Come and Find the Quiet Center
Have you ever dreamed of escaping to some beautiful, remote location where all you had to do was play the organ, eat, sleep and enjoy your surroundings? As of the summer of 2009, such an idyllic place exists in Portageville , New York . This newly- created retreat for organists is located adjacent to Letchworth State park , 35 miles south of Rochester . The area abounds with incredible scenery, begging the creation of a new Pastorale for solo organ.
My wife Cynthia, an ordained minister and church musician, and I coordinate our organ related travel adventures with two friends, Gary Raish and Bob Riday. They are members of the Lehigh Valley Chapter in Pennsylvania who we met at the 1999 Region III Convention in Pittsburgh . While enjoying the refurbished cottage and renovated chapel in Portageville during a week in August, 2009, the four of us expended little effort in summarizing why such a retreat for organists is long overdue. In fact, a place to get away is a vital necessity for all musicians whose job it is to serve others week after week and year after year.
Our jobs are filled with the constant demand for leading people to and through a spiritual experience by virtue of music selected, practiced and offered in a tightly scheduled time frame. We must motivate, cajole, organize, instruct and lead choirs toward the most outstanding renditions possible of choral music and provide appropriate organ service music. These things are accomplished without hesitation because of our commitment to the people and institutions we serve. It is easy to forget, however, that what we consider a calling is, in fact, a job. The pressures of the job often make it impossible for us to experience or appreciate the spiritual or musical moments we are trying to create for others. The constant need to prepare music gives us little opportunity to simply enjoy playing the organ. We seldom can simply sit down on the bench and play what we want instead of playing to prepare for some upcoming event. We also are often interrupted by someone else needing the space, or by someone sweeping the sanctuary or stopping by the console to chat. Our traveling organ group puts forth the case that the need exists for finding a holy or private space in which we can realize true renewal of our spirits.
The Portageville Chapel is a place where this need can be met. Created and administered by a nonprofit organization, the effort was the brainchild of its executive director, Timothy E. Smith, of Columbus , Ohio . The chapel, a phenomenal acoustical setting, houses a 1982, 12 rank Schantz pipe organ and a Knabe grand piano. They are both exceptional instruments. Our group of four friends was able to work out a daily usage agreement where each person had private time in the room. What a joy it was to be able to play whatever we wanted for its own sake, not in preparation for a service, concert or other responsibility. Such moments were times to absorb and receive, not give; to be in an independent sacred space, not your place of employment; to allow the music to nourish your soul, not be something to prepare.
There was also time for impromptu group jam sessions on church and secular music. Many know how much fun it is to be grouped around the piano or organ singing with friends. One of our group's most meaningful moments occurred on the third night. With darkness outside and minimal light in the chapel, we sang a cappella, four part verses of Abide with Me, Now the Day is Over, and Silent Night. All shed tears for how the music and the messages, shared by friends, could be such a source of rejuvenation and replenishment.
Another most special feature of the chapel is the corner section dedicated in memory of Tim's father, Carlyle. The following excerpt is from the plaque located there.
Welcome to Carlyle Corner
The Rev. Carlyle A. Smith (1921 – 2006) was a proponent of brief naps for renewed energy in the creative process. This, his father's rocker, is here for you to get a little relief from the unforgiving instrument benches…His love of good music, lively worship, practicality and hospitality suggested this nook be set aside.
Much relaxing, reading, reflecting and meditating was accomplished in this space.
The Portageville Chapel experience includes the use of a delightful cottage about one quarter of a mile up the hill from the chapel. This six room space is well equipped inclusive of kitchen implements, towels, bedding, decent mattresses, two Bose radios, a TV with VHS and DVD capability, washer and dryer, porch, patio and fire pit. Five people can inhabit the cottage very comfortably utilizing three bedrooms that are spaced rather privately throughout the living area. A cleaning service prepares the cottage for the next week's guests each Saturday.
The back drop to this entire fantastic experience is its setting contiguous to the Genesee River Gorge, within a quarter of a mile of the South entrance to New York State 's Letchworth State Park . The location is one of our country's most undiscovered natural resources. Being there is like going to Niagara Falls without the crowds. There are four significant waterfalls and several others. The park is 17 miles long with camping, hiking, swimming and eating places scattered throughout. Locally, the park is justifiably known as “The Grand Canyon of the East.”
Because the concept of a retreat for organists is so rare, once the Portageville Chapel becomes known throughout the country, the demand promises to be great and scheduling may need to be years in advance. We highly recommend the experience of a week at Portageville Chapel to all who read this or hear of the place by word of mouth. Our souls have been refilled, and we feel our experience is best summarized by the hymn verse Come and Find the Quiet Center by Shirley Erena Murray.
Come and find the quiet center, in the crowded life we lead
Find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed:
Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes that we may see
All the things that really matter, be at peace and simply be.