Augusta native Brad Cunningham cannot quite put his finger on what it is that first drew him to organ music.
In part it was the range of sounds, the sheer vibrating power as well as the low tones that purr like a kitten. But it was also the range of knobs, buttons, keys, lights and pedals that require an organist’s whole body to draw out those resonating sounds.
“All I can tell you is (as a young boy) at Crawford Avenue Baptist Church I would be up there on that organ bench watching that organist,” he said. “We went to the First Baptist Church of Jonesboro, and Sunday afternoons I would get on my Huffy three-speed bike and I would ride five miles to the church because they always kept it open and I would sit there and try to figure out that Abbot organ, how to make it work. I was fascinated with it.”
For the past 30-plus years, it has been a passion.
He will put his passion on display Sunday at Louisville’s First Baptist Church in a free concert at 6 p.m.
Cunningham has been featured in many Augusta and Aiken music performances, including the Westobou Festival, Concerts For a Cause and Symphony Orchestra Augusta. Sunday’s 45-minute concert will be followed by an ice-cream reception at the church.
Bill Smith, the church’s music director, said the concert will encompass a variety of music written for the organ, including arrangements
from Bach to Southern gospel hymns.
Cunningham, who is a representative of Allen Organ Co. in Macungie, Pa., says he never wanted to learn to play the piano. For him, it was always about the organ. But his parents and the church music director tricked him, saying that he had to learn the piano first.
As a part of the concert, Cunningham said he plans to give a talk about how the organ works.
There are major differences, he said, in the standard electronic organ you see in someone’s parlor and the classically designed pipe organs found in churches.
“These types of organs are pretty different and they are supposed to be different because they represent a type of music that is different than what we experience in the theater and in rock shows,” he said. “Organ music differs from everyday music that we hear in the elevators and shopping malls in that it’s not meant to be consumed without thought. Really, it’s not. Each piece is written to support normally a function in a worship service or a Catholic Mass. It has a purpose for being and it is intended
to be heard with intelligence.”
The church installed its current organ three years ago, and Cunningham himself voiced it.
“What’s really cool about this organ, not only do you have the draw knobs available to you immediately to the left and right of you to make sounds, but there is another digital MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) with 200 of these ready to be used,” Cunningham said. “To imagine, before electricity, in the 1000s and the 1100s you could put together all these sounds made by one person. It was a feat of miraculous ingenuity.”