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This church's Cross honored for abilities to fix pipe organ

February 27, 2007|by JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN - Considering he can't play an instrument or read music, Leon Cross finds it surprising that a concert series has been named after him.

While his gift might not be making music, his ability to build and repair pipe organs has brought much enjoyment to the music lovers in the area.

The Leon Cross Concert Series at First Christian Church in Hagerstown began five or six years ago. The series of three to four concerts a year was named to honor Cross, who has maintained and enlarged the organ since it was installed in the current church building in 1961.

Cross, 79, has attended church at First Christian since he was born. The Hagerstown native was baptized at the old church when it was on South Potomac Street.

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He joined the Merchant Marine right after high school.

Upon his return home, the then-20-year-old Cross took a temporary job with the Moller Organ Co., a job that lasted 42 years.

"I learned to love the work and never left," Cross said.

He said he didn't know anything about pipe organs when he started. As he learned the business, starting out doing installations, he worked his way up to the position of head tonal finisher. That job required frequent travel as he did the finishing work on pipe organs.

"I loved my job, but hated being away from my family," said Cross of his wife, Doris, and daughter, Brenda. "There's nothing I liked more than being up in the pipes."

He said when he traveled, he would be gone for four to six weeks at a time. His job took him to such places as the Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy and National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C.

Because of his experience, Cross has, over the years, assembled a pipe organ at First Christian Church with a unique history.

He has built into it pipe sets that churches all over the country - Camp Hill, Pa., Summit and Princeton, N.J., Westminster, Md., Atlanta, and Cincinnati - no longer needed.

"I'm excited when I find something that will work," said Cross, who lives about three blocks from the church.

First Christian's pipe organ was built by M.P. Moller Co. for a synagogue in Bronx, N.Y., in 1935. For some reason, the company had to take it back and it was re-engineered and installed in First Christian's former church building, then eventually moved to the church's present site on Potomac Avenue.

Over the years, upgrades have included the addition of a new console in 1970 and the conversion to solid-state technology in 1996. At that time, Cross also installed two sets of pipes, chest and casework that Trinity Lutheran Church in Hagerstown was removing when it remodeled its sanctuary and purchased a new organ.

Coincidentally, Cross helped with the installation of the pipes and chest when they were originally installed at Trinity in 1958.

At present, First Christian's pipe organ has 38 ranks, or sets, of pipes, totaling 2,213 individual pipes.

Cross said the work has been a "labor of love."

As a master organ builder and technician, Cross serves as a resource for Hagerstown Organ Co., as needed.

He said that arthritis and myasthenia gravis, a disease that causes weakness in the arms and legs, are forcing him to limit his work on First Christian's organ to tuning. "I'm just thankful I can still do what I do," he said.

This season's concert series included an All Soul's Day Celebration in November and Kristmas Kaleidoscope in December.

Two concerts remain this year.

The first is A Lenten Meditation on Sunday, March 18, at 3 p.m. The First Christian Church Chancel Choir will present the John Rutter Requiem, described as a deeply moving and uplifting "Mass for the Dead" by one of Britain's foremost contemporary composers of choral music.

The final concert will be on Sunday, April 29, at 3 p.m. The Tuscarora Brass Band, a band from Winchester, Va., that recreates a Confederate regimental band, performs on original instruments from the 1860s.

They have received the Jefferson Davis Historical Gold Medal from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In addition, they have played at Arlington National Cemetery for Confederate Memorial Day services and at the U.S. Capitol for the birthday anniversary of Robert E. Lee.

The concerts are open to the public. A freewill offering is taken.

For more information about the Leon Cross Concert Series, call First Christian Church at 301-733-0144.

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