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Preserving the past:
Gift helps restore beloved Weaver Chapel organ

organIt’s no fun playing Franck’s “Grand Piece Symphonique,” which has a grand final section in F-sharp, when F-sharp has stopped working on the organ.
That is one example of seven pages of problem notes recorded by Trudy Faber in preparation for one of her faculty recitals throughout the years as the Weaver Chapel organ progressively showed signs of wear and tear.

Moisture from the leaking roof over the organ chambers had stiffened the leather thongs that open and close the valves. More than 20 years since its last restoration, dirt was also causing valves to stay open slightly, producing a faint but cacophonous whistle organists call the cipher.

Faber, professor of music and an international organ recital artist, sometimes thought she was tilting at windmills as she campaigned to repair and restore the $1.5 million instrument.

The need was real, but the resources were scarce. After the leaky roof was repaired, using income from the Weaver Chapel endowment, Pastors Larry Houff ’66, ’71S ,’92S and the late Michael Wuchter ’68, ’72S,’83S challenged Faber to to find a way to return the Weaver organ to its original glory.

President Baird Tipson approved a plan to begin the work of continuing to use funds from that endowment, about $5,000 each year, to deal with the worst problems.

That came to be known as the “Faber Plan,” said Mike Herzog, co-owner of The Pipe Organ Company, Peebles & Herzog of Columbus, which has been tending to the chapel organ’s woes. The work is expensive because it is time consuming and very labor-intensive.

“ Doing a little bit of work at a time is not usual,” Herzog said. But he said they were able to stretch the funds by only working in Weaver when they were brought to Springfield for other projects.

“ We do other work nearby, so we could integrate the project with an awful lot of others,” he said.

Thanks to a generous gift from the Ruth B. and Thomas F. Mackey Fund, however, the organ is now in the third year of a more aggressive five-year plan to finish the job. The results are really beginning to be heard in recitals and in worship services, said Barbara Mackey, director of community programs.

Mackey, an accomplished cellist, said she gained a deep appreciation for great pipe organs as a little girl when her parents would take her to church and college recitals. She also met with one of her hometown organists in Paris where he was working at Notre Dame Cathedral for the summer.

The Mackey Foundation was set up in 1996 by Mackey’s mother to support the arts and education. The music department currently has eight organ students, including three majors and two minors, so the Weaver organ project achieves both goals, she said.

The preservation of such a magnificent instrument is a worthy goal in itself. “A pipe organ is a living breathing, animate object,” Mackey said with a passion that an electronic instrument could not evoke.

Herzog could not agree more. “The pipe organ is all about people,” he said. “It’s not a thing — it touches people’s hearts.” An electronic organ costs less but is generally expected to last only 20 years. A properly maintained pipe organ can last 500 years. Faber added she has even played an organ in Europe, which was partly built in the 1400s.

“ In essence you cannot ever expect an imitation to do anything but imitate art,” Herzog continued.

“ To make music, you have to move large volumes of wind, and a pipe organ speaks with breath the same as we do. Electronic organs try to push all of their sound, and consequently, all of their air through paper-cone loudspeakers.
“ There will just never be a way to put up enough loud speakers to come up with the special differentiation and with the kind of broad-based sound, tone and depth of sound that pipe organs do.”

— Jim Dexter


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