Of the vast number of concerts that will be given that day, only two of them will take place in New York City – and one of them will be right here in Woodhaven. At 7:30 p.m. on Monday, May 6, a free organ concert will take place at Emanuel United Church of Christ, which is located on Woodhaven Boulevard at 91st Avenue.
May 6 also happens to be the 136th Anniversary of Emanuel, which began in 1877 when members of a mission of St. Paul’s Reformed Church in Manhattan moved to Brooklyn. They eventually needed more space and moved to Richmond Hill and then, finally, to here in Woodhaven nearly a century ago.
The organ that the concert at Emanuel will be played on was built by the Kimball Organ Company of Chicago and was first played in 1924 at Emanuel’s original location at 89th Avenue, somewhere in the middle of Woodhaven Boulevard. That building was torn down when the boulevard was widened in the late 30s and the organ was moved to its current location in 1939.
After many years of use, the organ’s leather wind reservoirs, which delivers wind to the organ’s pipes, had begun to leak and needed reupholstering. Repairs to such instruments are rare and expensive and nearly $100,000 was raised to restore the organ to its original condition.
It is on that 89-year old organ that Charles LoCasto, a longtime member of Emanuel and a member of the American Guild of Organists (AGO) Queens Chapter, will be performing the Woodhaven leg of the world-wide concert.
LoCasto first heard about World Organ Day in late 2012. “I saw an announcement in the AGO newsletter that Notre Dame was seeking partners in this global event,” he said.
LoCasto was immediately intrigued by the idea, but concerned by one of the event’s restrictions.
“The concert is expected to be purely French composers,” he explained. “I had to look in the library of songs that I was familiar with playing and I realized that this was going to be a big challenge. I didn’t know enough songs by French composers for an entire concert. And so, I had to start learning, and practicing.”
It takes a lot of hard work to go from learning a song to playing it in concert, but LoCasto has a great deal of experience. Born and raised in Woodhaven, LoCasto has been playing the organ for over 30 years. He first learned music from Eleanor Peterson of the Peterson House of Music (which is no longer there) on 101st Street and Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill.
LoCasto also learned music from Mrs. Goodfriend at PS 60 (he was a student on the first day that the building on 88th Avenue opened) and honed his skills at JHS 210 where he played in productions of “Fiddler on the Roof” and “My Fair Lady.” He also produced numerous productions at Emanuel UCC, “Godspell” and “The Wizard of Oz” among them.
Five months after contacting Notre Dame and confirming their participation, many hours have been logged, poring over sheet music, practicing at the keyboard, both at home and at the organ inside Emanuel. LoCasto feels he is ready to give a great performance and is proud to be representing Woodhaven in this global event.
We hope the residents of Woodhaven are just as proud and will join the world in celebrating an instrument that has brought joy to millions for many centuries. Again, the concert is totally free and begins at 7:30 next Monday. We hope to see you there.