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November 23, 2014, 7:00 PM

Getting to know our current pipe organ

The pipe organ at Plainfield United Methodist Church was installed in 1976 and built by the Schantz Organ Company of Orrville, Ohio. 

It is an organ on the smaller end of the spectrum so far as congregations of our size may be concerned - a congregation of 1,100 persons located in Plainfield, Indiana (a town of 27,000 located in the western suburbs of Indianapolis). Our Schantz pipe organ has served this congregation and its legacy of gifted organists admirably over the years.

Our 1976 Schantz is comprised of three primary sections of pipes which include the swell, great and pedal divisions. The swell and great divisions of pipes are played using the manuals (keyboards which are played with the hands) and the pedal division is played, of course, by the organist's feet. The pipe organ is played via the organist sitting at the organ console - perhaps mistakenly, many people would consider the console to be the organ. In reality the organ actually is the collection of pipes, bellows, regulators, and the organ console rather than just the console where the organist sits.

These pipes pictured at left are just a small portion of the pipes that comprise the swell division of our pipe organ. The swell division is enclosed within a closed box/room at the front of our sanctuary that also includes a series of louvers that open and close at the organist's discretion. By opening the louvers the sound produced by the pipes is permitted to sing out into the sanctuary more freely, providing for a louder sound. When the lovers are closed, the sound is held within this swell box and the sound is heard more quietly by the congregation. Interestingly, the swell division of PUMC's current organ is contained within a room that - prior to the organ's installation in 1976 - formerly served as the pastor's study. (No kidding!) Approximately 30% of the pipes contained within our present organ belong to the swell division.

Also, our  organ includes a great division. This collection of pipes is the backbone of congregational hymn accompanying and it represents approximately 50% of the pipework for this organ. In our organ's current installation, the great pipework is cantilevered above the organist's head and is the visible pipework (with the exception of a few pedal pipes that also are visible to the congregation). Speaking of the pedal division, the pipes contained within this division represent approximately 20% of the instrument, sound at the lower end of the instrument and are played by the organist's feet. As you might imagine, the lower sounds are produced by generally larger pipes - both longer and larger in diameter.

The organist sits at the pipe organ console, which you might also think of as the cockpit of the pipe organ. From the organ bench, the organist plays the keys (manuals) and the pedals, selects which stops to employ in the music - a process called "registration" - and many organists even conduct the choir from the console. (This is most often the case in smaller congregations wherein the organist also serves as the choir director, or in the Anglican tradition as well. At PUMC, we recognize that the choir sings more heartily and at a higher level if these two roles are fulfilled by two separate people.) It is also worth noting that PUMC's present console is obtuse, heavy, not easily moved, and is connected to the pipework via an umbilical cord that is relatively short, fragile, limiting and bulky.

But how do we more succinctly describe PUMC's present pipe organ? Well, pipe organs are not generally measured by the number of pipes they contain. Rather, we describe pipe organs by their number of ranks - a rank being a group of (often, but not always - such as in the case of a mixture rank) 61 pipes in the manuals. And, organs are classified by the number of manuals (keyboards) they contain too. So, PUMC's 1976 Schantz pipe organ can be summarized as a 17-rank, 2-manual pipe organ.

You are always welcome to get a different perspective of PUMC's organ whenever you are at the church. Feel welcome to come forward into the chancel during a prelude or following worship during the postlude - get a unique peek at the pipe organ. And if you're coming forward, encourage a young person from the congregation to check out the truly energizing instrument as well!

Michael Pettry
Director of Music

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