Members and guests at the First Presbyterian Church will soon have an opportunity to listen to music from a newly-renovated organ that was installed in the church in 1972. 

Not only has the organ been renovated, it’s been restored and repaired and installed with over 500 additional pipes. What was originally a five rank Moller organ is now a 13 rank organ. 

The church has been using an electronic organ since last July.

The public is invited to a dedication service and concert at 4 p.m. Sunday to help celebrate the new organ. Jamie McLemore, church and concert organist from Birmingham, will perform. McLemore has served as consultant throughout the project. The Arthur Schleuter Organ Company of Lithonia, Ga., is responsible for all the work.

Church organist Susie Dempsey and Carlton Ward have documented the project since its beginning.

Ward said it was a wonderful experience learning about organ types and components that make beautiful sounds.

“Being involved in this project is not only a blessing for me as the organist of First Presbyterian, but also personally as I have enjoyed working with the members of the church, especially Carlton Ward who was a master with the many details required to finish this project,” said Dempsey.

Dempsey said she’s also thankful that McLemore, one of her former piano students from many years ago, served as the consultant and will be the guest organist.

“He is certainly one of the finest organists I’ve ever heard,” she said. “It’s a thrill to play this instrument and to be able to bring many lovely and varied sounds to our worship every Sunday.”

Dempsey said this particular pipe organ has a wonderful and loving history. The original 1971 Moller pipe organ, Opus 10774, Artiste series was a two manual, five rank organ with 391 pipes. The desire for the First Presbyterian Church to have a pipe organ for worship was initiated and largely financed by Deacon Martha Glover as a memorial to her late husband, Solon H. Glover Sr., who died suddenly in November 1970.

The 1971 pipe organ committee consisted of Glover, Beverly Attinger, Ron Attinger and Rev. Paul Vondracek. The Moller Company was started in 1880 in Hagerstown, Md., and officially ceased uninterrupted operation in 1990 when the company closed as an independent entity. The Moller firm built around 13,000 instruments before it went out of business.

First Presbyterian’s pipe organ was serviced by Moller until their closing and later by Moller designated and trained personnel.

Dempsey said the Moller pipe organ served the First Presbyterian congregation faithfully until early 2013 when the leathers in the wind chest were showing fatigue. Many of the lead-zinc pipes were bending sideways, and the 1970s electronics in the console were antiquated.

In early 2013, the session appointed Susie Dempsey, organist, McLemore as organ consultant and Carlton Ward as treasurer, to contact pipe organ companies to inspect the pipe organ and offer suggestions and costs.

Five companies visited and examined the organ and submitted bids for repairs, new electronics, and additional pipes to enhance the worship services. The committee visited the A. E. Schlueter Pipe Organ Company in Lithonia, Ga., and several different denominations’ church’s organs that Schlueter had recently built organs for those specific denominations’ worship needs.

The session awarded Schlueter’s bid in June 2013 and the complete organ was removed July 10 with a promise of return in 10-14 months, dependent upon repairs needed and replacement of the bent pipes.

Three memorial gifts were used to fund the refurbishing: the Roebuck bequest, the Pullen bequest, and Robert MacRae, who died before the work was completed. The refurbishing of the pipe organ took only nine months with an additional 517 pipes to give 13 ranks of pipes.

A pipe organ produces sound by air vibrations created in an organ pipe, which is controlled by a musician from a keyboard.

The organ has a long and rich repertoire with music from many countries, times, occasions, and styles. It can range from the most powerful and overwhelming music possible to the simplest and purest melody. 

The organ has been around for many centuries and precedes the development of the piano and the symphony orchestra. The organ has been referred to as “The King of Instruments” and had its Golden Age during the Baroque era (1600-1750). The church was for centuries the major custodian of the arts in society, and music was chief among those arts it cultivated.