NORMAN — A 78-year-old organ that once was housed in Philadelphia’s Municipal Hall has found a new home in the University of Oklahoma’s Sharp Concert Hall. Manufactured by the M.P. Moller Organ Co. in 1931, the refurbished instrument can be heard during a three-day "Organ Gala” scheduled Friday through Oct. 4 at OU. "This instrument is considered by many to be Moller’s magnum opus,” said John Schwandt, associate professor of organ at OU. "The more I see of it, the more I can confirm the validity of that statement. Because of its vast musical resources, it can produce any style of music in the classical canon. But it also has a theatrical side complete with all sorts of sound effects. It can handle everything from a Handel organ concerto to Gershwin’s ‘Strike Up the Band.’” In Philadelphia’s Municipal Hall, the 86-rank Moller pipe organ was played regularly for two decades but then fell into disuse. After more than a decade without a regular tenant, the Art Deco landmark was demolished in 2005. Thankfully, a city charter required that certain artifacts, including the Moller organ, were to be salvaged. "It cost the University of Pennsylvania half a million dollars just to get the organ out of the hall,” Schwandt said. "All 50 tons of it were lowered through a hole and transferred to a nearby facility. I had never heard this organ but decided sight unseen that OU should have it. It came here in 2006, and we’ve spent three years getting it ready for installation in Sharp Hall.” Only one-sixth of the Moller organ has been installed. A multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign will provide for an addition to Sharp Hall that will accommodate the full Moller Opus 5819 organ. The organ’s two original consoles are on display in Sharp Hall’s lobby. The organ has been nicknamed the "Mini-Mo” because only part of the original instrument is being used. Schwandt compares the present installation to a Volkswagen Bug, while the complete organ will be more like "a chauffeured Rolls-Royce.” "I like to call the Moller organ an 80-year-old duchess,” Schwandt said. "She came here covered in coal dust and soot, and the leather had all dried out. Every bit needed to be cleaned and refurbished. Once we started the process, it took a little over a year to restore it. And everything has been done with respect to the way Moller did things originally.” With the effort spearheaded by Schwandt, the American Organ Institute was established at OU in 2006. Along with the teaching of classical organ playing, the institute also addresses theatrical organ playing and organ building. OU has a restoration shop where students can learn about the complex craft of organ restoration. Visitors to the OU Organ Gala are invited to tour the organ restoration shop at 2101 W Tecumseh Road, Suite C. Among the projects being undertaken are the restoration of a practice organ and the refurbishment of an organ wind chest. The American Organ Institute also acquired an original perforating machine from Moller. Schwandt said the shop can handle every aspect of organ building except pipe making. With the installation of the Moller Opus 5819 organ in Sharp Hall, organ students will have two first-rate instruments on which to practice and perform. Schwandt said he plans to alternate teaching between the Moller and Fisk organs, an approach that will give his students a chance to play works appropriate to each instrument. "I like my students to be working on four pieces every semester,” Schwandt said. "That alone forces the mix to be broad. But now, they’ll be able to play Bach on the Fisk, romantic and transcription work on the Moller. I think the Moller Opus 5819 will be a very positive addition to our program.”
"Old Wine, New Bottles: A Gala Weekend Celebration”→Friday: The American Organ Institute’s pipe organ shop, 2101 W Tecumseh Road, Suite C, will be open to visitors from 2 to 4 p.m. An onstage reception begins at 6 p.m. in Sharp Concert Hall. Guests can visit the pipe organ chambers and speak to students who helped restore and install the Moller organ. Peter Richard Conte, grand court organist of the famous Wanamaker Organ at Macy’s Philadelphia department store, will demonstrate the Moller organ’s wide range of musical capabilities in an 8 p.m. "Kaleidoscope Concert.” →Saturday: Organist R. Jelani Eddington and narrator John Bishop will perform Prokofiev’s "Peter and the Wolf” at 10:30 a.m. OU student organists and the OU choirs will present "Divine Reflections,” a program of sacred and secular organ masterworks at 3 p.m. Donald Dumler, an OU alumnus who is principal organist at New York City’s Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, will perform a 10th anniversary concert commemorating the Mildred Andrews Boggess Memorial Organ at 6 p.m. Organist Clark Wilson will provide live theater organ accompaniment for a screening of the 1927 silent film classic "Metropolis” at 8 p.m. →Oct. 4: The restoration shop will be open from 10:30 a.m. to noon. John Bishop, executive director of the Organ Clearing House, will lecture on "Uncorking a Magnum: Moving the Mighty Moller” at 1:30 p.m. The gala concludes with an "All-Star Blockbuster” concert at 3 p.m. that will feature Eddington, Wilson and Schwandt, as well as pianist Jeongwon Ham and the OU Jazz Ensemble. →Where: Catlett Music Center, 500 W Boyd, Norman, and organ institute pipe organ shop. →Information: 325-4101.