The Hardest Thing about Taking Out a Pipe Organ
by Brian Ebie
I’m not sure what has been the hardest thing about taking out this pipe organ.
A beautiful instrument going silent?
The closing of an historic church?
Experiencing vicariously the loss the congregation must feel?
Figuring out where to store countless pipe organ pieces and parts?
In the early hours of each morning as I’ve worked in the church, walking from balcony to organ chamber and out the door to my truck, my mind replays many happy times as organist at the church as well as the great memories of installing the pipe organ. Twenty four years ago I enlarged the existing pipe organ, barely beefy enough to accompany the hymns, to become a great instrument in worship and recital.
The story of my association with this pipe organ begins in 1990 when I began serving as organist at the church. The previous organist had been there for 50, yes fifty years. She passed away in December 1989 and after a brief interim organist, I came to work for them in August 1990. I immediately loved the sound of the small pipe organ installed by Robert Wervey of Alliance, Ohio. It was small, at just nine ranks, and contained a number of used sets of pipes.
But it worked together.
And the congregation was busy and running 150 or more each week. We began growing the choir, bell choir, and through their efforts, the congregation. Soon the little pipe organ didn’t have quite enough “oomph” to whip them up on the last verse of Praise to the Lord, the Almighty. A peek in the organ chamber by a career pipe organ man revealed that the swell shades (which are the organist’s expression control) weren’t opening more than ¼ of their full travel. He uncoupled the linkage and manually opened each to it’s full potential and the sound of the organ was amazing. So our first repair was to replace 1927 vintage parts (left over fr0m an earlier organ) with a new system. I still recall what an amazing difference it made.
That was a simple fix.
Many great improvements would follow the next two years, like moving a couple ranks out of the chambers (seen in the picture below), replacing old pneumatic controls with solid state, adding nine ranks of pipes, a new console, and adding a small antiphonal organ of five ranks.
Take a look at the video below which I made a couple years ago. It’s a photo tableau of the improvements to the organ over a two year period, 1992-1994. I’m playing John Cook’s Fanfare for Organ.
In another post, we will look back at a bit of history of the organs previously installed here.
But for now, the hardest thing about taking out a pipe organ is that it's not just going silent. It's going away. An era has ended musically, physically, emotionally. My attachment to the church was through the instrument these past years. Now, it and the church I served are, by and large, gone.
“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” Ann Landers