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Renowned organist getting to know her new friend


Not wanting to start things off on the wrong key, Sondra Goldsmith Proctor has been slowly getting to know a boisterous new friend.

It weighs a few thousand pounds and made a grand entrance last year at First Presbyterian Church. The Rodgers/Austin hybrid digital and pipe organ has 14,526 digitally sampled and actual pipes. It replaced a 51-year-old organ console and is the largest hybrid organ in Northern New York.

“I find I have to make friends with the instrument before I feel I can present it to the public,” said Mrs. Goldsmith Proctor.

Mrs. Goldsmith Proctor, an internationally recognized organist who has performed in Switzerland, France, Italy, England, Austria, Germany and Bermuda, is organist-in-residence at St. Lawrence University, Canton. The longtime Washington, D.C., resident came to the north country in 2004. She was music director for Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ in Bethesda, Md., for almost 30 years.

She will play the First Presbyterian organ in public for the first time at the next Watertown Musicales program at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

She played the hybrid organ last spring to get a feel of what to present at Monday’s concert. She ended up selecting nine pieces, ranging from works by Johann Sebastian Bach to Illinois composer John LaMontaine.

Mrs. Goldsmith Proctor, who lives in Pierrepont with her husband, the Rev. David Van Epps, returned to the church in August to perform on the hybrid organ a few times.

“The last two weeks I’ve been there once a week,” she said last Friday. “As we get closer to the concert, I will stay in Watertown for the weekend, just making sure the instrument and I are friends.”

The hybrid organ at First Presbyterian has 2,900 real pipes accompanied by the sounds of 8,341 virtual pipes that are impossible to tell apart.

“I’m finding it’s taking a little more time to learn about it because of the possibilities,” Mrs. Goldsmith Proctor said.

One of her favorite selections for her Monday concert is the last one, “Litanies,” by French composer Jehan Alain (1911-1940).

“It uses so many different sounds of the organ,” she said.

But Mrs. Goldsmith Proctor said her first piece, a fugue by Bach, appropriately sets the tone for the concert.

“It shows the majesty of the instrument,” she said.

“Even Song” by Mr. LaMontaine “shows the soft colors of the instrument,” Mrs. Goldsmith Proctor said.

“It’s a favorite of mine because it’s such an intimate sound,” she said.

The organist said Mr. LaMontaine differentiates his “Even Song” from a “evensong,” which is a musical evening liturgy.

“I asked him about it,” Mrs. Goldsmith Proctor said. “He wanted to signify ‘evening coming.’ It’s very beautiful, with calming melodies.”

Mrs. Goldsmith Proctor said that no matter what organ she plays, she is constantly learning about the instrument, which she said is exemplified with her selection of “three works” for organ by Netherlands-born composer Cesar Franck (1822-1890).

She has studied the piece with three master composers/organists.

“They each contribute something I haven’t thought about before,” she said. “I learn from it every time I play it. It has many different colors of the organ in it.”

WHAT: Watertown Musicales presents organist Sondra Goldsmith Proctor.
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Monday at First Presbyterian Church, 403 Washington St.
COST: Free, but a freewill offering will be accepted.
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