As organists we meticulously study the life and works of our musical idols: Bach, Buxtehude; Mendelssohn, Messiaen; Vierne, Widor, etc. Books written about a composer’s life try to place us in their living context so we can sit atop Beethoven’s shoulder as he angrily scribbles down his Symphony no. 9. It is a rare occasion when one gets to meet a living legend and learn, firsthand, the stories- and people- that authors long to write about. Those who meet these “living legends” are lucky, and they may not realize how lucky they are at the time.
Who are we, these lucky ones? We were the organ students in Dr. Ann Labounsky’s Sacred Music program. It was May 2010 and we were in Paris. We were privileged enough to visit (and play) some of the most famous organs in the world. We spent our days attending masterclass after masterclass, playing pieces on organs that the composers themselves played. How many people can say that they sat in the balcony of La Cathedral de Notre Dame on a Sunday morning and watch Philippe Lefebvre improvise a double fugue that brought tears to my eyes? Who can say that they heard Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony performed with a full orchestra at Saint Sulpice?
Yes, we were the lucky ones for one reason or another. But, believe it or not, these memories are not prominent in my mind today.
Today, my mind is on Jacqueline.
Today, many miles away, Jacqueline Englert-Marchal’s funeral service is taking place. She is a legend in my mind, and some organists may disagree with me. However, those organists most likely did not sit in her parlor room and hear her simply talk of Vierne’s visit to her apartment years ago with a wave of the hand as if it happened every day (which it may have).
When asked what my colleagues remember of Jacqueline, some thoughts came to mind:
“[She was] a kind, hospitable, and energetic lady, whose life story inspired us, a new generation, with insight and experience.” – Joseph Tuttle
“[Jacqueline was] generous, kind, and young at heart.” – Jacob Temple
“[She was] an extremely quick-witted [and] very elegant woman. Although not an organist she was very enthusiastic about the instrument and keeping her father’s legacy alive.” -Adam Heald
And my memories?
I remember one day distinctly. We had just spend the afternoon at L’Institut national des Jeunes Aveugles (translated as “School for the Blind”) to see- or experience- a very different perspective of some French organists’ origins. Teaching famous students such as Louis Braille, Jean Langlais, Louis Vierne and André Marchal, the INJA was, for lack of a better phrase, an eye-opening experience for us to walk the hallowed halls in which our musical ancestors learned. Jacqueline met us at INJA and spent her afternoon at her father’s alma mater with us. After our time at INJA, we walked further down the Boulevard des Invalides toward our evening’s plans.
We skipped along cobblestone paths, gawking at Napoleon’s gold-gilded palace. It was a beautiful beginning to a memorable evening.
The 7th arrondissement brought us to Jacqueline’s apartment. We walked up a quintessential French stairwell to reach Madame’s apartment where she welcomed uswith a graceful smile and a warm gesture in.
The apartment was beautiful with a balcony even I could appreciate (even with a terrifying fear of heights)
We took pictures, laughed, and discussed all things organ for hours. Throughout our silly picture-taking, Jacqueline sat gracefully and spoke with us about anything we wanted. Some of us even sat down at the organ and performed on the organ in her home!
Jacqueline told us stories of her father and Jean Langlais’s relationship. One of my personal favorite memories of the evening included the moments I spent playing “Epithalamium” from Langlais’s “Organ Book”, a set of pieces that Langlais dedicated to her as a wedding present. Our own Dr. Labounsky played “Pasticcio” for Jacqueline from the Organ Book. Langlais incorporated Jacqueline and her husband, Giuseppe Englert’s name into “Pasticcio” by using his musical alphabet system.
We spent hours with Jacqueline and her son that evening, filled with wine and good memories…..
…and many memories of that beautiful balcony.
We arrived home from our trip safely, shared a myriad of Eiffel Tower pictures with our loved ones, and returned to our normal lives. Many of us have not thought about that Paris trip (and the evening spent at Jacqueline’s) for quite some time. I must admit that I only thought of Jacqueline recently when one of my colleagues let me know that Mme. Englert-Marchal was in a declining state of health. I extended my sympathies, tried to remember her in my prayers, and continued on through Triduum and Easter Sunday.
It was only when I heard of her passing that I stopped for a moment to remember that day with Madame Marchal.
I turned on my computer, logged onto Facebook and began searching through the memories encapsulated in pictures from that trip. I was one of the lucky ones, and I didn’t even realize it until it was too late. I had met Jacqueline, a then-living legend, and heard stories that authors eagerly snatch for their biographies and collection of memories. I sat with her in the Basilica of Saint Clotilde as my own professor played the works written by her teacher in the same space many years ago.
I was in the presence of two living legends- Jacqueline and Ann- and did not fully grasp the greatness of the moment. I was placed in the opportunity to sit atop Langlais’s shoulder and see the motives for his compositions. I sat within the soul of the French organ world, hearing stories that I would only read in books.
These memories are a blessing, and the trip itself was a blessing. Throughout my recollection of Jacqueline I have come to realize that greatness surrounds us daily. We may not be able to see it in plain sight but it’s there, nudging us toward our path and our inspirations. As others think of her today on the day of her funeral, I remember my encounters with Jacqueline fondly. Although she would most likely not remember me if I had seen her before her passing, I can definitely say I will always remember her.
–Amanda Plazek, CAGO
A special thanks is extended to Joseph, Jacob and Adam for their participation in this article. Those who have any memories of Jacqueline Englert-Marchal or André Marchal are encouraged to post them as comments to this article.