A swell of strings. A blare of horns. The clash of cymbals. These sounds resounded through the Greenwood Community Church, Presbyterian last week, but there wasn’t an orchestra playing. The sounds of various instruments all came from a single source: a brand new, electronic Rodgers organ.
The congregation at Greenwood is proud of their latest addition, a $68,000 organ that mimics the sounds of most orchestral instruments. With a single keystroke music director Kathy Hart can evoke the rumble of a timpani or the glissando of a harp.
“It sounds so much more beautiful,” said Hart, comparing the new instrument to the 40-year-old organ it replaced.
The congregation at Greenwood has been enjoying the resonant sounds of the new organ since its installation in late November. The previous organ was in desperate need of repairs, but because of its age, finding replacement parts was a near impossible task. So when the congregation heard in June that Marshall & Ogletree Organ Builders were offering discounts on their new Rodgers organs, they jumped at the opportunity.
There was just one hurdle in their way – the $68,000 price tag. Hart and pastor Dr. Stephen Clark went before the church’s governing board to discuss the reasons to purchase a new organ. The church had just replaced their roof, and the expense of that was still quite literally hanging over their heads.
But Hart and Clark got their wish, and the board agreed to the purchase the instrument if the congregation could get pledges of at least $34,000. The 377 members of the church quickly got on board, and one couple donated $25,000 toward the new instrument to kick-start the pledge drive.
“The response was overwhelming,” said Hart.
By September, the congregation had raised the rest of the $34,000, and by November, the new organ had arrived.
In order to install the organ, the old one had to first be removed, a task parishioners said was not easy. The old organ could not be disassembled, and was lifted out of the choir loft in a single, 900-pound piece. It will now be used for parts.
Although the new organ is lighter than its ancestor, its journey to Greenwood wasn’t without incident. First, the organ journeyed across the country from the Rodgers Instruments Corporation in Oregon. When it finally made it to Warwick, it slipped as it was being taken through the front doors of the church. Fortunately, the organ wasn’t damaged, and was safely installed.
“I felt like I had given birth,” said Hart about the completion of the installation.
The new organ comes equipped with MIDI, or musical instrument digital interface, files. Each MIDI represents a different instrument, which allows the organ to sound like multiple instruments at a single time. The old organ didn’t have the MIDI capability, and sounded like a traditional church organ. The new instrument can mimic all woodwinds, percussion, brass and strings.
“It’s like an orchestra in a box,” said parishioner and bell ringer Karlyn McNeely.
“The harp sounds like a mermaid,” said 14-year-old parishioner Jillian Jacobs. “I liked it.”
Hart said the reaction to the new organ has been entirely positive.
“We’ve been getting lots of wonderful feedback,” she said. “The MIDIs are gorgeous, clear sounds.”
Those in the congregation say the difference between the old and new organs are remarkable.
“We used to listen to the old one crack,” said Nancy Dickerman, a parishioner and bell ringer whose mother was the organist at Greenwood for the first 25 years of the church. “Playing with this one is lots of fun.”
The organ’s abilities will be shown off in an inaugural concert on April 15 at 4 p.m. The concert will be free and open to the public, and will showcase the choir and bell ringers alongside the organ’s many sounds.
Hart has been at the church since 2007, but said she has been playing the organ since “Methuselah was born.”
Really, she’s been playing since 1966, and said the key to being an accomplished organist is spending time with the instrument. Unlike a traditional piano, the organ has multiple tiers of keys. The Rodgers organ has three tiers, which all produce slightly different sounds.
The organ also has pedals that are played with the feet, so Hart must synchronize her fingers and legs. The new organ has various buttons that allow her to choose which instrument the organ will mimic. She can also record what she plays and play it back during performances. This feature allows her to conduct difficult pieces, a task that before would have been impossible.
Hart said she is excited about having the new organ but still needs time to learn all of its features.
Those who get to hear the organ the most, like bell ringer Ginny Jacobs, said she gets lost in the music because of its beauty.
But Hart doesn’t mind when her musicians get immersed in the melodies. To her, that’s the point.
Visit www.warwickonline.com to see video footage of the organ in action.