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.