As a current rising senior at the University of Delaware, I am spending my summer as one of the Public Relations interns on the Kimmel Center Cultural Campus in Philadelphia. In just a few weeks, this position has allowed me access to hands-on opportunities in PR, marketing, and events across the performing arts campus.
On June 15, the Kimmel Center hosted its 9th Annual Organ Day on its Cultural Campus. Contrary to the beliefs of nearly everyone I talked to before this event, Organ Day is not a celebration of internal body structures. Rather, it is an exposé of the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ that resides in Verizon Hall. Free and open to the public, Organ Day features events for the whole family, from silent films accompanied by improvised instrumentation to an interactive children’s event on stage. As a Public Relations intern, I got to see things from a slightly different perspective and was blown away by the outpouring of support and enthusiasm for the country’s largest concert hall organ.
This year’s event began with a performance by organist Monica Czausz, who was introduced by the event’s master of ceremonies, Michael Barone. Czausz, a former student at the Curtis School of Music in Philadelphia, has received numerous awards for her performances and is considered by many to be one of America’s leading young concert organists. On Saturday, she dazzled her audience with Dvořák’s Carnival Overture.
Monica’s piece captured the attention of the group of nearly 50 young children gathered on the stage. Accompanied by their parents, the children stayed on stage for the next performance: a reading of The Child’s Book of Beasts: An Entertainment for Organ narrated by former Kimmel Center Theater Resident M’Balia Singley with an organ performance by Parker Kittermann.
After the reading, the kids got a chance to play the 7,000-pipe organ. The bench was quickly swarmed as emcee Michael Barone fiddled with the organ’s various sounds and settings, allowing each aspiring performer a chance to feel out the powerful instrument. For the following 20 minutes or so, Verizon Hall was filled with various renditions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
With the children’s programming coming to an end, Organ Day shifted its focus to an improvised accompaniment to the silent film Cops, performed by Jackson Borges. The all-ages audience laughed and listened as instrumentation illuminated the on-screen performance of the great Buster Keaton.
The performance, which lasted nearly half an hour, was truly an impressive showing. Organist Jackson Borges prefaced the piece by stating that the music the audience was about to hear was “basically made up on the spot.”
The day continued with performances from the American Guild of Organists, as well as two of the Kimmel Center’s Resident Companies, Opera Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Ballet. Each act showcased the vast range of sounds the mammoth-sized organ can produce. Overall, the event was a massive success and those who attended were not disappointed.
During intermission for the event, I went around Verizon Hall to interview certain audience members for a future promotional video. In those conversations, I learned how the organ, especially on this day, can reach so many different people. For instance, one gentleman at the event, a fellow organist, explained how he has attended the event each year. He sees the Fred J. Cooper as the “crème de la crème” of organs and spends the day basking in music being performed by some of the best organists in the world.
Another family of four was experiencing the event for the first time. The two young daughters, both aspiring musicians and dancers, took vocal lessons from members of Opera Philadelphia that were performing at the event. It certainly seems as though the parents were doing their daughters a good service, exposing them to the arts in such a fabulous venue.
Even though I could not stay for the entire event, it was clear to me how the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ impacts the community. Various musicians and music lovers alike flock to hear its pipes chime, and many hop on the chance to see it in action free of charge. This year’s event was a total success, and I am glad to have been a part of it. With another Kimmel Center event under my belt, I’m excited to see what the rest of the summer has in store!