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Organist's 'pipe dream' comes true

By Megan Workman
Chip Ellis
Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral and Basilica's principal organist Greg Gray stands next to the church's tallest new handmade organ pipes Tuesday. The 16-foot pipes and more than 3,000 other organ pipes will adorn the church in the next couple of weeks.
Chip Ellis Workers from the Schantz Organ Company of Orrville, Ohio, carefully install the oak wood with a mahogany stain casework pieces Tuesday at Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral. Wooden and steel organ pipes will fill the currently empty spaces.
Chip Ellis Ornate casework sections and organ pipes in crates sit in the entry of Sacred Heart, ready to be installed.
Chip Ellis Wooden and steel pipes wait to be installed in Sacred Heart's lobby. The church's new pipe organ will be the largest in the southern part of the state.
Chip Ellis Rob Baumgartner, of the Schantz Organ Company, said the six workers who are installing new pipes and casework haven't had any challenges since assembly began last week. Baumgartner said the entire planning process for a new pipe organ at Sacred Heart has taken more than a year to complete.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For Greg Gray, nearing the completion of Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral and Basilica's refurbished pipe organ is like waiting for an old friend to come home.

"I'm like a kid on Christmas. I can't stay out of here. I'm here every day to see what they're doing," said Gray, the principal organist at the Catholic church in downtown Charleston.

Schantz Organ Co. of Orrville, Ohio, took Sacred Heart's pipe organ -- which the church bought for $300,000 in 1984 -- back to its factory in January to start reworking the instrument.

Sacred Heart's organ had its pipes cleaned and reworked. Everything is being rewired, including the sanctuary organ that is now behind the high altar and where the cantor stands at the front of the congregation.

New handmade pipes and parts were added, including the zimbelstern (a wheel of rotating bells), a tuba stop ("that will add color and contrast to the sound", Gray said), a trumpet stop, and a 16-foot string pipe.

Gray estimated the enhanced organ will have more than 3,000 pipes -- the largest in Southern West Virginia, he said.

Gray wouldn't say how much the refurbished pipe organ cost, other than acknowledging it was "a lot." One "very generous anonymous benefactor" did contribute a significant amount of money toward the organ, Gray said.

Gray will also have a new console -- where the organist sits and controls the instrument with keyboards, couplers, expression pedals and stops -- to play during Sunday masses, while rehearsing with the choir and playing for the church's weddings and funerals.

The console's exterior is made of oak wood with a mahogany stain, the inside parts are made of cherry wood and the keyboards are made of rosewood and bone, Gray said.

The different keyboards -- the new console has four -- control different sets of pipes, Gray said. The revamped pipe organ will have 63 sets of pipes, or ranks, he said.

Wednesday, six Schantz workers are set to install tall solid oak wood casework with a mahogany stain and wooden and steel pipes in the loft above the congregants.

Random organ pipes, blueprint drawings, and large pieces of casework waiting to adorn Sacred Heart's walls currently surround the seven pews on the loft where the choir will sit once the project is finished.

Several pipes -- some as tall as 16 feet -- already stand high above the pews while hundreds of other pipes remain boxed in another room.

The "massive" 1,000-pound console will take up a lot of room on the loft though there isn't room to install it yet, said Rob Baumgartner, project foreman and a designer for Shantz.

Baumgartner said installation would take three weeks - and then, it takes a while to get the organ tuned and ready to perform.

Gray expects he'll get to play the organ during Sunday masses by the end of September or early October.

In the meantime, Gray has played the electronic organ while the new pipe organ is reworked and installed. He just can't wait to get his hands on the finished organ so that he can play for the congregants, he said.

"It's real exciting for us. This isn't about Greg Gray. It's about the parish and the life of the parish," Gray said.

Baumgartner is happy to finish the project at Sacred Heart, too. The project is the largest he's done in West Virginia, he said, and the church fits the company's niche.

"The Catholics are the ones buying organs still. Most of our customers are Catholics," Baumgartner said.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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