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September 21, 2014
pipe organ

Jacksonville church celebrates pipe organ's return

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Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2014 4:28 pm

After a long period of separation, First Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville is welcoming back its newly restored pipe organ.

The instrument resided at the A.E. Schlueter Pipe Organ Company of Lithonia, Ga., for nine months while being refurbished. To celebrate its return, the church will host a public dedication service and organ concert at 4 p.m. Sunday.

“The organ leads the worship in music,” said church organist Susie Dempsey.

Originally installed in 1972, the organ received some modern upgrades, including added electronic features and a new console, she said. The instrument also doubled in size with the addition of about 500 pipes.

In 2013, a committee was formed to oversee the complex renovation process. Dempsey, a committee member and a Jacksonville State University professor emerita, said the panel interviewed five companies before ultimately deciding on Schlueter.

“We found a builder who was most interested in worship and how an organ supports worship,” she said.

The committee, in collaboration with restorers, brainstormed ideas for the organ’s new design. The panel also visited the company’s workshop before the restoration began.

Committee member Carlton Ward said the congregation used an electronic organ during the renovation. An electronic organ relies on speakers, while a pipe organ produces natural, wind-driven music.

“We always said that it made us appreciate the pipe organ, the more we played it,” Dempsey added.

Ward said the upgraded features dramatically enhanced the organ. “I am hearing sounds that we’ve never heard before,” he said. “Interestingly, some of the pipes are actually wood — walnut. They’re pretty to look at, but they’re also beautiful to listen to.”

Organist Jamie McLemore will be the featured artist at the Sunday concert. McLemore, organist at South Highland Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, served on the committee as a consultant, Dempsey said.

Ward expects a good turnout at the concert, which will include a variety of religious and classical pieces, including hymn arrangements, Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and John Stanley’s “Trumpet Voluntary.”

“I think this will be a public celebration of the pipe organ and its capabilities,” Ward said.

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