Bouncy Castle Organ Extravaganza powers a stately instrument with a source of childlike glee

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      Not every church holds an experimental-music concert as a fundraiser. And not every church offers a bouncy castle as an inducement to attend. But then, there’s only one church that can boast composer Michael Park as its resident organist. That happens to be Vancouver’s own Holy Trinity Anglican Church—and, not coincidentally, that’s where the weird, bouncy fun will be happening this weekend.

      It’s all the result, Park says in a telephone interview from his Kitsilano home, of a happy discovery he made after being hired in 2016.

      “The previous organist at the church, Michael Dirk, was a collector of things,” Park says, with admirable restraint. “And when he left, there were probably 200 to 300 square feet of organ pipes in the choir room—pipes that he’d collected from other organs, with the hope of building onto the Holy Trinity organ or being able to sell to other organizations. He’d hear about organ pipes destined for the garbage, and he just couldn’t let them go. So that meant that when I came into my position as music director, I had a room that was filled with all these organ pipes sitting dormant and unused.

      Holy Trinity Anglican Church's previous music director built up a large collection of organ pipes.

      “The church is also very lucky to have David Quinton, who is an organ technician and builder,” Park continues. “We’ve had many conversations, and in one of them I think we were standing next to a vacuum cleaner, and he said, ‘Anything that moves or holds air could be used to power a pipe organ.’ He pointed to the vacuum, and I said, ‘Aha!’ I just searched my brain for the craziest thing that has air you could connect [to an organ], and I asked him, ‘What about a bouncy castle?’ And he took a moment, and then he said, ‘I think we can make that happen.’ ”

      The experimental part of the program is that Park and Quinton won’t know quite how it will all work until the day before the pay-what-you-can fundraiser, which will also include tours of the church, which was completed in 1911; demonstrations of its 1912 Casavant organ; and an organ-building workshop. Essentially, though, the compressor that keeps the castle bouncy will also feed air into a reservoir box, to which various organ pipes will be connected. Participants will be able to switch pipes in and out, to hear what sounds the different sizes make—and the bouncing, Park presumes, will add a rhythmic component to the happy cacophony.

      It’s all in aid of repairs to the church’s real organ, which after more than a century of use needs some upkeep. “The biggest problem that we have is that the leather is also original from 1912, and as a natural material it doesn’t hold up as well as other things,” says Park. “Age is a point of pride but also a point of weakness, in terms of that instrument.”

      Participants in the Bouncy Castle Organ Extravaganza will be able to pick their pipes from Holy Trinity Anglican Church's large inventory.

      The UBC-trained keyboardist, who’s also artistic director of Erato Ensemble and sits on the board of the innovative Redshift Music Society, adds that if the bouncy-castle organ works as planned, it could lead to further experiments, perhaps with more of a compositional bent. He points to the way that Redshift commissioned the Lumiphone—a 31-tone equal-temperament glass marimba—from composer and instrument maker Benton Roark. That’s resulted in a number of new percussion pieces being written, and he envisions other composers being inspired by the bouncy-castle organ’s combination of sonic flexibility and fun.

      “It’s our proof of concept,” he says, laughing. “We’re going to make sure that it can actually be done.”

      The only downside to Holy Trinity’s oddball fundraiser is that Park himself won’t be able to get in on the bouncing—the castle the church has rented has a weight limit of 90 kilograms per bouncer. But, having done his research, the organist isn’t all that disappointed.

      “At Pride, there was… Well, not a bouncy castle, but an outdoor bouncy pad,” he notes. “There were a lot of people bouncing on that, and my husband and I went on it for about two minutes, and we were exhausted. Anyone over the age of 10, I think, is not meant for those things!”

      Holy Trinity Anglican Church’s Bouncy Castle Organ Extravaganza takes place at 1440 West 12th Avenue from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday (August 25).