There’s a formula that keeps working beautifully in documentaries.
Find a competition – preferably a big one, national or international. Profile some contestants in advance. Then follow them and hope you get lucky.
That plan has worked for a spelling bee (“Spellbound,” 1999) … crossword puzzles (“Wordplay,” 2006) … teen scientists (“Science Fair,” 2018) … and even for duck-stamp artists (“Million Dollar Duck,” 2016). And now it works for pipe organs.
“Pipe Dreams” (shown here) airs at 10 p.m. Monday (June 22) on most PBS stations. It visits the Canadian International Organ Competition, with young organists working instruments so massive that the judges see them only via TV screens. We meet:
:– Yuon Shen, the daughter of a famous Chinese organist who has coached her vigorously. At 31, she feels she needs a boost. “I’m desperate to win.”
– Sebastian Heindl, the youngest competitor at 19. He’s German and grew up with the impact of Bach – whose pieces are required in the first round.
– Nick Capozzoli, 24, of Pittsburgh. If he survives the first round, he’ll try an imposing piece by avant-garde composer John Cage. “Nick needs to bring out his inner craziness,” a coach says.
– Alcee Chriss, 25, who grew up many universes away from the pipe-organ world.
Chriss recalls watching the “Hour of Power” church service on TV and seeing “an old, decrepit woman playing this huge pipe organ.”
In his black neighborhood in Texas, there were lots of churches, but no mega pipe organs. He kept phoning all the churches until he found someone who would teach him for free. Then he dug in.
We tend to root for each of these people as the competiton begins.
Filmmaker Stacey Tenenbaum gives us strong visuals, bursts of impressive music and a human core. The formula has worked again. Next, maybe we can find a rock paper scissors tournament to shoot.