Notre Dame's new pipe organ bears history's weight
In this Thursday, May 2, 2013 photo, Philippe Lefebvre, 64, plays the organ at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Despite the advances in organ technology, Lefebvre feels the weight of history in his job. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
PARIS (AP) — From the moment the teenage musician caught sight of the organ in France's most famous cathedral, he knew where he wanted to play. In the five decades since, Philippe Lefebvre has traveled the world to play what he describes as an "orchestra of one," but the organ master returns to the loft above Notre Dame and is never disappointed.
He has none of the infamy of Notre Dame's bell-ringer and is invisible to the thousands of visitors Notre Dame receives each day. But Lefebvre said he never misses the direct contact with his audience that so many musicians crave. For the 64-year-old, it is enough to be the caretaker of what he considers an almost otherworldly instrument.
This Thursday May 2, 2013 photo shows Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. The famous cathedral's pipe organ was refurbished for the 850th anniversary this year. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
He first saw it when he was 15, as a young piano student.
"I thought that there were many more possibilities than with a piano. Even though I find the piano magnificent, this is just a whole new world," he said.
A few visitors may notice the biggest pipes above the entrance, but most turn their eyes no higher than the stained glass windows along the sides. Lefebvre, when he plays, is hidden even further — behind the brand new wooden-paneled console that he compares to a cockpit — five cascading keyboards and more than 200 stops.
This Thursday May 2, 2013 photo shows organ pipes at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. The pipe organ was refurbished for the cathedral’s 850th anniversary this year. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
A century ago, six strong men were needed to pump enough air for the music. Now, there is an air compressor behind the scenes, and the newly rebuilt instrument itself has a touch-screen panel that can note "favorite" stop combinations like a browser bookmarks a Web page.