This past Friday, I attended the midnight Halloween pipe organ concert in Sayles Hall, courtesy of Mark Steinbach. As someone who has spent a fair bit of time in Sayles this semester, I had been waiting to hear the beast come to life for some time. It did not disappoint. Finally, I thought, I understand why the tour guides always mention this thing. It’s an aural Ark of the Covenant, melting the faces off of villains who hear its tones (a presumption, but I’ll take this leap to faith without regret). This newfound appreciation for the organ led to another realization: Brown is wasting its antique pipe organ potential. Here are just a few ways we can right this wrong.
1. Live Soundtrack for Exams
There comes a point in a test that many of you, perhaps even all of you, have experienced. It is the realization of the utter futility of your efforts, the crossing of the threshold of Dante’s Inferno. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. You then split your remaining exam time between half-heartedly jotting down formulas, and convincing yourself that med school probably wasn’t for you anyhow. Supposing your exam was held in the main hall at Sayles, you could raise your hand (or perhaps put on a black armband) to signal Steinbach. He would then play a funeral dirge for your hypothetical 4.0 GPA. If everyone is starring in the story of their own life, depressing scenes demand myriad minor chords to eulogize your aspirations.
The main hall is large enough for a wrestling ring. This gives us the fantastic opportunity to hear wrestlers’ walkout themes played via the organ. Okay, maybe no one has ever wanted this but me, but I think that a fusion of classical music and HAM acting could be a thing of beauty. Imagine every ridiculous revelation and taunt accompanied by a burst of organ notes. It would be like an action movie trailer extended over several hours. So, an action movie, I guess. Booker Tchaikovsky. Chopin M. Punk. Triple Haydn. The Bach. This stuff writes itself.
The emblem of class and sophistication
That Brown possesses the largest remaining operational Hutchings-Votey organ in the galaxy ranks in the top five things you hear on a prospective student tour, somewhere between “there is no typical Brown student” and “No, I didn’t see Emma Watson on campus” (Ed. – We should write that up). While most Brown students never saw Emma Watson, many Brown students do go to an organ concert or two during their undergraduate careers. If you have yet to see the organ in action, don’t miss tonight’s Midnight Halloween Organ Concert. For most of Brunonia, however, knowledge of the behemoth that resides inside Sayles above the imposing portraits of old white guys stops there. Most people don’t even know what a Hutchings (or a Votey) is! Last month, we sat down with Mark Steinbach, Brown’s University Organist, to clear a few things up ahead of the annual Halloween concert. It’s safe to say we got more than we bargained for.
I caught up with Mark Steinbach after one of his organ lessons. I showed up in Sayles at 2:57 for a 3:00 p.m. meeting, and he gave me a polite yet stern request to wait downstairs while he finished with his student. You’re really getting your money’s worth with him, apparently. Once he had finished teaching, however, he dove headfirst into our meeting. I guess you kind of have to be all-in on the organ once you’re that good at playing it. We began with a tour of the inside of the organ.
Pipes. Pipes everywhere.
The Suzuki Method: Funk Edition
A key part of embracing your new identity as a Brown student is learning to love things you never thought you could love: Coffee milk, 9 a.m. section, and snow sculptures, among others. Monday at midnight be prepared to add to that list “crushingly loud organ recitals.” (If you already have that on your list, stop lying, you only wrote that down for your personal essay to get into this place.) The Sayles organ, a monstrous fell beast of an instrument, was gifted to the university in 1903, and has been rocking the campus during midnight concerts ever since. Played by genius Mark Steinbach, resident Lecturer of Music, Instrument Curator, and University Organist, the primordial pipes and the building that houses them play host to hundreds of blanket clad students every year during a handful of witching-hour performances (the Halloween edition is especially spooky). Bring pillows, bring popcorn, bring your brand-new freshman soul mates (Perkins kids, we’re looking at you) and experience one of Brown’s most unique gatherings. Rumor has it Steinbach will branch out into Hammonds and Moogs next year…