As your hosts for the OHS 60th National Convention, the 2015 committee is proud and delighted to invite you to an extraordinary week of scenery, history, and pipe organs. Of the latter we have put together an unprecedented collection of historical instruments in the authentic locale where many of them were built. And what a magnificent locale it is!
The lazy flow of the mighty Connecticut River created perhaps the richest farmland in the world. Probably the valley’s most important agricultural product is its delicate shade tobacco, used in the wrappers of fine cigars. Although time does not permit us to host a cigar-sampling tour, we will be travelling amidst farms with numerous curing barns and acres of ubiquitous cheese-cloth, shading the valuable crops.
In the early 17th century, intrepid settlers—for whom the Pioneer Valley is named—navigated northward on the Connecticut founding the cities of Hartford and Springfield (1636). At that time Western Massachusetts was more closely aligned with Hartford than with Boston, possibly explaining the surprising absence of the “Boston accent” among its people. The Connecticut’s many tributaries provided 18th and 19th century craftsmen with abundant waterpower giving rise to the era of industrialists and of organ builders. On Monday (29th) Barbara Owen will speak about the most notable of the latter: William Johnson, J.W. Steere, and Emmons Howard. Their instruments reflect the efforts of the greatest 19th century American builders who for a time thrived on the banks of one of these tributaries: the Westfield River. Organs from these firms were distributed across the nation. Of course, like many prominent companies, they tended to dominate the market in their own backyard, so there are many, many organs from these firms in this region. The ones we will visit are tonally original and have survived the 20th century intact.
The river’s valley is edged on the west by the famous Berkshire Hills. In the early 19th century these were a haven for artists and authors (Hawthorne and Melville) and later a get-away for the mega-rich New Yorkers who attempted to co-opt the aura of their more creative antecedents. The Carnegies, Morgans, Choates and others turned the Berkshires into a Newport-like social hive with their “cottages,” parades, and festivals. We will be travelling to this area on two days: optionally on Sunday (28th) to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum and Daniel Chester French estate; and again on Monday (29th) to hear James David Christie play the organ at Tanglewood and to hear Bruce Stevens play the great Great Barrington 1883 Hilborne Roosevelt organ.
We will spend Tuesday through Friday travelling along the Connecticut River barely venturing into New Hampshire to the north and Connecticut to the south. In the course of our visits we will encounter these highlights:
- The 75th anniversary of the Aeolian-Skinner organ in the Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood
- The oldest extant Johnson
- The oldest extant Casavant in the United States
- The only extant William Jackson (Albany, New York)
- The first complete organ from E.M. Skinner & Son’s Methuen factory
Every church, cathedral, and school on our itinerary is thrilled that it has been chosen and is eager to be our host. We will be staying at the finest hotel in the region—and at a very favorable rate. The food will be terrific and will be served at interesting and scenic settings. Summers in western Massachusetts are balmy, laid back, and care-free. So, don’t procrastinate. Plan to spend time with us and your other beloved OHS friends this summer. We and the spirits of William Johnson, J.W. Steere, and Emmons Howard are looking forward to your company.
Roy Perdue, CHAIR
2015 Convention Planning Committee
P.S. If you stay on through July 4th, you can watch the Springfield fireworks from your hotel window. They are set off from the Memorial Bridge adjacent to the hotel. Ask for a room on the west side of the building.