The believers fling themselves on the bare wooden stage like tossed sticks. They giggle and rearrange themselves, then settle on their backs to look up at the "trees"--organ pipes in a dim church. First, a moment of silence. Then the floorboards start to rumble with the third movement of Naji Hakim's "Homage à Igor Stravinsky."
What might seem like an old-fashioned prayer meeting is actually the thoroughly modern Midnight Organ Pump, a monthly Friday classical music be-in that's the Oberlin College equivalent of a football game, with whooping, hollering, foot stomping--and a marching band. It's an all-body experience rather than an out-of-body one, with audience members invited to come up and lie down on stage, so they might feel the "enormous surge" of the Aeolian-Skinner organ.
The Pumps began in 1990, when some Oberlin classical music students noticed the long line outside the college disco on Friday nights. They tapped into that overrun, plying the curious with promises of a wild time. Now, a typical Pump audience hovers around two hundred.
"There's kind of a cult following," says David Kazimir, a senior organ major and the event's organizer. "It used to have a scandalous air about it, but it has gotten tamer in recent years."
"Nice shirt!" yells a voice in the crowd, as Ben Schaeffer, a freshman organ student and the night's host, walks to center stage, dressed in a loud print shirt, vest, and white disco shoes. The crowd cheers, the lights dim, and Schaeffer kicks off the disco shoes in favor of softer soles for the organ's foot pedals.
The 83-year-old organ requires manual resetting of its pistons between pieces, which takes about ten minutes. To kill time, the band pa-rades onstage and plays swing music. Half a dozen couples jump up to dance. When the band launches into the Village People's "YMCA," the entire crowd is on its feet, going through the motions. The chandeliers and stage lights flash disco style.
Next year, the school will replace the Aeolian-Skinner with a new pipe organ. While that's being installed, the Pump will be transplanted to another campus organ.
But that's not Kazimir's problem. "I graduate this May," he says. "I've done my duty to God, country, and college by seeing them through to the end of the Aeolian-Skinner. I won't be branded as the man who brought an end to the Organ Pump."
Oberlin College hosts a Midnight Organ Pump on Friday at Finney Chapel at the intersection of College and Professor streets in Oberlin. Admission is free; call 440-776-0016.