Sundays at 2 pm in San Diego’s Balboa Park the Spreckles pipe organ reverberates with wonderful volume. No wishy-washy or tentative selections here. The organ is the largest pipe organ in the world with 4518 pipes, so naturally not a wimp. It was commissioned by sugar magnate John D. Spreckels for the Panama-California Exposition in 1914 and donated to the park.
The first chord Dr. Carol Williams, the Civic Organist struck on a recent January Sunday woke up all us hot, drowsy tourists. The little two year old Russian girl next to me held her pretzel in midair and took a minute to get it to her mouth while the young boy in front of me covered his ears with his hands for about the same minute. Dr. Williams must have hit every bass note and every pedal.
Organ music, however glorious, is not my thing. It always brings to mind an image of J. S. Bach’s 20 children running up and down a narrow staircase in some cold house in Germany. Or roller skating rinks in the 1950’s. Or ancient ladies playing in Presbyterian churches and hitting a few wrong notes. Many have tried to educate me to the lofty intricacies of organ music, but I remain illiterate.
So I left the organ pavilion and wandered up to the Prado to see if I could get a picture of Donal Hord’s 1935 limestone “Woman of Tehuantepec” without a lot of tourists in the picture. I waited for a break in the small crowd of children and dogs enjoying the sounds and splashes of the fountain’s water on this hot Sunday. The sculpture was done for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition and celebrates water. Even then, water was a luxurious commodity.
When I walked back to the Organ Pavilion, a saxophonist had joined the organist and they were playing “Georgia” and then “The Girl from Ipanema.” Smooth.
A large dog in the row in front of me was more interested in the crowd behind it. Maybe it sat patiently through the classics in the first part of the concert and now wanted some space and exercise no matter how mellow the second half of the concert was.