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Refurbished organ ready to play in University of Oklahoma's Sharp Concert Hall

BY RICK ROGERS Published: September 27, 2009
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.

"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.


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