Historic First Presbyterian Church of Clarkesville has completed the major expansion and rebuilding of its pipe organ and the church is inviting the community to celebrate with them in a free organ concert on May 22.
The historic church building was built in 1848 by renowned architect Jarvis Van Buren, the first cousin of President Martin Van Buren. The church’s first organ was not added until 1983 with only minimal updating in 1989. All that changed in the complete rebuilding and revoicing of the organ during COVID.
Tom Wigley, one of the co-chairs of the organ project, explains, “The goal of the organ project was to significantly expand the tonal resources of the original organ. In keeping with the historic pedigree of the building, the congregation required that all voices originate through real windblown pipes.” Wigley added, there are no electronic or digitally produced sounds in our organ. These days, that makes this organ unique,” Wigley continued.
The firm of Russell Meyer and Associates, out of Lawrenceville, Georgia, was given the organ redo. The firm had just recently relocated from New Jersey. “The work was done during COVID while the church was shut down, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” said Sandra Altman, the church’s organist. “This entire sanctuary was covered in organ pieces as was the room below this one,” Altman shared.
The process of rebuilding an organ is complex and costly and takes a long time to accomplish. The organ was dismantled piece by piece, with every piece examined to determine if it needed replacing.
In the case of the First Presbyterian Church’s organ, additional stops were added, pipes of a higher register were added, as well as flute and trumpet registers.
To accommodate the additional pipes, the width of the organ facade case was doubled in the balcony. The church also removed carpeting from the balcony and the sanctuary floors to improve the acoustics.
The combination of the rebuilding and the added pipes have created an outstanding and authentic sound, designed especially for that sanctuary. That beautiful sound will be on display at the first “Concerts on The Hill” when organist Matt McMahan performs. McMahan serves as organist and director of music at Decatur Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia.
The community is invited to the concert on Sunday evening, May 22nd, at 5:00 p.m. It is free and no reservations are required.
The First Presbyterian Church of Clarkesville is located at 181 Jefferson Street in Clarkesville.
Click below to hear a sample of The Great Gate of Kiev, played by organist Sandra Altman.