06 October 2011

Arts Count 2011

I'm here at the Allen Organ world sales center for a Lehigh Valley Arts Council event. This place is really great; the huge public foyer is a little museum of the history of Allen Organs and, thus, of the electronic organ itself. Randall Forte, the executive director of the LV Arts Council, told me one reason they decided to have the event here is that “Many people, like yourself, have lived here and always wanted to visit this place.” Well, I'm glad they held the event here, and that I'm here.

In 1939, Jerome Markowitz invented the first electronic organ for commercial sale—right here in the Lehigh Valley! It was bought by and installed in a church in Allentown. From there, Allen Organ business grew impressively. I am most interested by the fact that in 1970, Allen Organ made a custom “four manual solid state oscillator organ” for, of all places, Philadelphia's Tenth Presbyterian Church! Robert Elmore was the organist there at the time, and he was called “The organist's organist” (which I gather was not an insult ). I've visited 10th Pres a few times since moving to this area, and it was my home church when I was a toddler! So I feel a warm person connection to this place through its music, its ingenuity, and its work with 10th Pres.

In 1971, Allen Organ created “the world's first digital musical instrument” using technology that had been developed for the Apollo Space program!


Now we're moving into “Octave Hall” for the evening's presentations. As we walk in, what is organist Barry Holben playing but the overture to The Phantom of the Opera--my favorite musical and some of my favorite music. Now he's into some really jazzy ragtime-inspired piece, and I wish we would all get up and dance!

Allen Organ hosts about tweleve special events a year.The factory ½ mile from here is the largest organ-building facility in the world. They build “theatre organs” with a horseshoe console, made to accompany plays, movies, dance, etc. “Just entertainment machines.” Digitally sampled and reproduced drums, pianos, lots of fun sounds.... At this point, he paused the presentation to press a button, and, VOILA! The stage began to rotate, and another organ came to the front! Whew!

The other type is the “Classical” organ. You can “pull out all the stops,” quite literally. Barry Holben played two snippets to show the diversity of the instrument: a Bach aria, a trumpet tune (Jeremiah Clark's “Voluntary,” I do believe), and a toccata. Wow. Great showmanship!

Now, Randall Forte executive director of the LV Arts Council, has gotten up to introduce the evenings' ceremonies with a brief talk emphasizing the people who are the creative force of the arts—not buildings, not (just) institutions, etc.

Three arts-supporting businesses are represented here tonight: Allen Organ, Just Born candy company (makers of Peeps!), and Air Products. The lady from Just Born talked about a current trend in corporate sponsors of the arts. Companies used to patronize the arts in order to improve their reputation in and relationship with their community; now they are only interested in promoting visibility in order to improve the bottom line. Make arts accessible to people, especially young people. Balancing between supporting initiatives that meet basic human needs and those that promote the arts. Choose ones that enhance education. The lady from Air Products talked about a commitment to making sure communities are healthy and strong, and that this will not happen without the arts. She adjured us: “We're in the world to change the world.”

Now the presentation of grant award checks! I'll write another post in a bit about these Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts Project Stream grants. I had a good talk with someone from the council who answered my questions about Who funded these grants? What was the nomination/application process? What was the selection process? What are the standards by which these are judged? etc. So keep an eye open for a post on that topic later.

Many of the organizations that were honored are focused on youth: educational initiatives, masterclasses, inner-city events, etc. Many are based on networking: drawing together existing organizations into larger cooperation.

Here is a full list of grant award recipients:
Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation
Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley
Community Action Development Corporation of Allentown
David Leonhardt, pianist
Easton Garlic Fest
Jim Thorpe Art Weekend
Lydia Panas, photographer
Mock Turtle Marionette Theater
Muhlenberg College Piano Series
The Nurture/Nature Center, “exploring visions of land use as modern art”
Penn State Lehigh Valley (for an exhibition called “Reaction and Healing: 10th Anniversary of 9-11”)
Peter Schmidt, “The Teddy Bear Awards”
Sally Wiener Grotta, photographer
Shelley Oliver, dancer, & her tap dancing group
Tabitha O. Robinson-Scott, dance choreographer
Two Part Invention concerts
WDIY, the local radio station, for a program called “Musings”
Young People's Philharmonic of the Lehigh Valley

It's nice to note that Marco Calderon is the official photographer for this event; please read my review of his current exhibit!


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