History as written by Ivan J. McKenrick

The Story of the Organ

~Ivan J. McKenrick~

(This story was first published in a church bulletin in 1964. Ivan McKenrick and his son, Fremont McKenrick, both served as organists for many decades.)

Our church building was erected in 1914, 50 years ago, in the pastorate of the Reverend Brainerd F. Henry, now deceased. It replaced the one built on the same site in 1881. John L. Elder and Hugh O. Evans were the general contractors.

In 1901, the M.P. Moller Organ Company of Hagerstown, Maryland, installed our first pipe organ at the expense of the congregation. The organ was beautiful in design and tone and ample for the then needs of the congregation.

In 1914, it was apparent that a modern organ commensurate with the size of the auditorium was necessary to preserve the high standard of music which had always characterized our church services. Organs were expensive and the cost of a new organ, added to the cost of the new building, was clearly beyond our means. But, we had friends.

The Park family of Pittsburgh who maintained their summer residence here, had made man gifts to the community. The original pipe organ in the Congregational Church, the Y.M.C.A., the auditorium on the present site of the Rivoll Theater, half the cost of the municipal building, the improvement of the Borough water system are evidences of their regard for the people of Ebensburg. Miss Eleanor G. Park quietly let it be known that she desired to donate a suitable modern organ if our church would accept it. Our prayers were answered, our problem solved.

The Moller Company was awarded the contract for the new organ. Mr. John Bell, organist of the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh which the Park family attended, prepared the specifications, supervised the work and gave the dedicatory recital.

The Moller Company had its problems, too. If the organ occupied the entire front of the sanctuary, there would be no place for the necessary choir. Dr. Albert Schweitzer, one of the world’s great organists and the designer of many famous organs in Europe, insists that an organ should be as high as possible above the floor of the building in order to obtain the best tonal effects. Our organ meets Dr. Schweitzer’s specification. The Moller Company met its responsibility by building three separate organs, instead of a single unit in the conventional style.

I might suggest that the beautiful memorial window, installed some years later, could have had no other proper place. It is strange, almost prophetic, how things work out.

At the left is the Swell organ. All of the speaking pipes are enclosed in a huge, insulated box with shutters that open and close to control the volume of sound. The display pipes at the left are ornamental. At the right is the Great organ. All of the pipes, except those of the open diapason stop—a stop is a group of pipes of the same quality of tone-are likewise enclosed in a swell box. The diapason pipes at the right, and many similar ones behind them, 61 in all, actually play and are not mere ornaments.

The pedal organ, with thirty-five keys, is played with the feet and provides the deep bass tones. The pedal pipes are of wood and some are so large that they are placed horizontally under the choir loft and behind the organ case.

The Echo Organ and chimes are likewise in a swell box at the upper left of the sanctuary. The chimes consist of the twenty bells which are struck by hammers to produce the tones. Each section of the organ can be played from either manual separately, in any combination, or in unison.

Organ pipes are of metal or of wood, with a great variety of size, tone, pitch and volume. It is the combination of flutes, strings, reeds and horns, as in an orchestra, that produces the organ tone so pleasing to the hearer.

The electric motor and blower in the social room supply the air pressure for two sets of bellows. Whether the organ be played softly or at full strength, there is no wavering of the tones.

The console, or keyboard, is located so that the organist may direct the choir. It is the most important part of the organ for all the controls are centered here. Within is a maze of electric wires leading from every key to the several hundred pipes. The swell box shutters for the crescendos and diminuendos that give expression to the music are operated by various pedals. Series of couplers provide variety of tone and color limited only by the skill and ingenuity of the player.

In 1947, the entire organ mechanism was taken to the factory at Hagerstown. All worn parts were replaced, and the action, which was tubular-pneumatic in part originally, made electric throughout. The cost of this change was more than $7,000.00

For one who watched the building of the original pipe organ from day to day, assisting in a small way, and the first to play it, there is much of sentiment in telling this story of our organ. Most of the pipes in the 1901 organ were incorporated in the organ of 1914. For sixty-three years these pipes, inanimate, but nonetheless articulate, have joined their voice in our ministry of music.

An electric organ is a most delicate piece of mechanism. A single pipe the size of a lead pencil, that speaks when it should remain silent, can mar the most elaborate program and embarrass both organist and choir. We have a contract with the builder to maintain the organ in perfect condition. Barring fire and accident, this organ should be in service for generations to come.

Perhaps I have dwelt too long on the material and mechanical aspects of the organ, the wood, the metal and the devices for its operation; there are but things, though essential. The organ does not play of itself. It is only when the trained hands of the master musician touch the keys and translate into sound the inspired melodies and harmonies on the composer’s page, that we have the ultimate for which the organ is intended-Music.

Many years ago my sister Elsie and I were privileged to meet, talk and walk with Alexandre Guilmant, the greatest organist of his time. We hear him play “Hosannah”, a composition of his colleague, Th. DuBois, and the traditional organ prelude to our own Palm Sunday services. On Sundays, crowds filled Trinity Church in Paris to hear Guilmant play an organ not much larger than ours and certainly not as modern. We have a splendid instrument entirely adequate for church or concert music, and many eminent organists in past years have given recitals here.

Those of us who knew Miss Park, her gentle nature, her gracious manner, her concern for others, hold her in grateful remembrance and esteem. Those who have come to us since, and all who will enter our doors, are alike the beneficiaries of her generosity and interest in our church.

Since 1964…

There have been two note-worthy changes to the organ since the time that Ivan J. McKenrick penned the above organ history. In 1976, a trumpet stop was added to the Great. In 1992, the modern Organ Company changed the louvers on the organ from electro-pneumatic to all electric controls at a cost of $2,900.

The M.P. Moller Organ company remained in business until 1992. After the closing of the company, the Allen Organ company purchased the rights to the M.P. Moller name and all records associated with the company. All historical documents were turned over to the Organ Historical Society (OHS). The OHS was able to work with the church Organ Restoration Committee to locate one of the original contracts for the organ as well as the Opus numbers for the organs. The first M.P. Moller organ that was installed in 1901 was Opus 352. The current M.P. Moller organ (installed in 1915) is Opus 1953.

In the last few years, the church has become aware that the console and Echo chamber are in need of major repairs. In 2016, the church Session authorized the formation of a committee to begin fundraising and determine the best path to restoring the organ. The Echo Chamber sustained severe damage from a water leak in the roof. Plaster fell off the walls and ceiling into pipes and many pipes have been damaged. The repairs in the chamber began in January 2017. This process will take several steps and should conclude by January 2018. The console has many parts that have begun to disintegrate. The Organ Restoration Committee has been working with different organ builders to determine what options are possible to restore or replace the console.