Pipes on the River
Attending a Pipes on the River organ recital is a kinesthetic experience. The interior of Trinity Episcopal Church hums with the force of compressed air moving through the pipes spread from the front to the back of the church. The vibration is conveyed to the body through the floor, the pews and the air itself.
It’s an invigorating experience and not a bad way to spend a Friday lunch hour, which is exactly what church organist and director of music Dr. Philip Manwell invites people to do on the first and third Friday of every month.
According to Manwell, the organ was always intended for the enjoyment of the whole community, not just the church’s parishioners.
“It was designed and built with that in mind—that it would have flexible use, so that church services and all of those things could be nicely played, but also recitals could be played, concerts could be played,” Manwell said.
The Pipes on the River recitals have been a staple of the church’s music program since the organ was installed in 1999.
“Downtown was growing, changing,” Manwell explained. “More businesses and offices could take their lunch hour, walk over to the church, listen to some music, get back to work on time.”
According to Manwell, Trinity’s is the largest pipe organ in Northern Nevada. In the early days after its installation, organists traveled from around the country to play recitals on it. For many years, the recitals were held every Friday. They were eventually scaled back in an effort to keep costs under control and public interest in the program high.
Manwell would like to see Pipes on the River return to a weekly schedule, but, for now, he’s plenty busy with the church’s expanding music programs, which include a new children’s music program and continuing performances from local groups like Bella Voce and the Nevada Gay Men’s Chorus. And he’s looking to use the church for yet another musical purpose.
“I’m very interested in having university students do their degree recitals here,” Manwell said. “We’ve had three wonderful recitals—all singers and their accompanists, and that’s bringing a whole kind of new feeling to how we use the church for musical purposes.”
Manwell has been working with the music department at the University of Nevada, Reno—where he teaches organ—in an effort to increase the number and variety of degree recitals held at Trinity. He’s also working with the church’s new organist and associate musician, Michael Lynch, who is learning the ins-and-outs of Trinity’s organ. According to Manwell, the placement of pipes in both the front and back of the church presents a unique set of challenges for organists.
“The challenge and the fun for organists is to get both of them to sound simultaneously without the audience hearing a delay, because there’s just enough length between these pipes and those pipes, and the acoustic makes just a sort of infinitesimal delay between this and this,” Manwell said. “The challenge for the organist, if you’re going to use it all together, is to play in way that the listener hears it all happening simultaneously, rather than an echo happening all the time.”
It’s that simultaneous sounding of the pipes spread throughout the building that lends the distinctive physical dimension to the recital experience.
“It was a great idea when they were designing the instrument, and probably a little ahead of its time—for this church, and for the size of the building, and for all of the rest—to try to create that versatility and variety between sound coming from the rear and sound coming from the front and combining those in very different ways,” Manwell said. “It just makes the instrument more flexible. It was very ingenious.”