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24 hours of Bach will test organist’s stamina

VIDEO: St. John's Episcopal Church welcomes new pipe organ

For 151 years, St. John’s Episcopal Church has been part of the Olympia spiritual community. And soon, services in the sanctuary will be accompanied by the sounds of a new — and very large — pipe organ.
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For 151 years, St. John’s Episcopal Church has been part of the Olympia spiritual community. And soon, services in the sanctuary will be accompanied by the sounds of a new — and very large — pipe organ.

What do you call a 24-hour marathon of organ playing?

“Fantastic lunacy,” said the Rev. Robert Laird, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, where organist and music director Curt Sather will play the complete organ works for Johann Sebastian Bach on Tuesday, Bach’s 332nd birthday.

“It’s amazing. It’s a remarkable feat of stamina,” he said. “It’s a true celebration of one of the most remarkable musical minds that have ever lived.”

It’s also a by-donation fundraiser for completing installation of the church’s 1967 Schlicker organ, which began in 2015. The church recently hired a Portland firm to complete the installation and aims to raise $30,000.

Donations at bacharoundtheclock.net, which have come from people around the country, have brought in half of that, and he expects the installation to be finished in the next few months.

It’s quite a feat to play nearly 300 pieces over 24 hours, and Sather knows it: He’s done it before, in 2006 at Saint Barnabas on the Desert Episcopal Church in Scottsdale, Arizona.

As far as Sather knows, only one other organist has played through the full repertoire in a single day: Paul Jacobs, an organ professor at the Juilliard School in New York City, did it in 2000 in Pittsburgh.

“The music is just so energizing,” Sather said. “It’s not tedious at all. It’s something that inspires me, something that gives me energy.”

Despite that — and although he’ll take short breaks every two or three hours — Sather ended his previous marathon thinking it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was his passion for the church’s massive 3,800-pipe organ, originally installed at Plymouth Congregational Church in Seattle, that changed his mind.

“There was a moment, say at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, where I just sort of lost focus,” he said. “It was that experience of ‘What am I doing? Where am I?’ and then I caught myself in that and got back to it.”

For those who come to listen — for as long or short a time as they like — the church will be selling food, coffee and more, and audience members can bring their own food. Artists and photographers are welcome to work and perhaps be inspired by the music and by the sanctuary’s stained-glass windows.

The music will keep changing, too, with pieces varying in length, volume and complexity.

Sather won’t play pieces in a set order but will use a checklist to ensure that nothing is left out.

And he does have a few highlights planned. He’ll play “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” Bach’s most famous work for organ, during the noon hour, and Spiritus, the church’s liturgical dance troupe, will perform to “Sleepers Wake” at 8 p.m.

The marathon will conclude with “Before Thy Throne I Stand,” which Bach wrote just before his death in 1750.

“Knowing that was the last thing he did, that’s the last thing I’ll do,” Sather said.

Bach Around the Clock

What: Curt Sather, organist and music director at St. John’s Episcopal Church, will spend 24 hours playing all of Bach’s organ works.

When: Tuesday (midnight Monday to midnight Tuesday).

Where: St. John’s Episcopal Church, 114 20th Ave. SE, Olympia; and online at bacharoundtheclock.net.

Cost: Free, with donations accepted.

Information: 360-352-8527, bacharoundtheclock.net.

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