Sunday's organ recital at St. Mary's Church in Auburn will see one history honored, and perhaps another made.
Accompanist Aaron James will perform his first formal recital on the church's 125-year-old Carl Barckhoff organ. The Eastman School of Music student has prepared a program of more secular music than he'd normally perform on the instrument, all selected to show off its muscle — and his.
"It's very satisfying to play," he said Wednesday. "It's very heavy, heavy action. There's a very stiff mechanism that was the style at the time, so you're really digging into the keys. It's almost an athletic experience."
Sunday, James will perform pieces by Felix Mendelssohn, Gioacchino Rossini, Camille Saint-Saens and more — mostly music popular at the time of the organ's 1890 construction. The program also reflects the reverence he and the church have for the organ, which is currently undergoing restoration. Fifty years ago, it likely would have been ripped out and its pipes recycled, James said.
"The idea is to show off the colors available on the organ, and also to play music you wouldn't hear in the church service," he said. "It's a different side to the instrument than you might hear on Sunday morning."
James performs with the Auburn church choir at 9:45 Sunday morning Mass and Thursday night rehearsals. A native of the Toronto area, he recently finished a doctoral degree in organ performance, and is now on track for one in musicology and music history. He hopes to take a position that combines teaching and performing, he said.
The organ became the object of James' musical desire when he was 17 or 18. Compared to young violin or piano virtuosos, it's common for organists to take to the instrument at such a late age, he said. Like a car, its pedals are often out of the reach of children.
Once he started, though, James was hooked.
"I was asked to play it for church services and I just fell in love with it," he said. "The sound options — a lot of power and gravitas."