UCC readies for rousing weekend of music

You can see the passion in the way Carey Robertson plays the pipe organ.

Ms. Robertson, the chief organist at Claremont United Church of Christ, has been at the job for more than two decades, and will be celebrating her 25th anniversary during a rousing weekend of demonstrations and concerts on January 23 and 24.

Ms. Robertson said she gravitated toward the job at CUCC over the possibility of a brand-new organ.

“It was very exciting to me,” Ms. Robertson said. “I saw this large building [CUCC’s sanctuary] and all the possibilities.”

Ms. Robertson’s love of the pipe organ came early, when she was just 12 years old. She grew up listening to her father, Frank Greenleaf, play the jazz organ and saxophone.

“I didn’t start getting into classical until college,” Ms. Robertson said.

When she did, she was moved by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” is arguably the most well-known organ piece in the world. Among Ms. Robertson’s favorite pieces to play are Bach’s toccatas and fugues, as well as a lively French toccata by Henri Mulet entitled “Carillon Sortie.”

After receiving her bachelor’s in music at Cal State Northridge, Ms. Robertson got her master’s and doctorate degrees at USC, where she met Los Angeles-based organ builder Manuel Rosales. Mr. Rosales would eventually collaborate with her to build the organ at CUCC.

She got the job at CUCC after college, as well as an adjunct professorship at Claremont Graduate University, and quickly set off to find an organ suitable for CUCC’s grand sanctuary.

Finding the perfect organ wasn’t easy—Ms. Robertson assembled an “organ task force” to scour the world in search of the perfect instrument for CUCC. The search took ten years, and led her to Austria, Canada and Germany.

When she arrived in Scotland, she came across the pipe organ at St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, built by the German company Glatter-Götz in 1992, and was enthralled by it.

“That was our deciding factor,” Ms. Robertson said.

Installing the organ inside the church took two years and was finally completed in 1998. Ms. Robertson presides over the awe-inspiring organ, which was built through collaboration with Glatter-Götz and Mr. Rosales.

Mr. Rosales was quick to heap praise on CUCC’s organ.

“I think it’s the best organ in the Inland Empire in a church,” he said.

Mr. Rosales added that the church wanted to collaborate between his company and Glatter-Götz—a meshing of the disciplined European organ structure and the flair of an American sound.

“In Europe, the churches are made of stone and the organs are tall and long. American churches are smaller and they have carpets,” Mr. Rosales said. “That requires a different approach to how you build and how you voice the pipe in an environment that Europeans would find uncomfortable.”

The end result was a complete success, according to Ms. Robertson.


The organ is the first thing one sees when entering the massive sanctuary. It towers over the pews, with more than 4,000 silver pipes extending skyward, seemingly to heaven. Mr. Rosales describes the organ as a “breathing musical instrument” that needs to be tuned to fit the weather patterns for a perfect sound.

For the 25th anniversary showcase, Ms. Robertson is planning a repertoire that highlights the versatility of the organ.

“I chose the repertoire for two reasons,” she said. “The first one was to show off every little color on the organ and the second was the emphasis on non-liturgical music.”

Among the pieces she will be performing is a rousing Portuguese battle piece from the 17th century, as well as Bach’s “Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor.”

The showcase will take place over two days. On Saturday, January 23 at 3 p.m., there will be an organ demonstration and a pipe chambers crawl, which allows guests to tour the intricate inner-workings of the organ. Comfortable shoes are required and all children must be accompanied by an adult. A second performance by various musicians around the CUCC campus will take place at 4 p.m. with a suggested donation of $20.

On Sunday, January 24 at 4 p.m., a free concert by Ms. Robertson will be offered with a reception to follow.

After 25 years with CUCC, Ms. Robertson couldn’t see herself parting with the organ she was instrumental in bringing to the church.

“It’s like my baby, you know,” she said. “I couldn’t go anywhere else.”

—Matthew Bramlett



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