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Carteles Editores, Colón 605
THE OAXACAN HISTORIC ORGANS
One of Oaxaca’s lesser-known cultural treasures is its extraordinary collection of baroque pipe organs. Seventy-two organs built between 1686 and 1891 remain today as evidence of a glorious musical past when Oaxaca was the third most important center of music in New Spain, after Mexico City and Puebla. Beginning in the 1990s, a growing awareness and appreciation of these marvelous instruments has led to conservation and restoration projects, as well as increasing use of the organs in masses and church celebrations, concerts, and festivals throughout the state.
Although many hundreds of organs have existed in Oaxaca since 1544 (the earliest archival reference to an organ), over the course of time most of them have been lost due to normal deterioration, natural disasters, neglect, and/or willful destruction. Ten organs have been restored, reconstructed, or repaired and are now playable, while the remaining sixty-two instruments exist in varying states of conservation. Some are represented only by an empty exterior case or some interior parts, while others are completely intact and may be restored someday.
But despite their condition, the relatively small sample of seventy-two organs is enough to reveal a fascinating panorama of construction techniques and musical characteristics spanning over two hundred years. Furthermore, it is almost certain that there are still more organs in Oaxacan villages waiting to be discovered, and it is urgent to register them before they disappear.
OF THE OAXACAN ORGANS
The Oaxacan organs preserve elements of Iberian baroque organ design—one 45-note keyboard with a short octave and tuning in meantone temperament (until the mid-19th century), no pedals, and a rank of horizontal trumpets—at the same time that they developed idiosyncratic exterior features—a profile with rounded protuberances on the sides (“hips”) and the unusually lavish case and pipe decoration of many 18th-century instruments.
Most of the organs are still in relatively authentic condition and have been little altered or modernized over the course of time. This is in large part related to the geographical isolation and poverty of many of their communities, the abandonment and neglect of the organs once they ceased to function, and a conservative tradition of organ building in Oaxaca which was resistant to change.
Around 40% of the Oaxacan organs date from the 18th century or earlier, whereas most of the organs in other states of Mexico date from the 19th century.
- The majority of the organs were built in the state of Oaxaca, with the exception of a few later examples originating in Puebla. Although projects were often designed and supervised by non-Oaxacan maestros, particularly during the centuries following the Conquest, by the 19th century local organ builders predominated. From the earliest times, the actual construction and decoration of the organs would have been carried out by native artisans, manifesting the same talent for fine craftsmanship which still flourishes in the state today.
All the Oaxacan organs are still located in churches; not one of them is in a museum.
INSTITUTE OF OAXACAN HISTORIC ORGANS
Founded in 2000 with the support of the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation, el Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca or Institute of Oaxacan Historic Organs (IOHIO, pronounced YOYO) strives to raise awareness about the organs by means of the following activities:
Assure that the restored instruments are played and maintained and that the unrestored instruments are protected, conserved, and documented
- Offer musical and technical training at the local level.
Promote the organs through concerts, festivals, publications, conferences and recordings
Increase knowledge about the organs through archive and community research
The IOHIO is committed to protect, conserve, document, and promote the historic pipe organs in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico; to raise consciousness about their importance as part of the national and international cultural heritage; and to reintegrate the restored instruments into the present-day life of their communities.
We believe that the historic pipe organs merit respect and support. These multifaceted instruments still delight us with their rich sound, their elegant appearance, and their fine mechanism. In addition, they represent a link to the history of their communities and remind us of the commitment of the ancestors of present-day Oaxacans who financed their construction.