The Spreckels Organ is one of San Diego’s great treasures. I’m proud to live in a city that values its history, and has not only preserved such a beautiful instrument for 100 years, but holds weekly concerts, summer festivals, and special events to ensure that it is enjoyed by all who want to listen.
Although most associate pipe organs with church, it’s a versatile instrument, wonderful for silent movie accompaniment, contemporary music, and can even hold its own when jamming with a hard rock band. During this summer’s International Organ Festival, the Spreckels Organ did all this and more, spanning genres and generations to reach a diverse audience. Much of the credit for this innovation goes to our Civic Organist, Dr. Carol Williams, who brings a prodigious amount of talent, a friendly and approachable manner, and takes a refreshingly non-traditional approach to her job.
Due to my schedule and frequent weekend commitments assisting with online music events, I had only been to the concerts in Balboa Park a couple of times – until recently. I’ve re-discovered the wonders of the Spreckels Organ and plan to attend as many shows as I can.
The weekly organ concerts are held every Sunday at 2pm. The International Organ Festival takes place in the summer, with guest performers from all over the world, plus there are occasional silent movies and other special events throughout the year. It’s a casual atmosphere; events are always free, and if you arrive mid-show, you can quietly wander in and find a seat on the sun-drenched benches (umbrella rentals are a $2 donation to the Organ Society), or in the shady but less acoustically ideal side pavilions.
Despite being nearly 100 years old, the organ pavilion is quite wheelchair accessible, with wide aisles between the benches so you can sit almost anywhere. The side pavilion has a ramp, giving access to a covered seating area, the gift shop tables, and even the stage and backstage. The only area out of reach is the pipe room, which is up a flight of stairs.
Here’s a video with highlights of the August 31, 2014 finale concert of the Summer International Organ Festival. The Moonlight Serenade Orchestra accompanied the organ for a night of romantic dancing under the stars.
If you’d like to keep up with events at the Spreckels Organ, you can Like Dr. Carol Williams on Facebook for all the latest news.
P.S. The Spreckels Organ is also featured in my digital replica of San Diego, in the virtual reality platform Second Life. Perhaps one day, we could hold a mixed reality event with Second Life musicians on stage at the real Spreckels Organ, while their avatar counterparts performed online. Wouldn’t that be amazing?