40 years of pipes, music and memories; First United celebrates organ anniversary
Published 10:07 am Friday, September 18, 2015
First United Methodist Church is celebrating a special birthday, but it’s not a member of the congregation who is turning 40; it’s the organ.
“I think there’s a certain richness in a pipe organ’s sound that you just don’t hear with other kinds of instruments,” James Wegner said.
Wegner was one of about 16 on the organ committee 40 years ago when the church replaced its old organ with the current one. Wegner, along with his wife, Cathy, and Clestine Johnson and Gary Leonard, recalled working on that committee and making the important decisions.
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“We were surprised when Connie [the church secretary] read some of that to us, that it took us two-and-a-half years to make a decision,” Cathy laughed.
The congregation will celebrate with a service at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27, and will follow the bulletin from the first service to use the new organ 40 years ago on Sept. 7, 1975. At 1 p.m., a recital is planned with four original organ players, including Barbara Hays, Scott Blankenbaker, Katherine Shapinksky and Jan Gilbertson.
The original organ was replaced after the past organ was failing with old age, according to James.
“One thing that I remembered is a certain rank setting that [the organist] had to avoid because when she turned it on, a single note played continuously and it didn’t harmonize with anything that was being played,” he laughed.
Although the old pipe organ had many beautiful pipes on display, they didn’t all work and many were just there for show. The new organ, with a smaller display of pipes, was constructed and designed by Jan Van Daalen in Holland. It has 1,432 pipes, divided into 19 stops and 29 ranks. It is a self-contained tracker action instrument.
“Because this one was moving around, we decided we wanted an organ that was self contained, which this one is,” Johnson said. “So that if it had to be moved ever it could be moved, without taking it apart completely.”
The organ was built with historical principles, which was common for old European organs. It was shipped to Canada by boat, to Minneapolis by rail and to Austin by truck in many sections.
Leonard is excited for the congregation to either learn or get a reminder of when this organ came to be.
“Your congregation turns over, and it’s kind of nice to remind the congregation what happened 40 years ago and a little bit of history about a center piece of the sanctuary,” he said.
The current organ was refurbished — cleaned and had several parts replaced — about 15 years ago, the only time since the original installation. After 40 years with the current organ, and using the first organ since 1908, James said it’s a staple for the church.
“I think it’s just part of our environment and you expect to see the organ there,” he said.