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Ginter Park Presbyterian restores significant pipe organ

Started by KB7DQH, September 20, 2012, 01:51:39 AM

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QuoteRichmond, Va. --

Just as the transistor radio and cassette tapes gave way to digital music players, an electronic pipe organ from the 1960s was showing its age at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church.

The famous man behind it — Robert Noehren, the American Guild of Organists' international performer of the year in 1978 — had receded into memory. The approximately 20 organs Noehren built, including his only Richmond project at Ginter Park, were not recalled with the same measure of affection as his playing and teaching.

But now, after a $260,000 rebuilding of the Noehren organ at Ginter Park, "the results are fantastic," said Douglas Brown, the church's minister of music.

"It really is a fuller sound," he said, aided by three new ranks of pipes that range up to 16 feet.

"The console is command center. It's now state of the art. Before, I would push a button and it might work every fifth time. Imagine pushing the key on a clarinet and not knowing if it would work or not. It's much more beautiful and more even. It's just worlds different."

The newly restored organ will be dedicated Sunday at 11 a.m. during the regular worship service.

"It's a time to give thanks for the organ and for the people who support it, and a chance to hear what the organ can do," said the Rev. Carla Pratt Keyes.

An inaugural concert Nov. 11 at 3 p.m. could be the first of many, said David McCormick, former music director at Ginter Park, whose wife still sings in the Ginter Park choir.

"I really think it is an organ that is likely to be used for some of the American Guild of Organist (Richmond) concerts every year," McCormick said. "It is now worthy of joining that group of instruments in town that are really exciting to hear and play.

"There's a great deal of excitement there at the church since the organ has been brought back from New York," he said. Parsons Pipe Organ Builders cleaned and repaired about 2,500 pipes, added new musical stops and replaced electric switches with solid-state circuitry.

"I would call it a very big deal," said Matthew Parsons, project manager. "It was a complete remanufacturing restoration." Yet, the instrument remains true to its original builder.

"By no means are we making it new. It's still a Noehren," Parsons said. "He had the conceptual design. It still sounds the way he wanted it to sound."

Noehren died in 2002. To William Van Pelt, retired executive director of the Organ Historical Society, he "was an important figure and an interesting character. It's great that one of his organs is being kept pretty much as originally built."

During the nine months that Brown accompanied the Ginter Park congregation on a piano, he said he became more aware of the unique way a pipe organ infused the worship service with sound.

"It really is a wind instrument. It breathes in a certain way," he said. "As a congregation, when we sing, we breathe. To be supported by an instrument that uses air is a powerful thing." (804) 649-6433

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