Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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November 26, 2012

Church restoring 100-year- old organ

Congregation at First Presbyterian hopes that organ is back by Easter

LaGRANGE — In his thesis, David Wagner of Hillsdale College in Michigan gives a detailed picture of the pivotal role played by the pipe organ in the development of religious freedom and culture in the colonies of the New World.

“American history offers only a brief glimpse of the journey of the pipe organs from the ancient Greeks to the present-day,”  he wrote.

Wagner asserts the organ maintains a certain power.

“Though no longer just viewed as a tool for worship, the organ, because of its personality, size, volume, and variety of sound, impresses human spirit in unique and indescribable ways,” he wrote. “It remains a monument to the triumph of human skill and culture: an intersection between science, art, and craftsmanship, an ever-changing bridge between past and present.”

With such a rich history, it is no wonder the congregation of First Presbyterian Church of LaGrange is investing in the complete restoration of its huge pipe organ.

In 2013 it will have been 100 years since the installation of a pneumatic assist, Hinner Tracker 14 rank pipe organ in their church. The organ had (and still does have) the original “surround-sound” emanating from those 671 pipes.

Although it appears as one unit, the Hinner is actually a combination of three organs.

“A survey of the instrument by several organ experts showed that many of the original stops, pipes, wood and other components are in relatively good condition,” said church Pastor Ken Weaver. “Unfortunately, only one of three ‘organs’ within the instrument is currently working.”

Having been the official church organist for the past 30 years, Kevin Ramer knows this organ very well. He manages to play around the instruments disabled parts. “There are keys, keyboards and pedals that no longer work,” Ramer said. “I have had to learn how to play around these problems.

“I may have to take lessons again because I am so used to playing around the flaws,” he admitted chuckling. “I won’t know what to do with a completely functioning instrument. I can’t wait to play it after the restoration.”

Ramer played the organ’s farewell concert in October to an appreciative audience of LaGrange residents, parishioners and Ramer fans.

Gail and Hank Gore praised Ramer’s talents on the instrument. They worked with Ramer in summer-stock theater and read about the concert in the Lutheran church bulletin.

David Schmidt is a retired teacher and a member of the First Presbyterian Church.

“I see the organ’s restoration as a new beginning for our church,” Schmidt said. “It is like a reformation. We are looking forward. We plan to take an active role in bringing cultural events and music to the community on a regular basis.”

The organ’s authentic restoration will be done by the Levsen Organ Company of Buffalo, Iowa. In January the organ will be completely dismantled and the main wind reservoir bellows removed. Several large pieces of the organ will be transported to Iowa where they will be repaired at the Levsen workshop. The pipes and other components will be restored at the church by Levsen technicians.

Weaver said while the restoration takes place, they intend to renovate the chancel of the sanctuary. The new architectural focus will be on the magnificent oak casework of the organ. The space will be enlarged and other changes will be made to accommodate moving the organ forward a foot or two, providing better access for tuning and on-going maintenance.

“It would be wonderful to hold the rededication of the organ on Easter Sunday,” Weaver said. “We feel that our organ is an important piece of the heritage and history of LaGrange. We want to take every opportunity to share the joy and good fortune with our community.”

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