument? Does it influence the mentalities, the expectations, the ambitions of the people who play it? Does it shape our expectations as listeners?
Well, why wouldn't it?! We're talking about an instrument with some 2,600 years of history, depending on who's counting. That's a long time for stereotypes to emerge and bias to fossilize, and when the history of your instrument is longer than Christianity's, that's a lot of baggage with which a young musician must come to terms. (A bit like that last sentence).
Add to the picture that simply practicing involves a commute, a cold empty church to which the keys might be taken away at any time, and a total lack of ownership of the instrument itself, and you can see why "the young people" - that catch phrase of which we should always beware - aren't exactly lining up to play the thing. Sometimes I wonder what makes me do it, and what's driven me to do it since I was 4 years old. But then I remember: I'm totally unreasonable.
Because I'm unreasonable, I have no problem demanding, and trying to create, total change. For me, organ music isn't about the organ. It's about performance. Except for one thing: I still love the organ. So I want to do everything I can to make sure that it doesn't remain an immobile, overlooked curiosity - the Instrument of Kings, a culturally stalled relic, a multi-million-dollar backdrop in churches and concert halls that are themselves struggling for relevance.
By now we know something doesn't have to literally disappear to be culturally dead. That happens quite nicely when it's left to the preservationists and historicists, bowing and scraping in showy genuflections of respect. (Make the organ digital? What an insult to the pipe organ, what an affront to taste! It might help an organist to actually board the fast-paced train of musical commerce in our own time, instead of living in the past).
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world.
The unreasonable man adapts the world to himself.
All progress depends upon the unreasonable man".
- George Bernard Shaw
It's not where you take things from. It's where you take them to.