For the love of music

Published 9:47 am Wednesday, December 28, 2011

ROD GUAJARDO | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT The 1920s organ at Jefferson Street United Methodist Church was recently restored. A public dedication will be at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 8 at the church.

NATCHEZ — Resonating vibrations, warm string tones and the tinny tinkling of woodwinds are fully booming once again from the organ at Jefferson Street United Methodist Church.

The organ, a 1920s MP Moeller, has been in a state of disrepair for years, and was recently renovated. Church members are celebrating the renovation with a special service at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 8, when the organ is dedicated.

Many church members contributed funds for the restoration. The late Rev. Faye Junkin Hudnall, former associate minister, left a donation that helped the church reach its financial goal to have the organ restored.

Natchez native the Rev. Burl Salmon, member of English and religion faculties at the Lovett School in Atlanta, tested the machine and proved that aerobic endurance is required to play the massive instrument. A small mirror hanging above the organ reflected an expression of joyful concentration as Salmon stomped and stretched over scores of keys, switches and pedals.

“It’s a machine,” Salmon said. “And the best way to understand a machine is to see how it works.”

Guests to the dedication service are sure to enjoy the gleam of the polished zinc pipes as wind breathes through them — but there is a lot more to the organ than meets the eye. Much of the organ’s innards are hidden behind doors, or shaded behind the tall main pipes.

ROD GUAJARDO | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT

“That is 16 feet of vibrating air you are hearing,” Salmon said. “An organ is not a real organ unless it makes the building vibrate.”

While the console of the organ is new, Salmon said the cabinet has been there since the 1920s.

Salmon said organists are really just playing — with sound.

“It’s a matter of interpretation of what the organist wants,” Salmon said.

He added that while an organ — with its “horse teeth” switches and cascading stacks of keys — might appear intimidating, it is an instrument that groans to be mastered.

“The most tragic thing is to be afraid of the organ,” Salmon said. “But you can’t hurt it — it’s not fragile. It’s a beast.”

Church organist Diane Mize said the organ has been fixed over the years, but age finally caught up with it.

“There were some things didn’t work that could not be repaired,” Mize said. “The keys — as in old organs — were wide. Some didn’t have tops on them. On any given Sunday some might not work.”

Mize said the sound of the renovated instrument is a vast improvement.

“It sounds great,” Mize said. “On the old organ, I was limited as to the registration — or the sounds you can make on it. Now I have a lot more choices.”

Mize said playing the organ is as engaging for the body as it is for the mind.

“Piano is my first love, but I enjoy the organ,” Mize said. “It’s good for my brain.”

Local guest organists will demonstrate the power of the machine at the Jan. 8 dedication ceremony. Friends and family said Hudnall would be very pleased.

“She just loved music,” said Hudnall’s husband Stuart. “She grew up in that church, and music had been an important part of her life.”

Stuart said he thinks Hudnall would be thrilled to have the organ back to its former glory, and as a nice addition to church services.

“Being an associate minister, all of those things were important to her,” Stuart said. “Music is a large part of the service she loved to participate in.”

The public is also welcome to stay for a reception following the service in the Christian life center.