Grace United Methodist Church, Kokomo, IN

 

 A Project to Renew a

Classic, Classy Austin

 

Grace United Methodist Church in Kokomo, Indiana is a beautiful, Romanesque building with a classic Austin organ that supports a classy music program.

 

Under the guidance of organist and music director  Barbara Hobbs, Grace has a tradition of great sacred music.  The church's big 3 manual, 42 rank Austin organ was built in 1964.  This organ is the third large Austin from the same period we have tackled.  Others include the III/32 (1968) at First United Methodist Church in Mishawaka, IN, and the III/48 (1967) at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Michigan City, IN.  Like these other instruments, the Grace organ has the Austin sound - big and gutsy, but also with the warmth and color that was, sadly, uncharacteristic of many organs of the period.

 

Richard Piper, who was tonal director of Austin at the time, expressed in a 1962 article why his company was a "boat against the tide," at the time the Grace organ was built..

 

"(The academic) school of thought is devoted to the organ as a solo instrument, believing little if any worthwhile literature has been written for the organ since Bach.  They insist that the organ must conform tonally and even mechanically to the instruments of that period for which the music was written.

 

Ellis at GraceEllis at Grace"We are told by some that the organ must be either romantic or classic and if we attempt a compromise we shall produce a monster.  This is unaldulterated nonsense and the truth of this statement is proved by the many fine organs, some of only moderate size, which have been built in recent years by our leading builders that successfully reconcile the needs of accompaniment and the romantic and classic literature.

 

"In the same way it is said that there can be no compromise in design, so it is claimed that romantic and classic voicing cannot be included in the same instruments.

 

"(These remarks are) a plea not to attempt to narrow the scope of the organ until it is no longer a fitting instrument for our churches.... The English, French and Dutch organs may be ideally suited to those countries, but they are not necessarily ideally suited to this.  We should endeavor to create our own tradition based on a functional outlook."

 

Like the Michigan City and Mishawaka instruments, the organ at Grace, Kokomo, is an organ for worship.  Our project included the renovation of the Austin console, including restoration of the ivory-covered keyboards, new stop rail and stop controls, and a new Peterson ICS4000 integrated control system, controlling all relay and combination action functions.  The organ console, which has to be repositioned from time to time for various events, is now connected to the pipes with a single CAT5 computer network cable, instead of a thick, heavy, clumsy umbilical cable that was a trip-and-fall hazard whenever the console was moved.

 

Martin Ellis played a rededication concert at Grace on Saturday evening, January 15, 2011.  The concert included works by Bach, Dubois, Langlais, Dupre, Vierne, Bedard, and Sowerby.  As a special unexpected treat, Ellis teamed up with Barbara Hobbs on piano to play a jazzy set of variations by Joel Raney on "Kum Ba Yah."  Portions of the concert are posted here.

 

 
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