Late afternoon, Wednesday 6 May 1998, Washington DC: wife and son and I fight our way through the dregs of rush-hour traffic into downtown Georgetown, center of congestion in the local cosmos. We find a parking space, weave our way on foot through a couple of blocks of students and shoppers, turn a corner, climb a short flight of stairs --- and step into an oasis of silence.
The little fenced yard in front of Grace Episcopal Church is cloaked in a mantle of peace. On the steps outside the main doors sits a young man, reading a book. We approach; he smiles, marks his place, and greets us. His name is Larry Molinaro, and he is simply enjoying the day while awaiting our arrival. His aura at that moment is the most serene of any human being I have ever witnessed. Is it the contrast with the hurly-burly metropolis surrounding us? Is it a deeper magic? No matter.
Larry is the organist at Grace Episcopal and has offered to give lessons to our 15-year-old son, Merle. We go inside and Merle plays for him on the church's harpsichord; Larry likes what he hears, and so do we. The acoustics are superb. We climb a narrow twisting stairway to the loft --- a passageway like those found in old observatories, snaking up from the foundation to the telescope. At the top, Larry shows us the hand-made church organ. It's a classical-style instrument with direct mechanical connections from keys and pedals to valves that send air through resonant pipes. The "Book of the Organ" depicts its construction: craftsman David Moore in Vermont smelted and cast the ingots of metal himself, hammered them out by hand into sheets, and formed them into pipes. The white keys are made of cow bones from his farm.
Cut to another Wednesday in Georgetown, 29 July 1998: in the Grace Episcopal Church organ loft Larry Molinaro is teaching, again within the great-spirited force field that seems to surround him and the church. During a break I tell him how memorable our first encounter was for me, two months earlier; he grins and says that the churchyard is just a marvelous place to sit and think. Larry and Merle and I joke about the stress associated with page-turning for a professional musician during a public performance, a job Merle occasionally takes on for friends of the family. Larry tells of toying with a nervous page-turner --- how sometimes Larry would tease his victim by planting small bright stick-on notes within the music, bearing little messages: Hi Bob! or Your Name Here --- and how when he knows a piece really well he can talk quietly to the page-turner while playing, thereby making his helper even more anxious. Larry describes the process of learning the organ pedals as "... like developing a second left hand ...", and then relates an anecdote of his catastrophic attempt to play while wearing new shoes --- which lead to some unexpectedly loud, dissonant chords and a sudden awakening for dozing members of the congregation below.
Jump finally to a Wednesday evening in Annapolis, Maryland, 28 October 1998: Larry shows us around the old St. Anne's Episcopal Church in the center of the city, next door to the state capitol. He tells us that, some years ago, the church tower bells were accidentally wired to the light switch in the men's room --- so that whenever a new parson went to use the facilities, the whole town knew it. Larry smiles, then moves to the organ to begin the lesson.
Sunday, June 24, 2001 at 09:37:56 (EDT) = Datetag20010624