First Presbyterian Church organ will play Christmas music daily

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 13, 2008

NATCHEZ — As a gift to the community and with the help of some high-tech tools, First Presbyterian Church in Natchez will share the sounds of Christmas with church visitors.

The church’s pipe organ will play Christmas music daily beginning on Monday and continuing through Christmas day. But thanks to technology church organist, Jeanie Lanneau won’t be required to play the music herself.

“It is our gift to the community,” she said.

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Over four years ago, when First Presbyterian restored their pipe organ, they added a computerized device that allows the organist to record songs and play them back.

The device, called a MIDI, is a musical instrument digital interface. It records the keystrokes and knobs used for a particular song and plays it back just as the organist would.

Lanneau said the MIDI allows her to play all of her favorite Christmas songs and hymns.

“Normally, there wouldn’t be time in the service to play all of this music,” Lanneau said. “I have added to the Christmas collection each year, and now I have about an hour of music saved on a disc.”

The collection includes Christmas favorites like “Away in the Manger,” “O Come, O Come Emanuel” and “Joy to the World.” There are also lesser-known songs such as the Austrian melody “Still, Still, Still.”

Lanneau, who has served as church organist for six years, will be at the church practicing most mornings, but after she has left, the MIDI will replace her.

“It is like I’m always here,” she said.

Christmas isn’t the only time the MIDI comes in handy. It is also used during funeral visitations and sometimes during church services.

During this past Sunday’s service, Lanneau had to play the piano for the children and could not make it back upstairs to the organ in time for the first hymm.

“So I recorded it earlier in the week and someone just had to hit play,” she said.

“The first time people saw me walking toward the back of the church, while the organ was playing they were a little shocked. They are used to it now though.”

For Lanneau, one of the most striking things about the MIDI technology is simply its presence in a church as historic as First Presbyterian.

“We are a very old and historic church, but we are also keeping up with technology,” she said. “We are the only church in the city with this technology, and it was very new when we did the restoration of our organ.

“We were on the leading edge of musical technology here.”

The music can be heard from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday until Christmas Eve. The music hours coincide with the hours of the Natchez in Historic Photos exhibit housed in the church.

Lanneau said the music will enhance the experience of the visitors.

“When tourists come in and I’m playing they always say ‘Oh, it is so beautiful,’” she said. “Now they can come in and sit and listen to the music for as long as they want.”