‘Organ transplant’ brings new sound to Oxford church

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‘Organ transplant’ brings new sound to Oxford church

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Paul Nordlie, front, and tonal director Eric Grame look for a needed part for the organ being installed in Holy Trinity Episcopal Church as it took shape. The congregation is looking to use it for its Oct. 1 service. CONTRIBUTED/BOB RATTERMAN

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church parishioners expect to be hearing music from a new organ at the 10:30 a.m. service Oct. 1, after installation of one removed from a church in Kansas recently.

The organ was purchased from Faith Lutheran Church in Prairie Village, Kansas as that church is closing its doors due to dwindling membership. For the Oxford church it marks the end of a nearly year-long effort to replace an organ which was going to cost more to repair than they are paying for the replacement organ.

“It’s an organ transplant,” joked Paul Nordlie, who was part of the team here to do the installation from J.F. Nordlie Company, a firm started by his brother, John Franklin Nordlie.

The firm built the organ in 1995 for the Kansas church.

Sarah Michael chaired Holy Trinity’s organ committee, which began work in January. The committee hired a consultant, Bryan Mock, to work with them on the process and he made a trip to Prairie Village and played the organ.

“First, we proved the old organ was too costly to fix, for about $330,000 and that’s when I became aware of this organ,” Michael said. “When he came back, he said, ‘You’ve got to buy this organ.’ It’s been an interesting journey. I learned about organs, to finding one to getting it installed. It’s been an interesting journey and an exciting one.”

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church paid “a mere” $140,000 for the organ, which Michael said would cost in excess of $1.2 million today, as the Nordlie firm makes every part by hand.

Although the Prairie Village church was closing its doors and needed to find a new home for the organ, Opus 27, church members there wanted to see it go somewhere it would be appreciated. Michael’s description of the effort sounded as much like an adoption as a sale.

The Kansas church bid farewell to the organ with a hymn sing Aug. 20 and Michael and her husband, Jim, were in attendance. She later wrote a brief description of that event.

“Jim and I were recently privileged to attend the last hymn sing the evening of August 20 at the church where the Nordlie organ is currently located. …The city of Prairie Village has bought the church building and grounds for conversion into a public park,” she wrote. “Faith Lutheran has always had a strong musical tradition, with much importance placed on the quality of music that leads the congregation in worship. By our presence Jim and I wanted to express Holy Trinity’s gratitude to the people of Faith Lutheran for accepting Holy Trinity’s bid to purchase the Nordlie Organ, Opus 27. We also thought our visit would reassure the congregation of the importance of music in our own church tradition. Our physical presence gave face to the transition of the Nordlie to its new home.”

She said the evening began with a 15-minute “people’s choice” selection of hymns followed by a moving service of hymns and readings speaking of change and uncertainty, reliance on faith, scripture and prayer for strength.

“The singing was grand! And we were warmly welcomed, greeted with cheers and clapping when introduced. We are so glad to have made the trip,” she wrote. Last Sunday, she expanded on that, saying, “It was a very important part of the journey. It was an emotional service for them. They wanted us to be there and we wanted to be there.”

The organ was dismantled, each piece carefully packaged and loaded into two 26-foot trucks and hauled to Oxford. The travel crates were unloaded into the Holy Trinity church and reconstruction began Sept. 17. By last Sunday, it was taking shape, but there were still crates of pipes and other parts remaining on the main floor of the church while Paul Nordlie and Eric Grame, the firm’s tonal director, worked on placing pipes and checking sound.

After sitting at the keyboard and playing a couple notes, Nordlie said, “Noise, not musical.”

The organ has 1,718 pipes with a blower room on the lower floor beneath the organ to produce the air which causes the sounds.

Nordlie said the company his brother founded 40 years ago has produced about 50 organs and said the beauty of organs is that all parts can be refurbished.

“This should serve the congregation for generations,” he said. “Our instruments are our legacy.”

As of last Sunday, Michael expected the organ to be ready for this morning’s service and she was planning on a formal dedication Oct. 29 and a large public concert in February with visiting organists at the keyboard.

“We hope it will be used for regular church services as well as concerts and public performances,” she said, noting the Oxford church is a bit smaller but designed similarly to the Kansas church with great acoustics to bring out the best in the music the organ will produce.

The church has been rearranged for the new addition, too. Instead of the balcony in back, the new organ is located in front and a simple wooden altar replacing a massive one, moved down the steps onto floor level of the church.

Ironically, the church recently lost its organist, who had been commuting from Cincinnati and found another church position seven minutes from home. Interim organist is David Palmer, the husband of church rector Sara Palmer.

Michael said the closing of Faith Lutheran Church in Prairie Village has been an emotional experience for the church members, some of whom have already joined other congregations while others are waiting to make a decision because of their ties to the now-closed church.

They have decided, however, to donate the money from the sale of the organ to the music department at Bethany College, in Lindsborg, Kansas. The college is a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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