Robert Cavarra talks easily about sizzle, transparency, consonants, chiff and woodwind attack; after all, he’s been organ instructor at Colorado State University for 37 years. But when his fingers touch the ebony, ivory and rosewood keys of the Casavant pipe organ in the Music Building, a different kind of talk happens. The very air dances with the language of trumpets, strings and a thundering wave of bass.
Cavarra will perform a Bach organ recital on the Casavant pipe organ to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the death of J. S. Bach. Two performances will run at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. April 30 in Room 203 Music Building on campus. Admission is free but tickets must be obtained in advance from Room 100 Music Building.
Cavarra, who is retiring this semester from the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance, will play selections including the Prelude and Fugue in E Flat Major (the Saint Anne), the Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor and other works for Passiontide and Easter.
The performances are the last in a series of four this semester, all of which have been standing-room only events.
Cavarra helped transform the music program in the 1960s by bringing the Casavant to campus following several years of research, planning and study he did on organs in the United States and Europe. He decided on an organ that reflected the Orgelbewegüng, or the classic building practices of Northern Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. The late Lawrence Phelps, tonal director and president of Casavant Freres of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, was commissioned to construct what would become the first major mechanical-action organ at an American university. And true to the art of musical architecture, the organ was designed and built specifically for Room 203 in the Music Building, which formerly was the reading room of the Library Building.
In 1968, 25,000 pounds of intricately fashioned parts and hundreds of board feet of solid oak casework were delivered to campus, and several months later, the $80,000 organ ($750,000 today), replete with 2,079 pipes, 56-note keyboard, 32-note pedalboard and 34 stops, was piping notes to the heavens. Anton Heiller, a world renowned organist from Austria and one of Cavarra’s mentors, said the Casavant was among "the 25 greatest organs of the world."
But Cavarra, a musicologist, consultant, composer and performer from the time he was 12 years old, isn’t known just for the Casavant. He also was responsible for the donation of a 1927 Wurlitzer theater organ for the Lory Student Center Theatre in 1983, "a wonderful old gem and remnant of the Silent Movie era." In addition, he has been consultant for several distinguished classical organs in the Fort Collins area, notably the Phelps organ at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Danish Marcussen and Søn organ at First United Methodist Church.
Cavarra has performed throughout the United States, Europe, Canada and Mexico and has released many recordings on the Musical Heritage label. He also has written and lectured on the Classic Organ Movement at the First Congress of Latin American Organists, the 35th Conference of World Affairs and the Festival of International Organists. Together with his wife, Barbara, he founded an international, non-profit foundation, Pro Organo Pleno XXI, dedicated to preservation of the art of the organ into the 21st century.
The dedication Cavarra brings to his artistry will continue after he retires from the university.
"Organ always has been my passion," he said.