Episcopal Church of the Redeemer
The History of the Redeemer's Organ
The dream for an organ for the Church of the Redeemer began in the spring of 1993 when Jeff Nall (Redeemer organist then), Fred and Shirley King and other church members initiated discussions as to the feasibility of a pipe organ for the church. Not having the six-figure price tag a new pipe organ would cost, Jeff Nall and the Kings began the search for used pipe organs that would fit Redeemer's needs.
Jeff Nall and Fred King spent the next several months evaluating, visiting, and inspecting, used pipe organs in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, and elsewhere. Some were even free, but found nothing worthwhile until they heard about the organ at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Pineville. Upon inspection this organ proved to be a keeper. However, Redeemer didn’t have any money so the Kings wrote a check for it in October 1993.
Originally, it was anticipated that the organ would be immediately disassembled, moved and reinstalled at Redeemer between the purchase date and the end of the end of the year, possibly for Christmas. Jeff Nall had agreed to install the organ since he had finished Tech but had not yet gotten a job as an organ builder. He had the time, and there was sufficient volunteer labor for a short-term project. However, St. Michael’s would not or could not release the organ until the late spring of 1994, by which time, he had become employed by Wicks Organ Company in Highland, Illinois and the volunteer labor had dissipated.
Between the time of purchase and installation plans were being made for the up-grading and modernization of the organ. During this time, Jeff Nall graduated from Louisiana Tech thus the installation of the organ fell upon Fred King. In the summer of 1994, Fred, Shirley, and Heather King made weekend trips to Pineville to dismantle the organ and bring it back to their house (much to Shirley’s chagrin) where it stayed until December of 1996. On one of the trips to dismantle the organ Fred King ran into St. Michael’s treasurer who told him that he had helped install the organ in 1970 and provided the name of Lecil Gibson as the builder, but had no other information.
After much searching, Fred King located Lecil Gibson in Little Rock, Arkansas and discussed with him how the organ could be up-graded and installed. Fred King learned that Mr. Gibson had built the organ from scratch in 1969 and that the metal pipes were new from Organ Supply Company and the wooden pipes from a 1910 Moller organ. The wind chests, swell box, and swell engine (replaced with a solid-state controller) along with other wood support structures were made by him in his shop in Little Rock. The console was a pre-world war II Kilgen model. Lecil Gibson provided some suggestions and one thing he strongly recommended was to replace the Klann pipe valves (prone to cause ciphers) be replaced with Peterson valves.
In November 1994, Fred King got a crew together from the church, rented a Ryder truck from a rental agency along with a fork lift that the rental place donated to the cause, went to Pineville and removed what was left (the wind chests, console, and swell box plus some of the Gemshorn pipes that wouldn’t fit in his car).
Jeff Nall, Fred King, and Lecil Gibson spent much time corresponding in 1995 and 1996 attempting to derive the largest value and remain cost effective. Also, to get the project going, Fred King began doing things that had to be done. The great wind chest was divided so as not to cover the stained glass window, the Peterson pipe valves (which numbered close to nine hundred) were ordered, and replaced in the wind chests at the end of 1996 and beginning of 1997. A client of Fred King’s donated most of the wire so that color coded telephone wire could be used instead of the cotton covered, wax impregnated, single color insulated wire making it easier to wire and avoid problems like those with church mice. Then with Lecil Gibson’s assistance the project was pared down to something affordable and planned even to do the work in stages if necessary.
Finally, in February 1997 Lecil Gibson was hired to complete the installation of the organ. Beginning the last weekend in February and continuing through July, on most weekends he would make the trip from Little Rock to Ruston on Friday night and Saturday and return to Little Rock Saturday night. After Memorial Day he would spend most of the week in Ruston, with the Kings assisting him in the evenings and on the weekends. On August 3, 1997 the organ played for the first time at a church service with just a few ranks. Over the next several weeks, additional ranks were wired until they were all wired in before the end of the month. In May 1998 the organ was dedicated.
In October 1999, Tracie Ellerman assumed the position of organist. It became increasingly evident that a new console was a priority after pieces of the ivory keys stuck to her fingers during a Sunday service. Put briefly, the capabilities of the organ were inaccessible with the old console. Looking to the future, a new console would have cost more than twenty thousand dollars. Therefore, the only choice at the time was to proceed with the existing console. Organists and organ builders were contracted in search for a solution. An organist friend in Monroe introduced Tracie Ellerman to Jerry and Ann Smith of Start, Louisiana. The Smith’s have a love of pipe organs; their home has an organ room with huge chambers and three consoles as well as a smaller pipe organ in their den. They graciously agreed to donate a three manual Reuter console they obtained on one of their many organ treks. Thanksgiving week 1999 saw the new console moved into Redeemer's narthex, awaiting later installation.
Dan Garland, an organ builder from Fr. Worth, agreed to install the console for an approximate cost of thirty-five hundred dollars. With no funds remaining in the organ account, a letter was sent to the parish seeking funds for the project. The support of the parish was tremendous! Mr. Garland's schedule was extremely busy with several large projects in Texas and the surrounding areas. It seemed that the console would not be installed anytime in the foreseeable future. Again, Jerry and Ann Smith answered the call for help and plans were made for work to commence June 2000.
With muscle power supplied by several men and women of our parish and a lift donated by a local rental company, the long awaited day arrived. The old console was loaded onto the lift, removed from the choir loft, and replaced with the newer (and somewhat heavier) console. The tedious task of tracing out wiring and connecting each individual wire fell to Jerry and Ann Smith, and Tracie Ellerman. After countless hours of wiring, testing, and soldering the console was ready. How marvelous it was to have everything working as it should!
Thanks to the generous contributions from our parish members, friends, and an anonymous donor the organ project has seen several expansions. With modernized equipment and the addition of several stops now brings the number of independent ranks to eighteen with four ranks duplexed from the swell to the great. Gary Coleman of Coleman Pipe Organs in Benton, Arkansas has been engaged to complete the latest phase of development. The organ serves to enhance our liturgy and is a testament of the support of the parish. Above all, it exists and is used to bring glory to God.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Church of the Redeemer