Organ a church treasure

October 28, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - Forty years ago, an anonymous, somewhat inactive but generous parishioner donated money to buy the McConnellsburg United Presbyterian Church a Moller organ.

Sunday, during a typical morning church service, Carolyn Kerlin took her usual seat at the console, feet and hands equally busy on the 32 pedals and the cockpit-like rows of keyboards, buttons and switches, and played the deep resonant sounds of the morning's first hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."

For four decades, the Moller organ has sounded out the life of the church in the music of its Sunday morning services, weddings, funerals and during holidays.


The console has been Kerlin's domain for 17 years.

The console sits right of the altar about 30 feet away from the boxed stack of more than 600 pipes tucked nearly floor to ceiling in a corner left of the altar.

A big electric blower in the basement forces air through the pipes to give them sound, much like blowing through a tin whistle. In the old days, people pushed down on bellows to power the pipes.

The Presbyterian church's Moller organ is the only one in Fulton County, Pa., Kerlin said. Last week she performed at a recital in honor of its 40th anniversary.

A lifelong church member, Kerlin started to play the piano in first grade. She began playing the church organ in high school. She has a degree in music from Lebanon Valley College.

Noreen Mann was the church pianist in 1959. "It fell to me to play the organ when it was donated and I didn't know how," she said.

She took lessons from Jean Early, the organist at the local Lutheran church.

"It took a lot of practice. I didn't learn to play it out of the blue," she said.

In those days, Dr. Gerald Lorentz played the organ on sacred holidays, Mann said. Lorentz often practiced at odd times, even at midnight, she said.

"If people at the hospital (the Fulton Medical Center across the street from the church) couldn't find him, they'd come to the church because they could hear him playing," Kerlin said.

"He always played big, loud pieces," Mann said.

A small, white plaque to the left of the organ's keyboard reads "M.P. Moller 1962 OPUS 9758.2."

OPUS represents the number of each organ as it came out of the Moller Organ factory in Hagerstown. The company was started in 1875 by M.P. Moller and went out of business in 1992.

In its 117-year history, the factory produced more than 12,400 instruments, said Peter Moller Daniels of Marion, Pa., who is M.P. Moller's grandson.

Moller organs are found all over the world, Daniels said. The largest and most famous is at West Point Military Academy in New York. A giant with 17,500 pipes, it takes a full-time staff of trained maintenance workers to keep it going.

Construction on the West Point organ began in 1915, Daniels said.

Moller organs also provide the music at the Naval and Air Force academies, and at churches and cathedrals around the globe, including the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., he said.

"Moller made more cathedral organs than any other two builders in the world," Daniels said.

The company also made thousands of smaller theater organs, the kind that played background music in silent-movie houses. A restored Moller organ is in use today at the Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, Pa.

Daniels, 64, works part time repairing and tuning Moller organs in the area, including the one in the McConnellsburg church, which is tuned each spring and fall.

The Presbyterian church's organ cost about $13,000 when new. Daniels said if it was purchased today, it would cost more than $100,000.

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