Saturday, Nov. 17 was a triple-header in the arts, a not uncommon occurence in Artsy Amarillo. It began with the bimonthly meeting of the High Plains Professional Writers, which next year celebrates its centenary, followed by the dedicatory concert of the mega organ at First Presbyterian, and finalized with a Mahler-Mozart concert by the Amarillo Symphony.
HPPW, the only professional writers group between Dallas and Denver (Lubbock doesn’t have one) met in the Ed Davis Conference room in the Chase Tower. The featured speaker was Bill Briscoe, a Canyon author, who gave a most informative presentation spanning the writer becoming first an author and then an entrepeneur. Both published and aspirant authors profited from his wealth of information.
The dedication of the super organ at First Presbyterian took place at 5:00. Humbly touted in the program as “the largest, most technologically-advanced organ from Ft. Worth to L.A,” it is the product of generous patronage as well as the professional expertise of church music director Norman Goad. Besides being on the church staff, Goad manages a company which does all things pertaining to organs, from design, installation and maintenance.
Now Amarillo can boast of two of the premier pipe organs on the planet: The Aeolian Skinner at St. Andrews and the “Goad.” Anyone for a battle of the world-class calliopes?
The dedicatory concert featured Ken Cowan, head of the organ program at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. He literally pulled out all of the stops, tantalizing and thrilling a packed house with the power and potential of this magnificent instrument. His varied program included Bach’s Pasacaglia and Fugue, no surprise in a church sanctuary, and Saint Saens Danse Macabre, totally unexpected. The choice apparently was OK with the Presbyterians: the applause was loud and enthusiastic.
Many in the audience, quickly found themselves at Amarillo Symphony for an evening of Mahler and Mozart with a double helping of Bach. Perhaps Mahler’s signature work is “Kindertotenlieder:” Songs on the Death of Children, which is either embraced for its sublime cathartic message, offering hope in a welter of despair, or rejected as a morbid wallowing in thanatophobia.
The featured artist, J’Nai Bridges, had an empathetic warmth in her voice that would move the intransigence of the most ardent anti-Mahlerian. And, while rehearsing with the Amarillo Symphony, Ms. Bridges received word that she’ll be singing “Carmen” when it’s performed at the Met in 2020! Congrats J’Nai! Remember us on the Golden Spread when you take your bow at the Sybil B. Harrington Performance Hall. Does everyone see the Amarillo continuum, as plain as the High Plains?
On this weekend before Thanksgiving, Super Saturday emphasized the thanks we should give for the bounty of the arts in this unlikely place. In the spirit of Thanksgiving just past, we say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”