Many in the musical world will have heard of the terrible tragedy that has befallen the Iowa-based Dobson Organ Builders: the Dobson workshops at Lake City in Iowa, USA were razed to the ground in a catastrophic fire in mid-June 2021 – see photograph.
Fewer will know that the firm of Dobson was due to install a wonderful new instrument in St James's Church, King Street, Sydney, Australia. This instrument had been well advanced in its construction, but was sitting inside the Dobson workshops, and has perished along with just about everything else.
What almost nobody will know is that a new piece of festive organ music had been commissioned to inaugurate the new Sydney instrument in July 2022. I was the recipient of this commission. Terms had been agreed and a draft contract was being drawn up.
The community of Lake City in Iowa is a close-knit one. It has rallied to offer its help and support to the Dobson firm. But close-knit too are the classical music world and, within it, the organist/organ builder/organ aficionado grapevine plus the global community of those to whom sacred choral music and organ music spiritually matter.
Just now, St James's Sydney far more pressing concerns than the commission, and anyway nothing can now happen for some considerable time to come. The anonymous commissioner has generously pledged that the commission will still take place in due course. But in the meantime, Dobson stands in need of the kindness of strangers, for all that its existing friends have stepped forward to assist in any way they can. The company has valiantly committed to returning eventually to business-as-usual, but the road ahead is a rocky one.
So I had an idea, and, after pitching this to St James's, I'm able to lay this before you, with their enthusiastic blessing:
The idea is for there to be not one commissioned organ piece, but two. The first piece, to be written forthwith, will express tragedy and numbed feelings of shock in the face of calamity; but thematically it will also hold the seeds of future rebirth and renewal. This piece will be an 'inside-out commission: the music will be commissioned from me by as many of you as are kindly willing to contribute a modest sum (say, £5 or £10; with nothing to stop you from donating less or more - it is entirely up to you). This money will be donated direct to Dobson Organs to help the company get back on its feet; the only deduction will be the modest expenses associated with a Crowdfunder project. Not a penny of this money will come to me as composer. The initial aim is to raise £5,000.00 - but why stop there? If that target is exceeded, we will aim for £10,000.00.
In due course, thanks to the abiding bond between Dobson Organs and St James's Church, a new instrument will finally rise from the ashes of the calamitous fire, and will take its rightful place at St James's. At that point, the original commission will kick in. I shall then write the piece originally commissioned by St James's, but with a twist: this piece will emerge as a transformation of musical ideas in the earlier, Crowdfunded piece. The two pieces will be symbiotically linked, now representing a journey from initial darkness to light, despair to celebration, disaster to triumph over adversity, and in effect telling the tale of communities coming together from across the world (the UK, the US, Australia and points between) to work for the common good. This stands to be a story in which everybody can share, and it may even offer a model for further such initiatives in the future. The two pieces will eventually be heard back to back, one after the other, but for now the first piece is the focus of attention, and needs your help to fulfil its purpose. The complete, unified work will be called RESURGAM [Latin for 'I will rise again']. Hence the name also of the project.
Commissions for new music operate normally on a basis of 50% fee up front upon signing of contract, then the remaining 50% upon delivery of score. In the present case, time is pressing for Dobson and 'a very present help in trouble' is the order of the day. In the present, mercifully unusual scenario, timely aid is urgently needed. All of the funding sought by this project is needed at the outset, meaning that writing of the music would necessarily be a matter of trust; but I undertake to report on progress through my personal and public Facebook pages and to complete the score by the end of February 2022, making an announcement when the Crowdfunded piece has been placed in the appropriate hands at St James's Church, Sydney.
Sole rights to use of the score (both parts) will to be granted St James's Church Sydney until such time as a premiere of both is in order (on whatever instrument eventually graces the church). Under no circumstances will I as composer seek, expect or accept any payment by St James's for the Crowdfunded project - the entire point of it being to extend the hand of friendship to Lynn Alan Dobson, founder of the eponymous company, and to John Panning, to whom Lynn handed on the reins only last year.
In due course, but some considerable way down the road, the score of the music can expect to be published by Edition Peters UK, under terms of my own existing contract with that company. This score will contain a prefatory note, in which the singular circumstances of this commission could be narrated and the names of all consenting private benefactors (without financial figures) listed.
Thank you for reading this, and for any help you may feel able to offer in support. I should add that I have no prior personal or professional connection with the company of Dobson, and am acting purely pro bono.