In celebration of the upcoming holidays, this new fairy tale is a fun departure from our regular articles. We wish you a wonderful holiday season, and will return to our normal articles and interviews just following the New Year.
Once upon a time there were three organs. They were called Michael, Peter, and Cecilia, by the names of their respective churches.
It must be said that all three of them were in rather bad shape. They needed repairs, but their parishes were too poor to afford them, and their church councils seemed to have a lot of other matters on their priority list.
The three organs communicated with each other by smoke signals. Pipes are good at making them. So they signaled to each other that they could no longer wait and see. They had to take their fate into their own manuals.
How could they raise funds? That was the question. None of them had any experience in financial matters. Among the apostles, it had been Judas who had handled the money for all of them, and you would not find a church or organ named after him.
“We need placards,” they concluded. Michael found a forgotten pot with black paint in a corner of the attic. Peter fetched large pieces of paper from the kindergarten. And Cecilia, the smallest of the three, used one of her tiny pipes to write. She had no big experience in writing, and she knew that at her next concert there would be some strange side effects, but at the end of the day a large stack of placards was ready.
Organs rarely walk, but they are able to if they want. Usually they take care not to be seen by humans. So our three organs waited for a particularly dark night, then sneaked out of their churches and posted their placards all over their parishes.
Eagerly they waited for Sunday. For sure the offertory boxes designated for organ renovation would be filled to the brim today?
In fact, they were not. In fact, church attendance this Sunday was much lower than usual. The following Sunday it was worse. The third Sunday it fell to a record low.
One evening Cecilia was visited by a vagabond. Of course he had not come to donate money. Contrariwise: he tried to steal money from the offertory box. Not that he would find much, but Cecilia vigorously sounded her trumpets to alert the police. When they came and took the miscreant with them, he kept shouting: “W-w-w-on’t you buy me a d‑d‑d‑rink? You can have my liver after my death!”
“Porca miseria!” Italian-born Cecilia cursed. Indeed the three organs realized that their slogan, “Organ donors wanted!,” was not the happiest choice of words.
How else can organs raise money? They saw some farmers selling vegetables to townsfolk who came to the countryside on weekends. “Ragazzi! Let’s grow asparagus!” Cecilia suggested. — “I take delight in the form of it. It resembles our pipes!” Michael agreed. — “A nice parnosse. We can sell it at a premium!” Peter was convinced. “Not only kosher, but guaranteed 100% organ-ic!”
However, growing asparagus is hard work. And it is more difficult than ever to find people who are willing to do that job.
Some decades ago, a few relatives of our organs had started to distil rum. They were quite successful with their brand, but soon they got tricked out of it. The proud name for their creation, Captain Organ, got diluted, and the revenues streamed in a different direction.
“We must have gelt!” Peter shouted, “Be it kosher or treif! … Eh, we must obtain money, by means fair or foul,” he added, since the others sometimes criticized his Galilean accent for sounding like a Jew’s harp. — “I have devised a plan,” said Michael, “A business proposition for the local undertaker. We write him a letter saying that for a nice donation we will play our Demutspfeifen the whole service every Sunday. A suicide wave will boost his business!” — “I did not know you have such a sinister heart, Michele, amico mio!” said Cecilia. — “Thou know’st, sister, it’s a family streak. Remember my fallen relatives!”
“We don’t have any Demutspfeifen;” Peter objected. “We have none of these ultra-long pipes that produce infrasonic sounds. And there is no evidence they ever existed! Nebbich. It’s just a legend that there were pipes that gave the congregation a dizzy feeling so that they were ready for repentance … and a more generous offering.” — “The undertaker won’t be able to tell if we play Demutspfeifen or not. Their sounds cannot be heard anyway!” Michael stuck to his idea. — “You read too much Gothic fiction, Michele,” Cecilia concluded.
“I am one of those who read poems!” Michael asserted. “The wise organ is versed in verses. Dost thou know that poem by Goethe? The church bell which went out and fetched the bad child that played truant from church?” — “I say!” Peter stressed. “If the people don’t come and bring us their gelt, we have to go out and fetch it!”
Several people in the three parishes soon had the experience on their evening walks that suddenly there was a smoke screen around them, and a piece of metal at the back of their neck, while a vox humana hissed with a fierce tremolo: “Don’t turn around! Hand me all your money! Now!”
“Benissimo that we don’t have wooden pipes!” Cecilia was satisfied. Their booty however was far from satisfactory. It turned out that virtually nobody in the area carried significant amounts of cash on an evening walk. So their career as pickpocket organs was over before it had begun.
“Organs in a city have a much better parnosse!” Peter lamented. “We’re schlamazels, we are in the wrong place.” — “And, alas, we live in the wrong age,” Michael added. ”Think of the era of Al Capone. Those were the days when even the violin cases had turned violent. How much money a simple barrel organ could make back then, with little effort, just from alcohol smuggling and moonshine serenading!”
“Maledizione … we ought to be stock organs!” Cecilia contributed. “A little knowledge of the stock market would come in handy!” — “But risky,” Peter warned. “We could lose all our gelt!” — “Being a press organ does not lead to prosperity either,” Michael remarked. “Play the wrong tune, and end up before the judge, having to pay damages.”
The three organs got more worried by the day. They might get removed, replaced by some of those hideous electronic keyboards, even scrapped. Their organ pipes might be melted, or placed in the desert. They did not care to see the desert. In fact, they would love to see the ocean, after all those years they had been overlooking the nave. And such an organ-pipe cactus is a nice photo motif, but their active service days would be over!
“We kidnap people for ransom!” Cecilia suggested. — “Thou art Italian, for sure thou knowest how to write letters of threat in elegance to their families,” Michael confirmed. — “But where will we keep them until we have the ransom?” practical Peter inquired. — “Here at our churches!” Cecilia was undeterred. “Ecco! Let our preachers be proud that their sermons are indeed captivating!”
Flashing some of their pipes like gun barrels, the organs had no trouble kidnapping their victims and holding them under guard. Food supply had to be arranged. The church council took care of that, not knowing that the poor prisoners for whom they collected the donations were held at their very churches.
The police took a lot of flak. So many kidnappings, and no clue! — “We are convinced that organized crime is behind this unprecedented series,” the police chief told at his press conference. Organ-ized … he did not know how true that was!
The day came when the families had to deposit the ransom into the offertory boxes for organ renovation. Most of them showed up. “Two have sent word that they actually don’t want their relatives back,” Cecilia reported. — “Tell them they must pay the ransom, lest we will dispatch their undesired kinsfolk back to them!” Michael solved the problem.
With awe the organs watched how the families removed cobwebs and dust, then squeezed one banknote after the other into the offertory boxes. That should cover all their repairs!
During the next few weeks the three organs waited for the repair crews to show up. But none came. The kidnapping victims had been released to their families, save the two who were not wanted back there; they had been given passage on a ship to faraway shores. The money from the offertory boxes for organ renovation was in the possession of the church council. So, why had the repairs not started yet?
Well, in all three parishes, when at the next church council meeting the most generous donations for the organs were discussed, mayhem broke out. Kindergarten staff, building administrators, fundraisers and every single ministry cried out loud that they must have their share in the out-of-proportion amounts that the organ renovation funds had amassed. So agitated were the church councilors, they almost came to fisticuffs!
The meetings had to be adjourned so that all participants had a chance to regain their peace of mind. But the exact opposite happened! They talked with their families and neighbors about the organ fund’s windfall profits. Word spread round, and it did not take long for the kidnap victims’ families to realize that it was their generous donations the church councils kept fighting about. Of course they wanted their money back, but at that point unanimity at the church council was quickly restored.
Lawyers were called in, the police sequestered the funds, and our poor organs were not closer to a sound repair than before. — “Let’s kidnap a ragazzo who can repair us,” Cecilia suggested. – “Yea!” Michael chimed in. — “Let’s kidnap a plumber!” Peter suggested.
“Why for your sake should we kidnap a plumber?” the other two inquired. — Peter explained he had heard some folks at church talking about a phenomenal plumber who had fixed the pipes at their and at all their neighbors’ homes. — “It is not that sort of pipes our maker has equipped us with!” Michael snorted. — “Why not?” Peter insisted. “We all started as water organs. Don’t you know where our mishpocha comes from? Hydraulis, and hydraulic organs!” — “That’s Greek to me,” Cecilia threw in. And added that she was afraid of the tools she had seen that plumber using when he worked at the house opposite her church.
So our three friends were as wise as before. They contemplated robbing the bank where the funds for their repair were frozen. The walls and the vaults of the bank were sturdy, but their Russian relative Katyusha, nicknamed Stalin’s organ, could take care of that. — No, they did not call her in. Once the Russian mafia laid hands on the money, not even Cecilia’s family would be able to get it back, and then it would certainly not be used for organ repair.
It must be said that the organ sound had turned worse and worse. Some of the organ pipes had started leaking. The manuals and pedals were afraid of crumbling and could hardly be consoled. The coupler got disengaged, and some of the stops did not stop. Still the church councils did not bend — they called for volunteers instead who would play the guitar.
“Our parishes are beyond hope!” Michael burst out. “They do not deserve the likes of us!” — “Let’s shake the dust off our pedals. Andiamo!” Cecilia agreed. — “Yes!” Peter shouted. “Let’s go West! To Oregon! Live by the Organic Laws of Oregon established in the 1840s!”
Today the risks of organ transplantation are lower than they used to be. On the other hand, there is a long waiting list. Again the three organs considered asking for help from Russia. Again they decided to do without it.
Their leaking pipes made their conversations by smoke signals less and less reliable. As a result of one peculiar misunderstanding, when an organ from a neighboring parish had proposed to go out and paint the town red, our three organs painted each other red instead.
The church councilors fumed and threw the three instruments out of their churches. Probably they will buy electronic keyboards instead. Our three friends were hauled out of town, then loaded on a ship, and sent off for India to be scrapped!
At last they saw the ocean, even traveled on it. But the ship looked as if destined for one of those Indian ship breaking yards. Or she might be a coffin ship. Indeed she did not even make it to India. She went down with Michael, Peter, and Cecilia, and a number of fellow sufferers.
For a short while, Peter tried his old trick of walking on the water, but it did not work out any better than the first time. So all of them ended up in Davy Jones’s locker.
Many other ships with similar cargo had gone down in that area. It was a veritable ship graveyard.
Wait a minute. Can a fairy-tale on organs end on such a sad note?
Sad note, why? Our three organs are absolutely happy where they are. They had always longed to see the ocean, now they are immersed in it.
Saint Anthony preached to the fish, and so they play to the fish! They even teach the inhabitants of the high seas some tunes. Whales and dolphins are living proof to that.
Having grown up with chorales, the organs are corals now. Painted in red, they adorn the ocean. As organ-pipe corals (tubipora musica) they impress both onlookers and listeners.
And if they have not died, they are still alive to this very day, and you should watch out for them on your next cruise.
Marec Béla Steffens, born in Hamburg, Germany, lived in Houston, Texas in 2005 and in 2012-16. Six books of his original, often absurd fairy-tales were published in German, one in English (Thyme Will Tell. The Adventures of an Old-School European Highwayman in Houston, Texas, available here), and one in Hungarian. They were illustrated by his wife Krystyna, a native of Warsaw, Poland.
Opera scenes with Marec’s original libretti (“The Tramway Conductor of Venice” and “Kater, erzähl’ mir ein Märchen! / Tomcat, Tell Me a Fairy-Tale”) and music composed by Mario Wiegand were performed in the final rounds of opera competitions in London, UK (Genesis Opera Project at Sadler’s Wells), and at Rheinsberg Castle near Berlin, Germany. A children’s opera after the Grimm Brothers (likewise with music by Mario Wiegand) was produced in Kassel, Germany. He has written an original libretto for Mary Carol Warwick about Bernardo de Gálvez, a crucial figure in the American War for Independence; scenes of this work in progress were world premiered at Houston’s Rice University in April 2017 and in October 2018. At the same place the first part of his song cycle “Gallery Talks” for Clare Glackin was performed first in April 2016. He holds a PhD in economics.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Vox Humana.