Saturday, August 30, 2008

A wonderful day in Charlotte, NC

A friend and I started off bright and early in the morning to drive off toward Charlotte, NC. After collecting him from UNC Chapel Hill and noting that the parking guards were already up and about, readying themselves for the Football game (against whom, I don't really care ...), we started off for our journey west.

On the way, we noticed cars and trucks and the like sporting flags and banners from both East Carolina University (ECU) or Virginia Tech. This had us puzzled ... perhaps the VT fans were heading toward Clemson? That would make sense as both are ACC schools. After stopping at a rest area and chatting with a couple of die-hard ECU fans, we realised that both the ECU and VT fans were heading to Charlotte to watch a football game between these two schools. For some reason, ECU was considered the home team and VT the visitors. What didn't make sense to either me or my friend was, why not play the game in Greenville instead of going all the way out to Charlotte?

We just shrugged our shoulders and hoped that we wouldn't be in the thick of football traffic. Remembering how crazy traffic would get on football game days in Raleigh when NC State, Durham when Duke or Chapel Hill when UNC plays at home, I certainly was not fancying the thought of sitting and stewing in traffic.

Luckily, we got off I-85 before the rest of the football-crazed fans. So we spent the morning at Brodt Music. That place is huge. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop, looking over the organ literature, and choral pieces in their inventory. I managed to buy a couple of pieces the NC Filipino Choir is preparing for their annual Gala. (For me, I feel far more comfortable having "legal" copies of the music, as opposed to illegal photocopies of the same.) I also managed to find a couple of other things I was after ... as well as checking over what two-part choral music they had on hand. (For any chorally-inclined person reading this: have you any suggestions as to what choral anthems I could have my choir try? I have a small group, ranges between 3-5 people on any given Sunday, and I've discerned that two-part anthems would be suitable for them at this point in time ... comments would be highly appreciated in the combox.)

My friend ended up spending lots of money there ... but was chuffed when he came across boxes of used music and found reduced orchestral scores of a few pieces he had been after for a long time. He looked like he was going to die of ecstasy when he came across a Hohvaness score ... and after having purchased it, continued to go on and on about how happy he was to have found it ...)

After having spent too much money at Brodt, we made our way to Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. This church is huge! The carpark alone gave an indication of just how ginormous this church must be. The size of the building is another ... it's a many-storied building ... well, at least 3, really. We met the resident organist, a friendly fellow named Monty Bennett, and he gave us a mini organ crawl through their equally ginormous organ.

It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen. (And this coming from someone who has been up close and personal with the Flentrop at Duke Chapel and seen from a distance the wonderful outdoor Austin organ at the Spreckels Organ Pavillion, Balboa Park, in San Diego.) The lovely instrument that currently resides at FMBC is a 5-manual (yes, you read that right) Ruffatti organ.

Monty was very generous with his time as he explained to us the history of the organ, the process in which the organ came to FMBC, and played a few pieces for us, showcasing the features of the organ. It pretty much has something for everyone. It even has theatre organ-like stops. It was quite interesting to hear that. It's a beautiful instrument, not a harsh sound from it at all. It is voiced quite nicely for the room (although it really is such a shame that the place is carpetted wall-to-wall, plus the pews are padded ... which is a sentiment that Monty also echoed, but financial restraints caused them to make the choice of carpet over slate flooring ... and the financial differences was shockingly like night and day ...)

Both my friend and I had a go at playing the organ. Such a wonderful instrument, and I'm sure if I had regular access to such an instrument, you'd see me practising there every day. In fact, you'd have to peel me off that instrument.

Oh yes - the building itself seats 3,000 people. Yes, you read that right. Three thousand. The balcony alone accomodates ca. 900 people, and the choir area seats 200. I have never been in such a huge church before ... well, okay, that's a lie. I've been to St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, as well as St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. Yes, they are large, but as far as a continuous worship space (so to speak), I'd say FMBC has to be the largest I've been in. It was amazing.

I'm still drooling over that organ. Monty did invite us to return if we ever found ourselves in the area and wanting practice time on this lovely instrument. I'm sure I will probably take him up on his offer at some point in time in the future.

The drive back to the Triangle area was, for the most part pleasant ... with one exception. We had the misfortune of having left about the time the VT-ECU game was finishing up. So we were caught in the post-football traffic along I-85. Even worse - it was on the stretch where it was down to 2 lanes, so we did more stopping than we did moving. Now that was very frustrating.

Note to self: stay away from football-crazed areas on game days ...

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