Organ recital at TTU to kick off fundraising effort

Posted by Lori Shull - Thursday, September 15 2011

The 50-year-old organ in Wattenbarger Auditorium at Tennessee Tech University is on the mend.

The organ was built by the Schantz Organ Company 49 years ago and is in need of approximately $94,000 in repairs and upgrades to get it in shape for the next half century. Some dedicated Cookeville organists are taking it upon themselves to raise the money.

“The pipe organ is an instrument that not only takes up a lot of space, but puts out a wide spectrum of sounds. Over the centuries, it ha been praised as the ‘king of instruments’ because of the contrasting divisions of pipes and the different pitches and tonal varieties it produces,” said retired music teacher and organist Gerald Hansen, who is leading the fundraising efforts.

The first phase of repairs, amounting to $6,000, was completed in August. All of the money came from private donations. To thank donors and to re-introduce the community to the instrument’s improvements, four organists will perform a free concert at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25. Any donations to the TTU Foundation are welcome and should be designated for the Organ Fund.

Shutters that cover different sections of pipe and help control sound were replaced. Several pipes had shifted over the years and were leaning against each other. Those pipes were straightened and other pipes were opened to improve their tone and volume.

The TTU instrument is the only pipe organ in Cookeville that does not belong to a church. Other organs are at the First Methodist Church and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

The organ is the most expensive instrument at Tennessee Tech. It has more than 1,600 pipes, 180 keys, 32 pedals and dozens of systems that need to work together to make music.

There is an instrument maintenance fund at TTU, but with hundreds of instruments on campus that students use everyday, the organ has taken a back seat, according to Arthur LaBar, chairperson of the TTU music and art department.

“Without a faculty member whose principal assignment is to teach organ students and perform organ music, our wonderful instrument has had to take a back seat over the years in favor of more pressing needs,” LaBar said.

TTU music professor Judith Sullivan will perform at the recital. Community organists Martha Sue Bonner, John Wells and Hansen will also play.

“Whoever contributes to this fund knows they are contributing something for the ongoing life of the pipe organ and the ongoing benefit to the entire university and the entire community,” said Hansen. “When the current repairs are done, it will take us closer to the day when the Bryan Symphony can program pieces that include the organ.”