August 4, 2020

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Notre Dame organists itching to play thunderous instrument

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/4/2019 (474 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Johann Vexo, the organist who was playing at evening mass inside Notre Dame when flames began licking at the iconic cathedral's roof, poses at the pipe organ at Notre Dame de Nancy cathedral, eastern France, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. Vexo , who was playing at evening mass inside Notre Dame when flames began licking at the iconic cathedral's roof says people didn't immediately react when the fire alarm rang as a priest was reading from the Bible. (AP Photo/Oleg Cetinic)

Johann Vexo, the organist who was playing at evening mass inside Notre Dame when flames began licking at the iconic cathedral's roof, poses at the pipe organ at Notre Dame de Nancy cathedral, eastern France, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. Vexo , who was playing at evening mass inside Notre Dame when flames began licking at the iconic cathedral's roof says people didn't immediately react when the fire alarm rang as a priest was reading from the Bible. (AP Photo/Oleg Cetinic)

NANCY, France - They literally made Notre Dame tremble and made hearts sing. And they're anxious to do so again.

The organists of Notre Dame, the privileged few who got to play the thunderous great organ silenced by the fire that ravaged the cathedral, spent terrible hours worried that the instrument with 8,000 pipes and a vast range of sounds might be lost forever in the inferno on Monday night.

But the first indications are that the organ seems to have survived relatively intact, to their great relief.

"I thought that if the organ was destroyed, well, it was a part of me that was destroyed," says Vincent Dubois, one of Notre Dame's organists. The 38-year-old was just a teen when he first got to run his fingers over its stacked keyboards.

"It is a long love story," he says. "Hearing the sound of this instrument in this magical place transforms a man in a way."

The organist who was actually playing the instrument the night of the fire was Johann Vexo. He says people who'd been attending evening mass and listening to the priest's bible reading didn't immediately react when the fire alarm rang and recorded messages in French and English began broadcasting, asking people to calmly but quickly leave.

"We were all surprised by this alarm. It was the first time we'd heard that in Notre Dame," Vexo says. "I thought the alarm system was malfunctioning."

The organists say the giant but also fragile instrument, France's biggest organ, appears to have been largely spared but expect that it will need to be dismantled and thoroughly cleaned.

"The instrument must be completely dusted off, cleaned from the soot, the dust that is inside," says Dubois.

It's too early to say with certainty when the organ might thunder again. The immediate priority is protecting the cathedral itself from any further weather damage. Whenever the organ comes to life again won't be a moment too soon for those who play it.

"It's really, I'd say, the instrument of all superlatives," says Vexo, with "exceptional" acoustics and a sound that "can have incredible poetry and, at the same time, phenomenal power."

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