Area church renovates pipe organ
Aug. 22, 2001
Scott Herbstman
Staff Writer

Laurie DeWitt/The Gazette

Timothy Smith (right) is the owner of Nobscot Organ Works, the Framingham, Mass., company that is renovating the pipe organ for Trinity Lutheran Church. Gabriel Cantor and David Steakley (from left) are working for Smith.

Ralph Landry whistled while he worked.

The Trinity Lutheran Church member grabbed a pipe from the church's organ and blew through it, sending out a clear middle C note.

"It's nothing but a big wind system," he said. "It's nothing but a big whistle."

The Bethesda church is refurbishing its 49-year-old organ to improve the sound and double its size. Church members unanimously agreed to fund the $136,500 renovation of the organ that the congregation purchased in 1994.

"After nursing it along many years, parts started to fail," said Landry of Rockville, the church member who is the committee chair of the organ renovation. "We wanted an instrument that would provide our organists the capability to play any organ music."

He said the expanded organ will let organists play a wide variety of music including baroque, romantic, and 19th century American.

With some renovated pipes installed, "it's making sounds that it never made," Landry said.

The project, which began in April, is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. So far, workers have installed a new blower to sound the organ, some pipes, and an updated console and keyboard with more controls. Workers will install 13 rows of pipes, called ranks, by the end of the week. The renovation will use much of the existing organ and new parts to expand the instrument from 15 ranks of pipes to 27. Each rank has about 60 pipes ranging from the size of a pencil to 16 feet long.

Roger Berner of Silver Spring, Trinity Lutheran's pastor, said he was impressed by the congregation's response to fund the project. So far, $129,000 has been donated or pledged to rebuild the organ, with most of the money pledged within the first two weeks of approving the project.

Berner said music is important to the Lutheran tradition since much of the liturgy is sung. "There's a lot of singing. The organ is there to help," he said.

Landry agreed. "You come into a Lutheran church, and you have to have a powerful instrument. Lutherans like to sing," he said.

The organ is a mix of new pipes and renovated pipes from the existing organ, which the church bought in 1994 in Pennsylvania. The organ was built in 1952.

Pipes make different sounds depending on the material from which they are made. Different mixes of tin and lead in the metal produce different tones. The organ also has wood and zinc pipes. Metal pipes have metal tuning sleeves that wrap around their tops, which can be extended or contracted to tune the pipe.

"We're doubling the size of the organ. It's as if we're adding more blobs of color onto the organ," said Timothy Smith, owner of Nobscot Organ Works, the company renovating the organ, based in Framingham, Mass.

Smith started working on and playing organs more than 20 years ago. "As organists, we're always looking for variety," he said. "This organ did not have much contrast from one stop to another."

Each stop is like playing a different instrument. While the organ has a principal, a rank of pipes that is unique to the organ, it also has ranks that sound like different instruments like a trumpet or a flute.

"The music is what keeps some of us in the church and we hope the organ inspires people in the pews," Smith said. " ... The organ should inspire the organist."

Smith and two other people from his company are working on the project.

Gabriel Cantor, 18, of Framingham, Mass., is a college student who has worked on organs for three years. While putting up a ladder to access the pipes, he said "it's just a war of details," explaining that there are a lot of small jobs to do.

David Steakley, 16, a high school student in Framingham, is working on the electric controls. "It's like the brain of the pipes," he said.

He estimated that it takes two hours to wire each rank of pipes. The controls let air into specific pipes. Here, when organists play notes, the electric controls let the blower put air into a pipe by releasing a magnet.

Organists at the church have noticed an improvement to the organ after the principal pipes were renovated.

"They were markedly different and improved," said Bethesda resident Sonja Kahler, who, with her husband Matt Larson, plays the organ at Trinity Lutheran. "It was exciting to have the proper sound."

She said expanding the organ would allow her and her husband to do more with the organ and that the new instrument would add to the church. "It's vitally important to have a strong musical instrument," she said. "Lutherans tend to expect and grow up with a lot of good music in church."