Written by Tony Phifer, CSU External Relations
Joel Bacon is not ashamed to admit he’s in love with CSU’s Casavant pipe organ.
Bacon, associate professor of organ in CSU’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, was featured Tuesday night in the first President’s Community Lecture of 2017. He shared the stage with CSU President Tony Frank, who served as emcee and discussion leader when it came time for audience questions.
Bacon was proud to profess his affection for CSU’s remarkable pipe organ.
“I love this instrument,” he said. “And I realize how fortunate I am to work with it.”
Large, appreciative crowd
Bacon spoke to a near-capacity crowd at the Organ Recital Hall in the University Center for the Arts. His talk, titled “Listening to the Past: Colorado State University’s Casavant Organ” was focused on CSU’s unique instrument, its history and its wondrous capabilities.
Bacon, who holds the Stewart and Sheron Golden Chair in Organ and Liturgical Studies in the College of Liberal Arts, shared the story of how former CSU organ professor Robert Cavarra turned his dream of building a world-class organ on campus into reality. The organ, built by Canada-based Casavant, was installed in 1968 in the old CSU music building – currently The Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) – on the Oval, and how it caused such a buzz in the music world.
“Dr. Cavarra somehow managed to raise $80,000 – a lot of money back then – to build the organ,” he said, adding that the organ would cost more than $1 million to build today. “At the time there was only one other mechanical-action pipe organ at an American university – at Harvard – and people literally thought he was crazy for building something like this at an agricultural school. But when they heard the organ they became believers.”
Organ has colorful history
CSU’s instrument almost immediately became the talk of the pipe organ world.
“Clearly, this is a work of art,” he said, his hand pointing at the polished tin/lead pipes and wooden keyboards and bench. “It attracted the best of the best organists from around the world.”
Bacon delighted the crowd by playing three pieces – one each by German Baroque organ legends Dietrich Buxtehude and J.S. Bach, and one by 20th century French composer Gaston Litaize. The pieces were chosen to illustrate various styles of organ music but also to display the Casavant organ’s versatility.
Bacon even inspired smiles and laughter when he played CSU’s “Alma Mater” and remarking “that’s pulling out all of the stops!”
The organ features 2,096 pipes, a 56-note keyboard, a 32-note pedal board and 34 stops. You can imagine the angst that ensued when it was decided in 2009 to move the instrument, piece by piece, from the TILT building to its current home. Overseeing that project was one of Bacon’s biggest challenges.
“I lost a large amount of sleep during that move,” he said of the project, which took 3,000 man-hours to complete. “There are more than 2,000 pipes – and at least that many things that could have gone wrong.”
In the end, the organ’s spectacular new home was a fitting place to display Cavarra’s dream project. The Organ Recital Hall has marvelous acoustics and can but utilized for choral and orchestral concerts that include organ. It is also home to the annual Organ Week in June, which attracts top organists from around the world, and one of Bacon’s favorite events: the annual Halloween Organ Extravaganza, which sells out three spooky performances in one night.
“Dr. Cavarra always believed that this organ needed to remain at the center of musical life at CSU,” Bacon said. “I understand his words now more than ever.”