Organist plays Notre Dame Cathedral benefit concert at North Naples church

Construction is still underway after a massive fire tore through the roof of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. While the “Forest” of timbers may be gone, those who remember the cathedral at its finest definitely aren’t. We spoke to one of those people, who happened to be in Southwest Florida this weekend.

Notre Dame organist Johann Vexo was inside the cathedral when the fire broke out. And, Sunday, Vexo was inside Vanderbilt Presbyterian Chruch in North Naples to play for others in his effort to raise money for the historic cathedral.

The church was packed with concertgoers, and everyone had to squeeze to fit into the sanctuary. Some people had to stand in the narthex area of the church while they listened to Vexo play. And they did so willingly, as they were interested in his music and in the reason why he is playing it.

Vexo has been playing the organ for as long as he can remember. He’s been an organist for the Notre Dame cathedral for 15 years. But it’s April 15, 2019 that will be forever etched in his mind.

“It was maybe 10 or 15 minutes after the beginning of the mass, there was this alarm,” Vexo said. “So we were all very surprised because it was the first time we all heard that.”

That alarm was the first indication that something was wrong.

“The priest immediately stopped the reading, and nobody moved,” Vexo said.

Vexo evacuated with everyone in the church. Then, he went back inside to talk with his colleagues. It wasn’t until after he returned home that he realized what that alarm really meant.

“I saw by my window at home a very big cloud of yellow smoke, so I immediately made the connection and understood what happened,” Vexo said. “There was a fire over our heads, but we didn’t know.”

That day was the last time Vexo stepped foot in the cathedral, and he does not want to go back until the cathedral is restored.

“I just hope to see Notre Dame exactly as it was before the fire,” Vexo said.

That’s why he’s been performing benefit concerts all over the world to raise money to rebuild Notre Dame.

This weekend, Vexo played in front of hundreds at Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church.

“Today, when we take the offering, every cent of that will go to the restoration of Notre Dame,” said Jim Cochran, the church’s director of music.

Cochran said Vexo also received a sign of significant gratitude in his visit to North Naples, as he continues hi won journey to help repair something that provides meaning for others.

“A very generous couple in the congregation stepped up and have underwritten the entire cost of Johann’s visit, Cochran said.

Concertgoer Carole Saccocci did not miss a beat when she heard she would get the opportunity to hear Vexo play in her community.

“The organist from the Notre Dame in Paris was playing right down the street from me,” Carole Saccocci said. “I just was overjoyed.”

Vexo heads to Montreal, Canada Monday for another Notre Dame benefit concert. There, Cochran said Vexo is supposed to join two other Notre Dame organists.

“No matter what happens, the music will go on, the music of Notre Dame,” Cochran said. “But I hope it will go on in the restored cathedral.”

Reporter:Breana Ross
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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