King-Size Crowds for the King of Instruments

When times get tough, the tough collaborate!  Such was the case for the three-day, three-concert Pipedreams Live! event presented by WXXI-FM Classical 91.5, the Eastman School of Music, the Rochester Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and the Rochester Theater Organ Society, February 13-15, 2009. 

 Pipedreams host Michael Barone came to Rochester to host and record three concerts,Baskeyfield performs the Wurlitzer: Photo credit: John BlackburnBaskeyfield performs the Wurlitzer: Photo credit: John Blackburn featuring two organs that had been recently completed as part of the Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative (EROI), and the Mighty Wurlitzer at the Auditorium Theater.

"I go into these things hopeful but always nervous.” Barone said. “Will the publicity be effective and sufficient?  Do people really listen to Pipedreams and, if so, why will they come out to hear a Pipedreams Live! event and not already be regulars at the organ activity in town?  And can there be too much of a good thing?  Particularly after the huge success of Friday night, I worried that the folks would be 'all organed out' for the remainder of the weekend.  But the audiences on Saturday and Sunday were equally impressive.  I was astonished and delighted!” Barone confessed.

Fritts organ at Sacred HeartFritts organ at Sacred HeartThe Friday night concert, on an elegant new organ by Paul Fritts drew a standing-room only crowd of nearly 1000.  Saturday’s featured Craighead-Saunders organ, a new-made replica of an organ from 1776 by Casparini in Lithuania, drew a fire-code-violating crowd of over 500 (the church seats 350).  On a sunny Sunday afternoon, the multigenerational crowd swelled (pardon the pun) to 1300+ for a concert of popular music from Cole Porter to Andrew Lloyd Webber.Craighead Saunders Organ at Christ ChurchCraighead Saunders Organ at Christ Church   Barone reflected, "It really is a marvelous mystery, all of it, but I can’t help but smile when good instruments, good players, and a good-sized audience converge for a great time with the King of Instruments."

The capacity audiences were treated to outstanding performances by organ students and faculty from the Eastman School of Music.  David Higgs, chair of the Organ Department applauded the performers, saying “I couldn’t have been more proud of everyone this weekend – incredible music making, professional stage work and huge audiences – what a weekend!”

Eastman School of Music senior Jon Ortloff, winner of the 2008 American Theatre Organ Society’s Young Theatre Organist Competition, and a performer in Sunday’s program stated, “All in all it was an unparalleled success for all of the organizations involved.  It really could not have been a more triumphant event.”

One of the keys to the success was the collaboration between organizations, working together to share expenses, planning and promotion.  These three concerts confirmed what we believed to be true here in Rochester.  There is a large and loyal audience for organ music, both on the air and in the community.  Pipedreams airs on WXXI Classical 91.5 Sundays at 8 pm, with an average AQH of 3000 (higher than the AQH for the same time period on Saturday, or even Mon-Fri).   The station expanded from the 90 minute to the two hour version of the program when the option was presented in January 2009, with great response from our listeners.
As audience members left the concerts, coordinators from each collaborating organization were thanked and asked, “When can we do this again?”  With the success each organization experienced, Michael and Pipedreams have an open invitation to return any time.