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The Organ As Orchestra

Nathan Cone
Dr. Jae Ha at the First Presbyterian Church organ.

How do you take Tchaikovsky's “1812 Overture,” one of the biggest pieces of classical music ever written, and boil it down to one instrument? If that instrument is the organ, you’re a leg up, according to Tom Dooling, music director at First Presbyterian Church in downtown San Antonio.

“Because it’s such a tonally diverse instrument, you can replicate [the orchestra] in the organ,” Dooling says.

Pointing in the direction of organist Dr. Jae Ha, he adds, “the Tchaikovsky is one of many others he’s done, including the Beethoven 5.”

Up in the choir loft at First Presbyterian, Ha and Dooling are walking me through the music from a recent recital that concluded with a confetti cannon and the “1812.” “We just had a blast doing the piece,” Dooling says with a smile.

Also on the program were two pieces of music built around names: Franz Liszt’s “Fantasy on the Theme B-A-C-H,” and Maurice Duruflé’s “Prelude and Fugue on the Name A.L.A.I.N.”

Given that the musical alphabet we know only goes to “G,” Ha and Dooling explain how these composers  created music based on the names of their heroes.

“B-A-C-H uses German musical nomenclature,” Ha says. “B is actually B flat in German, and H is B natural, so it goes like:

I note that it sounds kind of dark. “It’s very spooky,” Ha agrees, to which Dooling points out Liszt’s organ work “is very much indicative of romantic, 19th century compositional styles.”

Duruflé’s music pays tribute to Jehan Alain, the brother of organist Marie-Claire Alain, who was killed in the early days of World War II. Dr. Jae Ha explains the musical scale:

Maurice Duruflé’s music was written in 1942.

The program also includes music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

You can hear Dr. Jae Ha’s full recital on Performance Saturday on July 29 at 7 p.m. on KPAC 88.3 FM and KTXI 90.1 FM. Get a preview by listening to the “1812 Overture” below.