First services of the Congregation – in the Movie Theater
I first attended FUMC Services in August, 1951, in the Ridge movie theater that used to be near where Big Ed’s Pizza parlor is today. The church had been established in 1944, shortly after the Manhattan Engineering Project was formed to help with the WW II war effort. By the time I found FUMC Services, the congregation was well established and looking forward to moving into the new building where services are now held.
At the theater, there was a piano (and later a small pump organ) and Hymn singing and many of the things that contribute to Worship, but I remember thinking it is a movie theater, not a church. Bob Schmidt was the church pianist. Later, Mrs Marcus Pack performed those duties and Bob Knight was the choir director. Before the FUMC congregation left the theater, Barbara Thompson began the duties of leading the congregation in instrumental music.
The New Church building and Its Electronic Organ
The new building construction was started in Sept 1951. First Methodist Church Services in the new building were held Sunday December 20,1953, but the first service that was held in the Sanctuary was a performance Thursday evening, December 17, 1953 of Handel’s Messiah by the combined church choirs of several protestant churches in Oak Ridge. The Messiah, sung by soloists and the combined choirs was directed by Bob Knight, with Julia Secrest, the principal organist. Some of the organists of the several churches who participated, took turns at the keyboard of the Allen Electronic Organ. The regular Methodist Church organist was Barbara (Mrs. Bernard) Thompson.
The Maturing Congregation and Pipe Organ Exploration
Between 1954 and 1980 the congregation used the Allen Electronic organ. It’s amplifiers and (many) speakers were located in the spaces above the transepts, speaking through grillwork into the sanctuary. John Horton and others with electronic expertise provided electronic services for the organ.
As the music program grew, the church became increasingly ready for a pipe organ to complement the great acoustics of the sanctuary. Prior to 1980, several preliminary studies were made as to the possibility of installing a pipe organ in our sanctuary. Four organ builders sent representatives to look at the church. One withdrew, saying their company would not want to install a pipe organ in our sanctuary. The other three made preliminary proposals and suggestions, some of which entailed structural modifications.
The Pipe Organ Committee
In 1980, a committee was chartered through the Worship Commission, to review the needs and desires of the church for a pipe organ. That committee was chaired by Hal Schmitt and their report, suggesting that it was time for a pipe organ, was adopted by the Worship Commission. As a result of many following meetings, plans were laid to renovate the church nave (such renovation having been decided as necessary for the best sound from an organ) and to install a pipe organ. By 1982 further committee work by the Organ committee (Bob Howard, Paul Melroy and Hal Schmitt, chairman) had refined the plans so that a capital funds drive was held, contracts were made, and work began on the renovation of the church. A contract was let for construction of the organ in late 1983. The Administrative Board appointed Marshall Whisnant Chairman of the Capital Projects Management Committee.
Renovation of the Sanctuary and Installation of the Organ
The Moeller Company of Hagerstown, MD was chosen following extensive evaluation and reviews of several organs built by three organ builder candidates. Some of the organ companies proposed modifying the sanctuary to make space for the pipes. The modification chosen placed the organ pipes at the front of the nave and required covering the rose window – to be removed and placed later at the rear of the sanctuary.
The Renovation of the Console
Although it was “state-of-the-art” in 1984, by 2006 the organ console was (internally) falling apart. Once, when the organist sought to change settings, a knob fell off. Emergency repairs (in the midst of playing) sometimes were required and our organist (Sandi Henry 2000-2014) lived in fear that some day, all would be un-recoverable during a service. It was plainly time to get a complete rebuild of the playing console.
In late 2006, a review of the organ status was made, and bids were sought for several items associated with renewing the console. Subsequently, the FUMC Board of Trustees signed a contract with the Milnar Organ Company of Eagleville, TN, to do a renovation on the organ console. A subcommittee made up of Sandi Henry, Tim Ward, and Hal Schmitt visited the company in Middle Tennessee to see their work and also visit another organ where similar work has been done by the company. The three-member committee unanimously recommended the Milnar Company after considering another East Tennessee company.
Our organ has 2795 pipes, grouped together in groups that create a particular sound – such as “trumpet, flute, etc., called “ranks.” Our organ has 49 ranks. It may be unappreciated by many, that the various individual pipes of the organ sound singly as each key on the console is pressed. A harmonious sound is made by coupling the various pipes (each sounding singly) together in combinations that are chosen (and varied) by the organist. As initially built, the organ console contained many electromechanical actuators to cause the various combinations of pipes to couple together to provide various sounds. Those actuators were wearing out and today’s practice is for the various combinations of pipes to be coupled together in various combinations by electronic means. The new console does this by means of a new electronic digital control system in the reworked console.
The console now includes a new digital control system, which has replaced most of the mechanical parts in the original console. In addition, there is a new adjustable music rack and a new adjustable bench with a back rest. The company also replaced the dolly system (which makes the console movable) with casters in the console itself. The appearance of the console did not change; however, since the casters are contained in the console and the present dolly removed, the console is shorter following the update.
The new digital system brings many new control features to the organ that will make playing the instrument more enjoyable and with fewer mechanical failures. The Milnar company (established in 1968) for years, has had the contract for maintenance of the FUMC organ.
One of the interesting features of the new console is a means of recording what the organist plays, so that he/she may go out into the sanctuary while the recording is playing, to listen to how the organ sounds from that vantage point. Also, there is provision for the organ settings (couplers, etc.) to be customized and identified by organists names, so that those settings may be instantly recalled by name of the organist.