Project to restore organ at First Presbyterian Church completed

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

The ominous sound was there &045;&045; was not there, that is. Former First Presbyterian Church organist Anna Rose Davis sounded the warning several years ago and brought evidence with her to meetings of the church governing board.

Small pieces of leather, old and tattered, no longer functioned. The organist played notes and got no response, as the leather pouches could not capture air &045;&045; part of the pipe organ’s complicated workings

now gone.

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Jeanie Lanneau, organist at the church for the past two years, was on that governing board when the first plea was made for an organ restoration. The estimate to repair the instrument was in the many thousands of dollars.

Lanneau’s commitment to continue a plea for organ restoration came to fruition 18 months ago, and today the organ stands like new &045;&045; new leather pouches, a new computer-driven heart and many other fine and up-to-date features that call for celebration, she said.

&uot;When I started playing two years ago, I noticed the notes that wouldn’t play. I called the company that works on the organ, and they told me it was a leather issue,&uot; Lanneau said. &uot;They said, ‘if you don’t do this work now, you’ll be calling us in a couple of years to haul the organ away.’&uot;

Looking at different funds available and adding organ work to a recent capital improvement program, the church governing board found the money to hire Pipe Organ Specialties of Laurel to do the necessary work &045;&045; including replacing all the leather on the pouch boards, thousands of pieces in different sizes.

&uot;It’s kangaroo leather. Look at it and feel it,&uot; Lanneau said, as she showed off an example of the work, which will be completed with a complete retuning of the organ next week prior to a celebratory recital on May 23 by Mark T. Engelhardt, organist and director of music for the Episcopal Cathedral of Saint Paul in Boston and music consultant for the Diocese of Massachusetts.

Earlier this week, Madison Lindsey and Troy Scott, owners of the Laurel company, continued their work at the church, testing each note and each pipe as part of the refinishing, or adjusting of the pieces.

&uot;A little louder on the C-sharp,&uot; Scott called from the organ console to Lindsey, an electrical engineer,

who worked in the bowels of the pipes and wires that make up the inner workings of the instrument with its 2,397 pipes. &uot;This one’s slow; this one’s quick,&uot; Scott said.

Lindsey deftly worked with the specialized tools used to open, close or change the openings of the pipes. He lifted a pipe from its place, drew a wire through it, replaced it and asked his partner to play the key again.

Again and again and down the row, Lindsey responded to the sounds. Tapping the blunt nose of one of the pipes, he said, &uot;The toe’s kind of flat on this one.&uot; And then, with a smile, &uot;It’s like watching grass grow, isn’t it?&uot;

The two men have worked for 25 years in organ repair and rebuilding. The First Presbyterian instrument, a 45-rank organ, is a &uot;pretty major job,&uot; Scott said, but not by any means their biggest. Another recent job was the 115-stop organ in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Shreveport, La.

The First Presbyterian organ was built in 1971 by J.C. Williams of New Orleans as a major renovation and expansion of the 1927 M.P. Moller pipe organ, the second organ installed at the church.

The 2002-2004 restoration, in addition to the re-leathering of the pneumatic action and installation of a state-of-the-art relay system, includes putting a music instrument digital interface sequencer in the organ, allowing the organist to record a piece and play it back.

&uot;That was demonstrated last Sunday,&uot; Lanneau said. &uot;I was down front playing for the children to sing, and I had someone press the button to play the first hymn, which I had recorded. That kept me from having to run back up to the balcony to play the hymn.&uot;

The many new features are delighting the organist, who also is excited about the upcoming recital.

&uot;But the main difference now and what I like best is that it all works,&uot; she said. &uot;I love it. It’s versatile, and I try to get out of this organ the different sounds and expressions it’s capable of giving.&uot;