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Lothian church is refurbished in sight, sound


Soon, St. James Church in Lothian will be looking as spiffy as at any time in its illustrious 310-year history as an Episcopal parish.

Fresh coats of "white dove" paint hug its walls; pews and trim have been redone in a handsome beige -- and before long, says Val Hymes, the church's verger, one of the church's true stalwarts, a red carpet will be laid to welcome members and visitors in vibrant style.

But what will receive the most attention in the refurbished setting this weekend will be St. James' new organ: a Rodgers Trillium 957 three-manual digital model with 55 stops and the computerized equivalent of 115 pipe ranks.

The church will celebrate the dedication of the instrument at 4 p.m. Sunday with a recital and reception, which is open to the public.

Monte Maxwell, organist of the Naval Academy and assistant director of music there, will put the new Rodgers through its paces in a program of J.S. Bach, Vierne, Schubert, Weaver and Liszt.

Sir Christopher Wren, architect of London's St. Paul's Cathedral, may have dismissed the organ as "a confounded box of whistles," but those apprised of the connection between music and the spirit know better.

"A church is visual while the organ, of course, is aural," Maxwell says, "but the two senses play off each other. There's something about listening to the majestic sound of the organ while looking, say, at a stained-glass window that makes the glass come alive in a very different way."

Perhaps it was that same mystical merging of the senses that led Mozart to exclaim, "In my eyes and ears the organ will ever be the King of Instruments."

Maxwell, who received his artist diploma from Philadelphia's Curtis Institute and earned degrees from Texas Christian University and the Juilliard School, is impressed with the organ. Norman G. Owens Foundation donated the instrument in memory of Gertrude Councilman Owens, a member of St. James in the 19th century and the great-grandmother of current parishioner and vestry member Mitchell G. Owens of Severna Park.

Though the organ has no pipes, producing its sound instead through digital recordings of genuine organ pipes, Maxwell knows the Rodgers' capabilities to be as expressive as any.

"This is an instrument that can do anything," he says. "Tonally, it's wonderful. It's a user-friendly instrument that's versatile enough to accompany a simple service, or tackle the great works of the organ literature."

For Sunday's inaugural recital, Maxwell has programmed works that will exploit the full resources of the instrument. J.S. Bach's grand Prelude and Fugue in D Major calls for a celebratory mood of joy and exuberance.

The "Scherzo" of Vierne's 2nd Symphony for the Organ may sound light, fluffy and whimsical but is a knuckle-busting etude that demands enormous dexterity at the keyboard.

Liszt's "Fantasy," on the notes of the scale correlating with the letters B-A-C-H (the note "H," in European notation, denotes B-natural on the musical scale), is a fiery tour de force guaranteed to show off every resource the new Rodgers has to offer, from the softest whisper to the awesome roar of the King of Instruments at full throttle.

"When the full organ joins the tuneful choir," wrote Alexander Pope, "Th' Immortal Pow'rs incline their ear."

It's good to be the king.

St. James Church in Lothian invites the public to Monte Maxwell's organ recital and the reception to follow at 4 p.m. Sunday. St. James is north of the intersection of Routes 2 and 258 in southern Anne Arundel County. Information: 410-867-2838 or 301-627-6157.

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