Hummel to be featured in Easter concerts

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, February 13, 2018

By Marge Swayne

Richmond organist Jeffrey Hummel is a musician who appreciates both the past and present. Sitting at the console of a Von Beckerath organ at Farmville Presbyterian Church, he comments on the Old World skill that created the extraordinary pipe organ. At the same time he notes the advantages of today’s technology.

“When I was asked to accompany the Commonwealth Chorale for Mozart’s “Requiem,” there was a problem,” Hummel says. “No organ-only accompaniment seemed to be available.”

Jeffrey Hummel

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At that point, Hummel, a member of the Richmond Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, did something Mozart could never have imaged.

“I put it out on Facebook,” he relates. “Fortunately, a woman in Maryland responded.”

A fellow organist told Hummel she had transcribed the entire “Requiem” for organ.

“She sent the music by email — on pdf files,” Hummel adds. “It was wonderful — very well done. She shared it out of the kindness of her heart, and I’m very thankful.”

The “Requiem,” Hummel notes, is seldom accompanied by organ.

“The organ doesn’t lend itself particularly well to all those fast repetitive notes,” he explains.

Mozart was commissioned to write his “Requiem” in July 1791. Several months later, this requiem would become his own. Mozart died Dec. 5, 1791, before the work was completed.

“There are certain parts of Mozart’s ‘Requiem,’ ‘Lacrymosa,’ for instance, that are almost ethereal — not earthly at all,” Commonwealth Chorale Director Norma William adds. “Audiences respond to that in a very personal way.”

The same might be said for the works of Handel. Both composers will be featured in the Chorale’s Easter Concert Series with two Farmville performances on March 11 at Farmville Presbyterian Church and March 18 at Farmville United Methodist Church (UMC).

Hummel, who will accompany the 76-member chorale, is excited about performing on two of Farmville’s finest pipe organs.

In town recently to practice at the Presbyterian church, Hummel explains some of the intricacies of pipe organs.

“There aren’t many Von Beckerath organs in Virginia,” Hummel explains. “It’s called a tracker organ because the mechanical action is on trackers that lead back to the pipes. When you press down on one of the keys, the tracker runs back and opens a valve on the pipe. That’s why the console has to be up against the organ pipes and can’t be moved.”

Rudolph von Beckerath, 1907-1976, was a German organ builder. His grandfather was a personal friend of Brahms, and his father was an artist and musician.

Farmville Presbyterian’s Beckerath organ was built by Taylor & Boody organ company in Staunton and installed in 1968

“Each organ builder has a unique sound,” Hummel notes. “German organs sound very different from French or English organs.”

The pipe organ in Farmville (UMC) was built by Austin Organ Company in Hartford, Connecticut, and installed in 1974.

“An organ is measured by the number of pipes and ranks,” Farmville UMC Organist Gordon Ring says. “Farmville UMC’s organ has 1,543 pipes and 30 ranks with 904 pipes visible and the rest in the chamber behind the exposed pipes.”

The organ console, unlike the Presbyterian organ, is electrically controlled. It includes three 61-note keyboards and a pedal board of 32 notes.

John T. Austin, who was born in England and immigrated to Detroit in 1889, founded Austin Organs Inc. in 1893. The company notes that many Austin organs from the late 19th century are still in use today.

Hummel, who plays the organ and accompanies the choir on piano for three services every Sunday at Third Church in Richmond, favors the organ.

“I tell people the organ is the ‘king of instruments’ for good reason,” he says. “The organ can imitate the sound of just about any other instrument.”

The pipe organ definitely adds another dimension in sound.

“Sounds from individual pipes in the organ are not combined until they reach your ears,” Farmville UMC’s Choral Director Dr. Pam McDermott says. “When you listen to a pipe organ, your brain is the processor.”

Experience the powerful Easter message of hope and rebirth in Mozart’s “Requiem” and Easter selections from Handel’s “Messiah” on March 11 at Farmville Presbyterian Church and March 18 at Farmville United Methodist Church. Both free performances are at 3 p.m., and all are invited. Early arrival is suggested; the December concert at Farmville UMC was standing room only by 3 p.m.