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Church's pipe organ is one of a kind

HURRICANE, W.Va. -- For Karen Lilly, there's nothing quite like the sound of a pipe organ.

"It fills the room, and when you stand and sing a hymn on Sunday morning, with the organ playing, it gives you a great sense of God's holy spirit," said Lilly, 69, of Hurricane.

The pipe organ dates back to the third century B.C. and is a staple in many church services. However, many worship services are becoming more contemporary, with praise bands replacing more traditional music. It's also becoming a challenge to find organists.

Nevertheless, the pipe organ remains beloved, and Lilly, along with other members of "Pipe Sounds" - a group committed to promoting the Harrah Symphonic Organ at Forrest Burdette United Methodist Church -- are trying to keep it that way.

The Harrah organ isn't the typical organ. It has 2,600 actual pipes and more than 20,000 digital pipe notes. It is the largest draw knob console in the world, according to church members. Draw knobs allow air into the pipes.  

It's supported by 148 speakers and is powered by 10,400 watts.

"I don't know how to describe it, just that it fills the whole place," said 81-year-old church member Rusty Raines, who helped put the organ together.

Raines mentioned a thunder sound that the organ can convey.

"[An organist] will build up to it and everybody in the sanctuary jumps," he said.

"Some people are intimidated to play it, because they've never played another like it," said Jerry Lilly, 72, another church member who helped build the organ. "There is no other like it."

As intimidating as it might be, it gets played. Pipe Sounds holds numerous concerts throughout the year and invites accomplished organists.

On Feb. 8, Scott Foppiano, a critically acclaimed organist from Kansas City, Mo., will accompany organ music with a silent film version of "Ben-Hur."

Yet on a corner of the stage in the sanctuary sits a guitar and drum stands, a keyboard and other instruments used in the church's contemporary service.

The church holds its traditional worship service at 8 a.m. on Sundays followed by a more contemporary service at 11 a.m.

At the earlier service, the pastor's wife, a pianist, sometimes plays the pipe organ.

"Not as many people are learning how to play the organ now," said Charles McCane, 78, another church member who helped construct the organ and is familiar with its history. "I hope they're not a dying breed, but they are slowing down."

Jerry Lilly, Raines and McCane all helped put together the organ, which was designed by Hurricane resident Allen Harrah.

 "He has built other organs in the area, but wanted to leave his legacy here," said Karen Lilly. "A lot of people were praying we'd get an organ for a long time."

The church raised a huge portion of the money needed for the organ and it made its debut after the sanctuary was remodeled in 2001.

As Jerry Lilly, McCane and Raines stood Thursday looking up at the many pipes around the room, they expressed pride in the organ.

"Many people grew up hearing one at church," McCane said.

"We touched all of the pipes, we had to wear white gloves," said Raines.

"We've all got college degrees, but not in carpentry," said Jerry Lilly, drawing laughter from the others.

Karen Lilly said she hopes a younger generation will discover a love of organ music.

"There's a conception only older people will enjoy the organ, and that's not true," she said. "It's a great thing for everyone to enjoy."

For more information about Pipe Sounds' concerts, visit www.pipesounds.org.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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