Tribute to J.S. Bach

Marathon: Fans of the German Baroque organist and composer were treated to more than seven hours of preludes, fugues and concertos at St. David's Church.

February 10, 2003|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Joseph Marrow of Ellicott City considers himself an "organ nut."

So when he heard about yesterday's Baltimore Bach Marathon - 7 1/2 straight hours of preludes, fugues, concertos and other pieces by German composer and organist Johann Sebastian Bach - he had to be there.

"An organ can reproduce sound in a way that, I think, no other instrument can," he said, paying particular homage to the low notes that can make your insides shake.

Hundreds of fans of organ music, Bach or both attended the annual marathon held from 12:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at St. David's Church in Roland Park.

The marathon was first held in 1975.

Some in the audience closed their eyes or swayed to the music; one woman knitted a scarf. Most just sat stoically, periodically checking their programs, which featured about 50 tunes played by 15 area organists.

"I really can't tell you what draws people, but you see people from all walks of life just drawn to it for a number of hours," said Randall S. Mullin, the church's director of music ministries.

Mullin, who has been playing the organ since he was 10, kicked off the event, as he always does, by playing Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Bach's most famous organ composition. The marathon ends, by tradition, with the same piece.

Estelle Ward, 41, of Severn sat at the rear of the church with her 3-year-old son Joshua on her lap, enjoying her inaugural Bach marathon.

"I'm a piano fan from way, way back," said Ward, a veterinarian in Baltimore. "[Bach] is a classic. He's a favorite. It's where it all started. It's hard to say that you don't like him. You can't get to other music before you get to him."

She said her son loves listening to Bach. "He says, `Let's go listen to beautiful music,'" she said. "He asks for it in the car. ... I know that he will listen to [the concert] for 45 minutes to an hour - with Goldfish." Indeed, the crackers came out during the fifth piece, one of several duets for organ and piano.

The organ at St. David's has three keyboards, with 61 notes on each, and 32 pedals. It also has 49 ranks, or rows, of pipes. Mullin calls the instrument majestic. "It can be awe-inspiring," he said.

The organists played, for the most part, in 30-minute shifts. Some in the audience stayed for only a few compositions; four people told Mullin ahead of time that they intended to stay until the last note.

The church offered listeners an aptly named "Bach's lunch" in years past but was unable to do so this year because of extensive renovations.

Beau Felton, 77, of Wyman Park came out for about two hours to hear the music - and get in some knitting. She remembers going to the Lyric theater with her grandmother to hear the National Symphony Orchestra when she was little.

"This is an opportunity to hear classical," she said from her seat in the fifth row.

Marrow, 47, and his wife, Crystale, 45, regretted that they could stay only about an hour. But they think they might be back next year.

"Toccata and Fugue in D Minor just wiped him out," his wife said. "We could have just gotten up after that. ... Everything's wonderful, but that's his favorite."

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