Until the middle of the eighteenth century, many organs were designed with the console and organist hidden away. “One of the reasons for the very elaborate beauty of many organ cases is that what the listener is looking at is not the performer but the case,” explains Annette Richards, professor of music and university organist.
“One listens differently when not looking at the performer,” says Richards. “I’m hoping that people coming to hear concerts at this baroque organ will learn to listen in a slightly different way and will experience the music they hear in a way that they might not have expected. I’m confident that the sound of this instrument is dynamic enough, and exciting enough, that people will be so taken up by it that they won’t necessarily miss being able to see the performer.”
Although the inaugural concert bowed to modern habits and included a camera and screen that displayed the performers, Richards feels “it’s important for people to actually learn to experience the music in an instrument like this as part of the sounding space, rather than something that just comes from the human agent at the keyboard.”
Another aspect of being invisible to the audience is that the organist must play extremely well, says Richards. “There’s no refuge in making it look interesting. Performers actually have to do something with their fingers and the sheer manipulation of the sound without the visual aspects. That’s also an education for the performer, I think.”