The Great Art Escape is a series of activities sponsored by the Toledo Museum of Art to beat the blues of between-the-holidays boredom. Every year the event showcases an unusual instrument hiding inconspicuously in Gallery 24: the Dutch Cabinet Organ.
El Corazon de Mexico Ballet Folklorico performs this week as a part of the Great Art Escape at the Toledo Museum of Art.
A casual visitor walking through the room might easily mistake the gem for a rather large gaudy piece of classical furniture, possibly a writing desk or piece for storage. In fact, it looks like a writing desk or dresser. Inside the deceptive exterior, however, lies one of the most intriguing treasures in Toledo.
Most individuals are familiar with traditional church pipe organs, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes, most dominating some section of the building’s nave space. Large sprawling ranks of ornate pipes are arranged in a pleasing aesthetic pattern; a keyboard console lurks somewhere near. The entire mechanism is powered by a mass of wind generators, pipes, trackers, wires and relays hiding somewhere in the dark depths of a basement, well out of sight.
A cabinet organ is the complete antithesis. It is a relative to the smaller positive organs often found in the side chapels of older churches. Developed to bring the beauty of the grand instrument to the intimacy of the home, the self-contained instruments appear as lovely pieces of furniture, sitting tidily in a corner.
When opened, however, the inside reveals a keyboard (or possibly two) and ranks of pipes producing a series of colorful sounds, all powered by a hand or foot-operated bellows creating the wind power.
There was a design drawback, though, to convenience of having such a compact instrument accessible in the home. The hand-powered bellows meant it took two people to play the organ: one to pump and one to press the keys to make the music.
The Dutch Cabinet Organ is the subject of a special series of concerts this weekend as a part of the Great Art Escape at the Toledo Museum of Art.
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The museum’s piece was built around 1785 by the Dutch builder Johannes Strumphler, with the air supply generated by a foot pedal. It has 54 keys (5½ octaves) and 300 pipes (some wood, some metal) arranged in six ranks.
The cabinet is made of mahogany, oak, gilded maple, gilded bronze, ivory, ebony, and mother-of-pearl. The actual maker is unknown. The museum purchased the piece in 1965.
The organ is still in its original state, requiring the performer to pump as it is played. The more keys that are depressed, the more air that is used, and the faster the organist must pump to keep the sound alive. All of this while trying to play the correct keys and keep a rhythm going in player’s head completely apart from the rhythm needed for the bellows; a daunting challenge.
This weekend, the Great Art Escape offers a series of concerts by local organists meeting the challenge, performing literature appropriate for the charming instrument. Featured performers are Nancy Russell (Thursday), Susan Craig (Friday), Gladys Rudolph (Saturday), and Pamela Stover (Sunday). They can be heard at 1 p.m. daily in Gallery 24.
This year’s concerts were organized by Rudolph, who is an avid devotee of the instrument. In addition to the cabinet concerts, other musical and dance events are slated as a part of the “Escape.”
Thursday, the Ardan Academy of Irish Dance performs a recital of traditional Celtic dancing at 2 p.m. in the Peristyle. Rela Percussion gives a free glass percussion performance in the GlasSalon at 7 p.m.
Friday’s offerings feature El Corazon de Mexico Ballet Foklorico in traditional dances at 2 p.m. in the Peristyle. It’s Friday! Music welcomes the Toledo-based group the Antivillains in concert from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Cloister Gallery.
Saturday sees the return of Rela Percussion giving a free glass percussion performance at 11 a.m. in the GlasSalon. Dancers of the Aha! Indian Dance group demonstrate their traditional dance at 2 p.m. in the Peristyle.
Sunday, the musical offerings finish with the Greater Toledo International Youth Orchestra performing a 2 p.m. in the Great Gallery.
All Great Art Escape concerts are free at the Toledo Museum Art, 2445 Monroe St., Toledo. More information on the individual performances is available at 419-255-8000 or toledomuseum.org.
■ WGTE FM 91 concludes its holiday programming with a traditional New Year’s Day from Vienna. The Vienna Philharmonic presents its ever-popular concert from the Golden Hall of the Musikverein. Traditional polkas, waltzes, gallops, and more toast in the new year at 11 a.m. Monday. More information at wgte.org.
■ Celebrate a jazz New Year’s Eve as Ann Arbor drummer Pete Siers returns to jam with some of his closest friends 7 p.m. Sunday at the Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth Ave., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $5-$30 and more information on the festivities is available at 734-769-2999 or kerrytownconcerthouse.com.
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