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January 6, 2015, 9:00 AM

Taking the pipe organ for a spin (Part I)

Although this process of building a pipe organ at PUMC has been quite protracted (we've just passed the 10-year milestone from when conversations first began), it's given many of us - myself included - the chance to experience a number of vastly different pipe organs over this period of discernment and planning.

With today's snowfall around Central Indiana, I think it is fair and accurate to say no two pipe organs are exactly alike - just like snowflakes. Not only are the exact materials from which an organ is built likely to vary (i.e., wood, metal alloys, etc), but so too do organ builders, voicers, designers all having unique traits, gifts and artistic signatures. Beyond that, the room in which the organ sings plays a monumental role in what the instrument sounds like of course. (Think about the difference between a huge cathedral built of stone and a smaller chapel with ample carpeting.)

And so, with this pipe organ restoration project really starting to take shape over the last 3 years, I took a little extra time to really observe and make note of a number of unique pipe organs that I had the chance to play during that time. Although many of the instruments in this blog entry (Part II coming soon) are vastly different than what will be PUMC's refurbished instrument, I'd be willing to wager that the experiences we encounter over time shape our tastes, preferences, vision and musical ear.


Wesley Chapel (London) was a special visit, and I played the sanctuary organ and the smaller (historic) pipe organ in the side chapel as well. Somehow I failed to take pictures of those instruments. All good Methodist photo displays should begin with a visit to Wesley Chapel, right?




A valued friend set-up the chance for me to play the noted instrument at National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C. The 141-rank instrument contains over 7,500 pipes and is among the largest in the metro D.C. area.


The organ console to the 141-rank, 5-manual instrument in at National City was a joy to play. It was 'logical' in its layout, and the sounds produced in that historic space were warm and rich. To read more about the National City instrument, click here.


Closer to home, I celebrated New Year's Eve 2014 at Culver Academy in Culver, Indiana and enjoyed time on their 59-rank, 3-manual pipe organ in the school's chapel. John Gouwens serves as the Organist and Carillonneur at the Academy and also was my carillon professor while I was a student at Ball State University. To learn more about the organ and carillon at Culver, click here.

The organ at Culver provides the musician with a full toolbox with which he can work. The technology available today (the CPU/brains of the Culver organ is the Peterson ICS 4000 - the same as what PUMC's refreshed organ will use) exponentially expands the colors and textures available to the modern organist. This 59-rank instrument plays like an 80- or 90-rank instrument thanks to its creative use of technology made available to the organist.



That concludes Part I of this voyage to visit various pipe organs. Check back in late-January for Part II of this musical pilgrimage which will include a visit to the world's largest church pipe organ, an encounter across the pond to Cambridge (England), and a peek at an Indianapolis-based pipe organ as well.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for supporting this energizing project in the life of Plainfield United Methodist Church.

Michael Pettry
Director of Music


01-09-2015 at 2:11 PM
Michael Pettry
Thanks, Kelly. It was a lot of fun (no surprise!) playing these instruments over the past year or two. But what was surprising to me was what consistently 'rose to the top' as being attractive or useful with these instruments.

I think the PUMC instrument will make use of a number of these features to have a lasting, well-equipped instrument for the generations.

Now, it's time your young organist in the Rodarmel house starts thinking about what repertoire he'll be interested in playing on the new instrument.

01-06-2015 at 12:35 PM
Kelly Rodarmel
Thank you so much for sharing, Michael! What a privilege and honor your had playing those beautiful instruments. I can't wait for ours!!
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