Five months after static electricity from a lightning storm destroyed their old organ, the congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Thomaston invites the community to come and enjoy their new organ with them. Steven Woodell, organist/music director, at First Presbyterian Church, Rome, Georgia, will be presenting the dedicatory concert of the First Presbyterian Church of Thomaston’s new organ at 4 p.m., Sunday, March 10, 2013.
Jim Capel, Music Director and Organist for First Presbyterian of Thomaston, said church leaders were looking into the costs of purchasing a new organ, and he checked with Jim Sowell, manager of Chapel Music Company /A. E. Schlueter Pipe Organ Company in Lithonia. When Sowell came out to look at the old organ, he told Capel that he believed they could completely replace the old Allen Organ in the beautiful organ cabinet at the church, and for much less than the $50,000 price of a new organ.
“So that’s what we did,” said Capel, who has been at First Presbyterian for 12 years. “They took the organ and cabinet and gave us a loaner. It took them about two months and they essentially gutted the organ. These manuals (keyboards) are not new, but they checked all of the action and added some new pieces and new electronics.”
The church’s old Allen Organ was about 31 years old, and organs have come a long way since then. Organists can preset the different tabs and drawknobs of the organ for different sections of the music they are playing, in order to automatically change the sound of the music. Capel said the old organ had two memories, which mean he could preset two sections of music. The new organ has 128 memories, which greatly expands what he can do in presets.
“We have a pedal section, the two manuals (keyboards), and an antiphonal, so we have four divisions, and you can set up anything from these four divisions, so you’ve got 22 different combinations you can set up 128 times,” said Capel.
The new organ is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Norman Gardner and in honor of Dr. Mary Jean Simmons. Funds left to the church by Dr. Gardner and given to the church by the family of Dr. Simmons paid for the new organ. Capel said Dr. Al Simmons has always wanted an antiphonal, so the new organ has one. An antiphonal is separated from the main section of the organ to provide echo-like effects.
“We have a division of the organ called an antiphonal, which is in the rear of the church,” said Capel. “The speakers are mounted underneath the stained glass windows in a cabinet – you can’t see them. Very few churches have an antiphonal. But it is like having a third manual on this organ. They are completely independent sounds.
“We also have a MIDI – musical instrument digital interface. There are almost 300 independent sounds on here, anything from orchestral instruments to drums to rock ‘n roll instruments. I’m just beginning to absorb them,” Capel admitted. “Sunday we used a piece that had a violin in it, and afterwards people said they were wondering where the violinist was standing.”
Capel shares directing duties for the church choir with his wife, Vickie, but in the past has been unable to direct the choir while playing the organ. Now he has the capability of connecting a computer to the organ, recording the accompaniment he is playing into the computer, then hitting a key and having the organ automatically play the accompaniment off the computer while he directs the choir.
All the features of the new organ make it fun to work with, but as any musician knows, the final verdict is the sound. Twenty years ago, it was almost impossible to duplicate the sound of a pipe organ. But with the advances in technology, today churches like First Presbyterian can use speakers in place of pipes and still get the same magnificent sound.
“The same technology here is the technology that they use in pipe organs,” said Capel. “Today, pipe organs don’t have mechanical consoles, they are electronic. These components here are the same components that they use to make their pipe organs. The technology is such that you can connect it to pipes or to speakers. Ours is to speakers. But it is the same technology you would have in a million dollar pipe organ. We are really fortunate to be able to do that. This sounds like a pipe organ in the church. People hear it and ask where the pipes are.”
You can hear the sound of the new organ this Sunday, March 10, at the dedicatory concert by Steven Woodell. A native of Roanoke, Virginia, Steven graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts and spent a month studying with Louis Robilliard in Lyon, France. He then earned his Bachelor of Music at the Cleveland Institute of Music with Todd Wilson, and his Master of Organ Performance at Southern Methodist University with Larry Palmer. Winner of the 1994 Regional AGO Young Organists Competition in Cincinnati, he was awarded recital appearances throughout Indiana and Ohio. He is also the accompanist for the Shorter Chorale, and has recently played recitals in Virginia, Florida, and most recently at Spivey Hall in Atlanta. The recital begins at 4 p.m.