For 151 years, St. John’s Episcopal Church has been part of the Olympia spiritual community. And soon, services in the sanctuary will be accompanied by the sounds of a new — and very large — pipe organ.
The new-to-Olympia organ was built in Buffalo, New York, by third-generation organ builder Hermann Schlicker. It was installed in Plymouth Church in Seattle in 1967; St. John’s was able to purchase it when Plymouth bought a newer organ.
Church organist and choirmaster Curt Sather can’t wait to hear it in its full glory. The installation is long and complicated, but the organ was blessed by the Episcopal Bishop Thursday, and congregants heard the partially installed organ.
“It’s a very large instrument,” Sather said. “It’s a significant addition to Olympia.”
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Every organ has its own sound and color, Sather said, describing color as “sounds like strings, reeds or flutes.”
Marceau Pipe Organ Builders are installing the organ. Owner Rene Marceau said it took two months of engineering to design the chambers to enclose the mechanics and pipes, and two more months to for the installation. His company takes on one or two installations a year, in addition to tuning and maintenance.
“It all used to be mechanical, and you could see movement,” Marceau said. “Now it’s digital, and you need a volt meter.”
The sanctuary at the church at 114 20th Ave. SE holds as many as 500 people. The organ console is behind the altar, facing the relocated choir. It’s connected with a computer cable to the two towers that flank the choir, rising to the top of the sanctuary. The 3,800 pipes in the top of the towers resonate when air is released from the “wind chest” down below. The wind is generated by a squirrel cage blower, Marceau said.
The cost of acquisition and installation is a little less than $300,000, which is being paid with a gift arranged by recently retired organist Kary Hyer, said the Rev. Robert C. Laird, Priest-in-Charge. The church also spent some money on the upgrades and expansion of the organ.
“Everybody is ridiculously excited,” Laird said about the congregation. “Doing a major upgrade like this is a very long process, lots of dust and question marks and wondering how it’s all going to come together. ... It’s not only a tremendous gift to us, but for the whole South Sound. I think that Olympia deserves a world-class instrument.”
In addition to his work with the church, Sather will give lessons on the organ.
“My fondest hope is that we will have an ongoing series of recitals and concerts that will feature the organ,” Laird said. “We intend to share this remarkable gift with everyone.”