Over a year after the devastation left by a tornado, Trinity Lutheran Church has restored its pipe organ.
“We are so fortunate that the organ console stood there through the whole ordeal,” said lead organist Sally McCormick. “Everything around it was a shambles. The roof was half ripped off from the narthex into the sanctuary and lots of items from the room had flown all over.”
Shortly following the storm, Trinity Pastor Bil Sutlief was hopeful as he rang the Wick Organ Company in Highland, Illinois, near St. Louis. This specialized business has built more than 6,500 organs since it opened in 1908. In 2014, it is a third generation company.
Saving the church’s organ proved to be a difficult challenge. Randy Cleveland a member of Trinity said he did not know if there would be parts for the organ built so long ago.
“Wicks built Trinity’s organ in 1975,” Cleveland said.
Equipped with a hard hat, Wick Organ technician Dave Broskowski entered the sanctuary and, looking up, saw that a huge, slashed hole in the wooden beamed ceiling provided natural sunlight. “I was thankful that the roof directly over the organ had been spared,” Broskowski said. “The console was wrapped in plastic. That was a smart move to prevent any other debris or condensation to affect the instrument.”
Since the storm hit, the church had no electricity. Broskowski used battery-operated tools to dismantle the intricate pipe configuration.
“The pipes are placed in a temperature controlled room above the organ. This makes the organ sound consistent each time, and the volume is controlled at the keyboard,” Broskowski said.
Lowering each pipe down a ladder from the pipe room, volunteers helped wrap each of the 400 delicate pipes with heavy blankets and take them to the transport truck.
Organ pipes range from the size of a shortened pencil to a pipe the diameter of a large stack of coffee cans, nine feet high. Wooden pipes are larger, tucked behind the others. A range of pipes includes different materials, like tin and zinc.
Broskowski explained that each organ is custom made for each building depending on the size of a chapel, building materials used on the ceiling and walls, the number of wooden or upholstered pews.
Twenty-eight sanctuary pews had extensive debris and water damage. Custom Cabinetry spent many hours bringing them back to their original condition. Robin Wilson took on the laborious job of upholstering the pew cushions and backings. This work would only solidify the sound produced by the bells.
As the organ neared completion, the board made a decision to take the refurbishment two steps further. One upgrade includes a recording option. Now organists can play and record music at any time, easing their schedules. When not in church, that same music will play by pressing a button on the keyboard. It can be useful for many situations other than church services, including weddings.
A second upgrade provides the arduous task of transposing (or scaling) music.
“Wow,” McCormick said. “This is unbelievably fantastic. It can take a half-day or sometimes more to do this.”
Broskowski is satisfied when he can provide a quality instrument to a customer. He began his fascination and work on organs in high school, and provides 40 years of experience. He said that pipe organs receive tuning by ear.
“It takes about a half day to get the pipes speaking right,” he said.
McCormick understands the language Broskowski uses.
“The pipes sure do speak to you,” McCormick said. “It’s really my baby and now it’s grown up!”
McCormick has a lifelong career in playing organ. At the young age of 12, she performed for the first time in church. It happened that a college professor from Lawrence University was a member of the church. At the request of her mother, he gave McCormick lessons.
“I even remember that I played the prelude Hymn of the Nuns. The Postlude was March of the Priests. Her mother sang The Lord’s Prayer, accompanied by Sally.
She then continued to play organ, attending the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Her teaching degree allowed her to teach English in her first teaching assignment.
After marrying, the couple and their growing family Kelly, Casey and Shannon, moved to New London in 1962, joining Trinity Lutheran Church.
“I played organ when this Trinity church family was located on the corner of Washington and Shawano, next to where that corner store was, across from the Washington school,” McCormick said.
In those days, the church owned an electric organ with partial key and pedal boards. “Guess I’ve been around longer than I think,” she said.
Teaching music in the New London School District has touched most families and their children who attended schools there. Music education filled her days and sometimes nights. She rarely missed a day with the New London students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“I have been so blessed with this gift of music and the people so willing to share it with me,” she said. “I get tapped on the shoulder at gas stations or restaurants by someone 30 years old or so who thanks me for being their teacher. That’s such a great feeling.”
She remembers the students too, and how they acted and their talent.
“Nearly every one can hold a tune if they listen. Music and teaching have really provided a great life for me,” she said.