First Presbyterian Church of Oakland
On Sundays and too many special occasions to count, my aunt Marian Partner Cornish was for many years–decades–the principal alto soloist at the First Presbyterian Church in Oakland, California. It is a vast and grand venue with a great pipe organ at its front, conceived and built for the performance of great and aspirational music. On Friday evenings and Saturdays, she sang in the same capacity for the Congregation Sherith Israel, a Jewish synagogue in nearby San Francisco. She was a consummate vocalist. (A recording of her singing Mendelssohn’s For the Mountains Shall Depart, is attached below.)
Most often when I think of Marian Gloria Partner Cornish, it is accompanied by a surprisingly vivid image. It is of Marian and her six sisters and one brother growing up in an impossibly small house set alongside an irrigation ditch in far-away Aberdeen, Idaho. It is with Marian and her sister Gayle Partner Hungerford in mind (whom I dearly loved as well), her sister Margaret Lacy, my own mother Florence and my Uncle Bob. I don’t have much memory of sisters Ethel and Josephine and Louise, but… Continue reading
It was mountains of sound—vast parapets and promontories and cliffs of sound. The deep bass notes were born of thunder, or the roar of a great fire, or the eruption of a volcano. They filled the space completely, as thoroughly as the air, as densely as water.
Somewhere in the interstitial spaces between the notes, the trills of the higher ranges could be heard flitting overhead. It was as if the very songs of the birds had been captured for the pleasure of the composer.
It was the last few bars of the benedictory song being played one ordinary Sunday morning on the great pipe organ of New York’s Trinity Church.
It shook the air.
It was the roar of an immense waterfall. A roar of booms. It was primordial, as if left over from some great cataclysm. Or beginning.
It shook the air and vibrated the body and the soul.
It was sublime.
Though it was one of my mother’s great joys to finally obtain a Hammond for our small town church, I’ve never been enamored by the sound architecture of the ordinary organ. And though my favorite aunt Marian sang… Continue reading