That great source of manic and undisciplined energy must have some positive uses!
The performance on the Great International Touring Organ by Cameron Carpenter I witnessed with awe last Saturday night here in Santa Fe may prove to be a benign example of ego on parade.
(Let me giggle a little, first, though, at the title, Great International Organ although so it proved to be, literally, occupying almost the entire stage at the Lensic Theatre, not only with the huge, many layered organ itself but with its outposts, with an enormous black eight-wheeler parked at the stage door to tote it away to its next gig.)
All giggles aside, it was an astounding show that had me with me sitting on the edge of my seat, galvanized.
Forget everything you may have thought about organs—grand, international or not. This is not the same beast that sits in churches and auditoriums, most of which Cameron believes should be hauled to the junkyard.
First of all, the sheer volume of noise the organ produces is astounding, although not ear-splitting like rock concerts—soul-splitting would be a more accurate description. Bach was transformed into a volcano, but even more impressive to me was Cameron’s transforming of three George Gershwin’s show tunes. He insists—and with Cameron, it’s all insisting—that Gershwin is equal to Bach in creating flexible sounds that can be raised to a great height on this organ keyboard.
Cameron himself—he goes by his first name—is mesmerizing as he sits on a stool facing the organ keyboard with his back to the audience. Dressed all in black, he dances on the pedals, the glitter on the heels of his black shoes flashing, a performance so gymnastic it requires him to eat 7000 calories a day to keep his rail-thin body going; he is like those hummingbirds that must spend every waking moment hunting for and consuming feed.
Between pieces, he stands up and addresses the audience; apparently he often appears below the stage beforehand to chat and answer questions. This may be the greatest proof that he is not, in fact, another example of what I am calling The Great I Am.
I like this phrase. One of my favorite hymns, an eighteenth century standard by Thomas Olivers, set to a Hebrew melody, contains the line, “The Lord, the Great I Am.” I sang it in church last Sunday.
Is our habit of worship ingrained, and is it easily transferred from The Lord to a human Great I Am?Cameron, whose handsome face appears on all his brochures and CD’s, certainly knows how to attract worshipers, although he is not to be blamed for that. Ticket prices for the front orchestra seats at this concert were $100 each, almost unheard of in Santa Fe, leading me to speculate that his fee for performing must be very high. Our habit of worship may also account for the surprising number of sponsors, private people, largely husband-and-wife teams, who underwrite his performances and his CD’s, as well as his long list of sponsors and patrons. And who would not support this astonishing performer, whose belief in his own special brand of magic must inspire the same belief in his supporters?
Yet there remains for me always an uneasiness about those large egos that can so easily trample smaller ones, even when the owner of the ego does not choose to exercise that power. I can’t help but be reminded of the Wizard of Oz, who after wielding what seems to be unlimited power over Dorothy, The Lion, the Tin Man, and all the other inhabitants of his kingdom, is revealed to be a little old man working a set of levers behind a curtain.
Smoke and mirrors. Smoke and mirrors. Are they essential to the habit of worship?
[For more images, video and technical specifics of the International Touring Organ visit Cameron’s website: cameroncarpenter.com]