Playing and Preserving showcases unique collaboration between the saxophone quartet Project Fusion; organist at St. Mary’s Hamilton Village, Michael Lawrence; and Play On Philly Wind Ensemble.

By Jonathan Eifert

While the musicians and the organ are the musical focus of Playing and Preserving’s upcoming events, the real power of the collaboration is bringing various communities in the Philadelphia area together through music, and honoring the numerous organizations and musicians that contribute greatly to the culture of the city.

As part of this forward-thinking project, Partners for Sacred Places has collaborated with Astral Artists and Play On Philly to organize a series of performances and events, which will highlight the historic organ in ways that juxtapose and combine genres and styles of music to engage the local community in preservation through music and bring together classical musicians of all ages in exploration and celebration of the organ—historically the musical center of a sacred place.

The highly-innovative saxophone quartet, Project Fusion, is featured during the first of three community concerts. On October 25, they join organist Michael Lawrence at St. Mary’s Hamilton Village for a one-of-a-kind collaboration. Certainly, it’s not everyday that you hear four saxophones play with a pipe organ!

“In our opinion, that is really what chamber music is all about: not just sharing great music in an intimate setting, but bringing people together,” said Matt Evans, Project Fusion’s baritone saxophonist.

An Unlikely Match — Saxophone and Organ

The central focus of Playing and Preserving is the organ and its impact on the community. Based on this, Project Fusion is designing the program for the October 25 concert to feature the homogeneous-sounding, organ-like quality of its ensemble, which will “compare and contrast” with the selections for organ throughout the program.

One thing was on all of Project Fusion’s minds as the project came to fruition. Maslanka’s Recitation Book, one of the works they have performed most frequently and inspired by early music, seemed like a great “branching off point” for this concert. The last movement will be performed and is based on the melody from J.S. Bach’s chorale, Durch Adams Fall.

“This musical thread, which ties directly into the history of organ performance practice, lent to very effective programming alongside the organ, and will inspire the ‘breakout’ sessions that we will lead with the musicians from Play On Philly prior to the performance,” Matt Evans said.

Branching out from this piece, Project Fusion and Play On Philly Wind Ensemble will perform a transcription of Durch Adams Fall. Michael Lawrence, director of music/organist/choirmaster at St. Mary’s Hamilton Village, will perform an organ prelude based on the chorale’s melody.

From these two classical works, the audience will hear the collaboration from the ensembles and organ in an array of configurations — a tango from the saxophone quartet, solo organ, and works for both saxophone and organ, including Bozza’s Aria (after the Manual for the Fantasy in F of J.S. Bach).

Interestingly, the artists will tie all of this historic musical literature into contemporary video game music at the concert.

“There is some amazing repertoire written for organ and saxophone, but finding a time and place to present this music can be challenging,” Evans said. “Thanks to Playing and Preserving, we will be able to perform with organ for the first time!”

Saxophones Sound Like the Organ

For Michael Lawrence, this unique concert program reminds him of Arnold Schoenberg’s arrangement of Bach Chorales for clarinet quartet. If a musician plays it just right, it sounds like a pipe organ.

“You have these wind instruments that can sound very similar to a pipe organ, and frankly operates similarly to a lot of the organ stops. Linking saxophones or wind ensembles to the organ, gives an inventive perspective to the organ,” he said.

On a related note, many people don’t know that the organ is the precursor to the synthesizer. When combining organs with other instruments, it gives people an entryway into an experience and appreciation for organ music.

“If you can make a Venn diagram out of the organ, wind instruments, and synthesizer you never know what sort of new audience you might have at a concert,” Lawrence said.

Education At The Heart of Playing and Preserving

In the weeks before these concert experiences, Astral Artists will mentor the POP students during four short residency visits, building musical skills and relationships between young musicians actively studying and world-class musicians who perform all over the world.

Project Fusion is excited to be part of this endeavor and mentor POP students leading up to the October 25 performance.

“Music is all about building connections — that could be the connection someone has to a particular piece/song or artist, the connection one shares with others listening to the same performance, or any other number of shared experiences that live music offers,” Evans said. “We believe in this amazing power that only music can accomplish, and that is why we perform.”

About Playing and Preserving

Embracing new and creative approaches, a groundbreaking initiative PLAYING AND PRESERVING: Saving and Activating Philadelphia’s Historic Pipe Organs In Advancement of Music and Community aims to generate public support for the preservation and active use of Philadelphia’s organ heritage by building relationships between congregations, artists, music lovers, organ builders, and the broader public. This exciting venture is led by Partners for Sacred Places, in collaboration with a team of interdisciplinary partners, including Astral Artists, Play On Philly, the Curtis Institute of Music, and Bowerbird.

“Our project will turn this problem into an advantage, by leveraging the organ and amplify one of the most important but typically unappreciated characteristics of sacred places — their auditory and aural qualities — to provide a rich, multi-sensory context for individuals, families, and artists to experience historic places in a powerful way,” said Bob Jaeger, president of Partners for Sacred Places. “This experience will be supported by, among other strategies, place-based storytelling, and interactive conversations around what place means to each of us and how it defines our sense of identity and community, as well as engaging history through art.”

All concerts are free, open to the public, and take place on the following dates:

Friday, October 25
Friday, November 22
Saturday, December 21

Tickets are not required, but RSVPs are encouraged. Each performance will take place at St. Mary’s Hamilton Village, 3916 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA.