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Classical 24
To Hear the Music: The Opus 139 Project
September 26, 2015  
Harvard University’s Memorial Church pipe organ

This is the story of the design, construction and installation of a new pipe organ in Harvard University’s Memorial Church by a Gloucester builder with an unusual history: Charles Fisk abandoned a Nobel-level career in nuclear physics to build organs instead, a decision spurred by his participation in the Manhattan Project during World War II, and by his desire to “hear the music better.”

Beginning in the 12th century, the pipe organ was the most complex man-made device until its mechanism was surpassed by the telephone exchange in the 19th century. Its repertoire spans 400 years of the most illustrious composers in history, perhaps the most notable, JS Bach. From a few dozen to over 20,000 pipes, the King of Instruments, as Mozart dubbed it, produces a glory of sound unmatched by any other, unlike the piano and harpsichord, its tones do not decay, but are held as long as its keys are depressed. Its voice can fill the vaults of cathedrals, making the very stones tremble with its power. Constructing such and instrument is a feat of mechanical engineering, exacting audio orchestration and elegant artistry.

Today, a small company in Gloucester Massachusetts produces some of the finest pipe organs in the world. Its employees form a community, a family that collaborates to produce an intricate end product as close to perfection as humanly possible. Their dedication is inspired by the company’s founder, the late Charles Fisk, a brilliant physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project but ultimately focused his attention on the exacting pursuit of musical perfection.

To Hear the Music tells the interwoven stories of Charles Fisk, the unique culture of his workshop, and the collaborative enterprise of creating, installing and voicing a new pipe organ for the magnificent Memorial Church at Harvard University. The film affords a rare opportunity for viewers to see the intricate design process, attention to detail and stunning craftsmanship involved in the construction of this largest of instruments, and ends with the soaring glory of Opus 139’s inaugural concert.

Visit the To Hear the Music: The Opus 139 Project website

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