First Presbyterian Church’s organ turns 50

Published 9:31 pm Friday, September 23, 2016


For lovers of sacred music, the deep tones and high octaves of a classic pipe organ provide the necessary accents to transform a series of notes into a masterpiece.

And for the past 50 years, the organ at First Presbyterian Church has been providing those masterpieces to the congregation every Sunday and on special holidays like Christmas and Easter.

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Next month, the mystical sounds First Presbyterian’s congregation hears on a regular basis can be heard by city residents at an Oct. 14 recital sponsored by the church and the Jackson Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

“The organ has just had its 50th birthday, so we decided to have a celebratory recital, and we’re doing it in combination with the Jackson Chapter of the American Guild of Organists,” church organist Barbara Tracy said. “They typically have a recital season every year, and since this organ is significant, we decided to do the first recital here to celebrate the 50th anniversary.”

Tracy will be a member of the audience for the concert. Wilma Jensen, a noted concert artist, church musician and teacher, will perform the concert Oct. 14 at 7:30 p.m. in the church’s sanctuary.

A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, Jensen has taught as a professor of organ at Indiana University, Oklahoma City University, the Scarritt Graduate School and the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and has performed in the U.S. and around the world.

Besides her performance, Jensen will conduct a workshop on organs in the church sanctuary Oct. 15.

First Presbyterian’s organ was donated to the church by the Flowers Family, Tracy said.

“It was installed in 1966 by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Co. of Boston, which was the premier organ firm of the 1900s,” she said. “It replaced another organ. There was an organ committee, and Dr. William Mansell was the pastor at the time.”

The organ was designed by Roy Perry, a noted organist and designer of pipe organs who also installed the instruments.

This organ has two manuals, or keyboards, and 26 ranks, or set of pipes, and 1,700 to 1,800 pipes in two rooms behind the large visible pipes seen by the congregation.

“This organ is very nice to work with, because you can do all styles of music,” Tracy said. “It has a good foundation, so you can play all the volumes of literature for organ music. It’s designed to fill the sanctuary, so it’s very wonderful to be able to lead a congregation for singing and services.

“The organ essentially is very much like it was originally. We’ve added one rank of pipes and we’ve added chimes. We’ve also updated it with electronics. We’ve added a computer in the organ and it does combination actions for us so we no longer depend on the antique wiring.”

Last year, she said, the organ was re-leathered to replace the leather around the pipes.

“Re-leathering is a lot of handwork,” she said. “It really requires a wonderful craftsman to be able to do it because you have to pull off and glue down.

“We replaced the keyboard, because it had issues with springs breaking on the keys and electrical connections. That work was done by David Finch from Florala, Ala., who also did the re-leathering.”

Tracy said the organ is designed to sound similar to the types of organs played in France and Germany.

“Each country in Europe — France, Germany, England, Spain — had different pipes they used for their music,” she said. “Ours is a combination; it’s got a lot of different things from different countries.”

Playing the organ to get the proper sounds requires the organist to handle several duties, such as pulling out the stops or tabs that control one rank of pipes to get the organ to play a specific sound, like a trumpet or clarinet, or produce chimes.

“You have to multi-process as you’re playing,” Tracy said. “You play with your hands and feet. The (foot) pedals have stops. Sometimes, play one hand here (at one keyboard) and one hand there (the second keyboard) and your feet are going in a different direction. Sometimes, you’re playing one song on the keyboard and doing a solo on the pedals.”

She said she looks forward to sitting as a member of the audience.

“It will be enjoyable to hear what it can do,” she said. “Sometimes sitting here (in the sanctuary), you can’t hear exactly what’s happening, but the sound grows in this auditorium.”


About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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