I went to a Winthrop Organ Recital and I liked it

This is going to sound really strange but…

I went to a Winthrop Organ Recital and I liked it

You read that right. It was a Winthrop organ recital. As in giant pipes and loud, strange sounds coming from the walls of the Byrnes Auditorium.

I was invited by my friend and fellow writer, Martha Macdonald, who you’ll see starting March on the pages of Rock Hill Reader the Magazine, to the organ recital at her former college. Knowing that she is a staple to the community of Rock Hill, I wasn’t about to miss this opportunity even if I have never been to something like this before. Getting cultured and learning history is an important goal of mine, so I went. And I liked it!

According to Winthrop’s website on their International Organ Recital Series, Canadian organ virtuoso Maxine Thévenot was present for a two-day event. The celebrity organ recital featured the music of Barrie Cabena, Denis Bédard, Cabezon, Vierne and J.S. Bach. Only one of which I knew. You can guess which one.

Nonetheless, I was happy to go with my friend and get myself onto Winthrop’s campus for an event. While I was a guest, the price per ticket was only $15 for us regular folks and $8 for students and seniors. Very affordable for those looking for something to do on a Sunday afternoon in Rock Hill.

The experience was not what I was expecting. Though, I wasn’t really expecting anything since I went in with an open mind -which is always a nice thing to do with these things. But my first impression when Ms. Thévenot walked up to the stage was how young she was to be playing such an instrument. I pictured an old opera woman to be honest. Martha, the friend who brought me, commented, saying as much. She then told me about how she used to play on this exact organ during her days at Winthrop Training School – before it became what we know as Winthrop University, a cornerstone of Rock Hill. Then she launched into a story about knowing the recently deceased Billy Graham personally. She often does that – launches into other stories after getting about halfway through the first one (which I love as one of her quirks because I do it too).

At first, I had no idea what I was listening to. It was like nothing I ever heard before. I’ve heard organs, but only in the church sense. Highs and lows, sharp notes and beautiful smooth ones filled the auditorium. From high energy to a softness that was almost memorizing, Ms. Thévenot moved gracefully through each piece. I never thought watching the back of a woman’s head at a keyboard would ever be so fascinating, but it was. To see the passion and the movements work their way from her body was captivating. However, I do think some of her movements were merely functional since she did have pedals to work.

On second thought, I lied. What I said earlier about having no expectations? That’s not true. What is true is that I expected a very church-like performance and perhaps a choir boy or two. Also, the presence of a Lon Chaney character would have been nice. A silent movie or vampire appearance would have made so much sense. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable once I read a little more in the program they provided me at the door.

I’ve learned that the organ has become a bit typecast. The music associated with the instrument isn’t always the kind that people want to listen to. I have to say it was a bit difficult, but I could still appreciate it in the context of which I was listening. When we want something more lyrical or evocative then we tend to look to the piano, the voice, or the symphony orchestra.

While the whole of the music was unfamiliar to me, I found it complex and interesting. I was able to sit quietly with a friend in a huge auditorium and let the sounds wash over me without interruption. One of the last pieces, Hesychia by Jeanne Landry was serene and had such lovely meditative qualities. It really rounded out the afternoon and left me feeling mentally and emotionally lighter for a time. The last piece, by contrast, was close to something Beethoven would have done. By Cesar Franck, Piece Heroique provided a dramatic, almost-but-not-quite Dracula type suspense with a looooong last note. Combined they left me in a state of mellowness with soothed nerves and a touch more culture added to my repertoire.

Overall, trying something new with a friend this weekend gave me a one-of-a-kind experience and I’m thankful for the opportunity to attend such things right here in Rock Hill. Struggling with the seeming lack of cultural events, I think this one fits the bill of something out of the ordinary and worthwhile that feeds the hungry spirit.


Yours in Happy Reading,

Rebecca Sutton

Founder, Rock Hill Reader

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