Church organ turns 100 in Rifle
Few instruments stick around for 100 years, and fewer still warrant a celebration, but that’s precisely what’s happening Saturday night at Rifle United Methodist Presbyterian Church for its historic organ.
“It’s this old girl’s birthday, so we’re having a party,” said director of music Anna Bagley. “It’s church history, it’s community history, and it’s musical history.”
Built by the Bennet Organ Company in Rock Island, Illinois, during the lean years of World War I, it was installed in 1916, making it one of the oldest working organs in the area. The money for the project was donated by Herman Heinze, one of the first settlers on West Rifle Creek, as part of his will.
“It’s very special because of Mr. Heinze,” said church historian Shirley LeMoine. “I think he wanted people to have that special feeling that he must have had back in Germany, and the people of the church were kind to his wife when she was dying.
“This was not a rich town, and it’s very rare for a town of this size to have a pipe organ,” she added.
Built before standard tuning, the mostly original organ has its quirks and is showing some age. Nevertheless, it has been an important part of services since its installation, though it was moved to the west side of the building in the ’70s.
“It’s fun to think of the impact she has had on generations of Christians. The songs we played yesterday are the same songs that were played when this organ was first installed,” Bagley observed. “In the chaos of today’s world, to know that something is still solid is huge.”
Currently, it only gets played once every couple of months, though the church is seeking an accompanist to make it a more frequent event.
The free event, which also includes birthday cake, is scheduled to coincide with the Rifle Fall Festival this weekend. It starts at 5 p.m. Saturday at 200 E. Fourth St. and will feature John Howard, organist at First Presbyterian in Grand Junction.
“I love the organ because it has so much power. It can be the quietest instrument or the loudest and everything in between,” he said. “It has a wonderful history, heritage and repertoire. It’s kind of a one-man orchestra.”
Howard has a background in music and 15 years of experience with organs but hasn’t had a chance to tackle this particular instrument yet.
“It will be interesting to see how it works and how it’s put together,” he said.
The organ he’s most familiar with dates from 1928, so he has some idea of what he’s getting himself into.
“At the time that this instrument was built, people loved transcriptions of other work, so they lend themselves toward orchestral sounds,” he observed.
The recital will feature works by Richard Purvis, Pietro A. Yon, Theodore Dubois, Dietrich Buxtehude and Johann Sebastian Bach. It’s a mix designed to showcase some modern sensibilities as well as centuries of tradition.
“I think the organ is very exciting,” he said. “People should give it a chance and be prepared to be delightfully surprised.”
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