Organs of veneration
Deerfield Church music director studies German organs, connection between church, music
Thomas Pousont sits by the ornate organ in the balcony of the First Church of Deerfield.
Thomas Pousont sits with the ornate organ in the balcony of the First Church of Deerfield.
DEERFIELD — From the Brick Church in historic Old Deerfield to the tall cathedrals in Germany, Thomas Pousont will research the pipes of organs played by Johann Sebastian Bach, the famous 18th-century German composer and organist.
Pousont, the music director for the First Church of Deerfield on Old Main Street, is departing for a four-month trip to Germany to study the mixture of sounds produced by the organs of Bach’s time, a subject previously not studied in this way.
The trip is part of his research as a doctoral candidate at McGill University in Montreal.
Pousont’s four-month trip and research is funded by a grant from the German Academic Exchange that will pay for his housing. After his trip to Germany, Pousont will return to Deerfield, where he will hold a benefit for the historic church in February.
The benefit will include a presentation of Pousont’s research and what he discovered in Europe.
“The church community here is extremely supportive,” said Pousont. “The benefit is a thank-you to the church.”
Pousont has worked as music director for the Congregational and Unitarian church for 10 years this September.
“The church in general has historically been the center of the best music,” said Pousont. “We try to continue that tradition here in Deerfield.”
From the 1824 church building, people can hear music from all genres, and patrons come from all over.
“People come from surrounding towns to come to church here,” said Pousont. “They find a good mix of inclusiveness and quality in music and the preaching.”
On the second floor of the church is a 2003 mechanical action organ built by Richards, Fowkes & Company. The organ is styled after the type Bach would have known.
Mechanical organs were popular before the end of the 19th century. After that, electrical organs became the norm. Organ styles differ between time periods and countries with pieces written for a particular kind of organ.
“If you have an interest in earlier compositions, you’d rather have a mechanical organ,” said Pousont.
In Germany during Bach’s time, there were three main styles of pipe organs centered in middle, northern and southern parts of the country, Pousont said.
Bach played organs in the middle of Germany, but even that region was divided into smaller regions, such as Thuringia and Saxony.
When the Iron Curtain fell in 1990, there was a sudden flurry of activity to find what Bach organs had remained in East Germany.
Pousont’s work will focus on one aspect not studied before — the pipes of the organ known as the “mixture.”
“When we hear the sound of an organ, we lump it into one sound, but it is actually all individual pipes,” Pousont said.
Since a mixture is part of a main sound of an organ, this variety found in an organ has great implications for understanding and performing Bach’s organ works, Pousont said.
On top of his full-time studies, Pousont teaches at McGill and serves as a college organist at Presbyterian College in Montreal.
He lives both in Greenfield and Montreal — traveling the five hours between his several jobs and schoolwork throughout the week.
Pousont has performed with the Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra, the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, and as a solo recitalist and in 2007 he founded the Deerfield Cappella.
Pousont’s interest in the organ stems from when he was a 6-year-old boy playing on the piano. As a teenager, he tried his hand at the organ.
At 16 he got a job as a music director and organist for the Christ United Methodist Church in Northampton, where he directed the choir, selected the chorus songs and oversaw all the music programs at the church — a job similar to the one he has now.
Pousont then moved on to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in music with a dual concentration in organ and vocal performance,
He later received the Master of Music degree from McGill in 2010.
As an organist, Pousont said he can control what members of the “orchestra” people can hear.
“The organ has over 1,000 pipes,” Pousont said. “It’s like an orchestra in a box. The sets of pipes represent different sounds like members of an orchestra.”