We arrived in Neiafu on October 31st, Halloween. Almost as soon as we got settled we were visited by the crews of Toucan, whom we know, and Florestan, whom we didn’t. Jerome and Alexandra are Belgian and partly sponsored by a Belgian charity called the Music Fund, that gives instruments and music instruction support to countries Belgium has been associated with in the past (Morrocco, Congo, Haiti, etc.) This young couple are very sweet, and are enthusiastic ambassadors for music education.
I asked what instruments they play; piano for her, organ for him. “Ah,” I said. “I’m from Philadelphia — ” and before I had the next words out of my mouth Jerome’s face lit up, for Philadelphia is the home of the largest pipe organ in the world, something we Philadelphians are quite proud of.
The organ is in what used to be a very large, very posh department store called John Wannamaker right in Center City and every day at noon shoppers gather in the grand concourse to listen to the daily organ concerts. I don’t know of many people of my generation whose families didn’t make the annual pilgrimage to Wannamaker’s for the special Christmas concert.
The department store still exists but with the growth of suburban malls it’s a shadow of its former self. Still, the organ is revered and played and the daily concerts continue.
“I have played that organ!” said Jerome, and he said many modern pieces written for pipe organ can only sound good on that organ because of its unique range of stops. We told him we’d also been to Passau, Germany, home of the largest organ in Europe and he said it’s also the largest church organ in the world; the other bigger ones are not in churches.
Jerome was very excited to meet other people who appreciate the pipe organ and when they went back to their boat he played a recording of the Wannamaker organ loud enough for the whole anchorage to hear, quite appropriate on Halloween. He came back to Escape Velocity while we were cooking dinner to play some videos for us of a few of their visits to music schools. They also carry repair parts on their boat and he had a short video he made of repairing a pipe organ in Martinique. They are doing good work and we found their mission inspiring.
Jerome and Alexandra left the next day for an outer anchorage. If we’d come in a day later we’d have missed this serendipitous encounter.
We live a pretty cool life.