The Sanctuary and Organ
Church sanctuaries are not ordinarily considered musical instruments. River Road Church’s Sanctuary is unique. From a musical and acoustical perspective, it is reminiscent of the great European cathedrals. When funded in the late 1960’s to accommodate a growing church, the design of the Sanctuary focused on the soaring aspect of a cathedral-type space that directed attention to the heavens. A classic pipe organ and complementary acoustics would assist in this effort. The church chose the well-known American pipe organ builder, the M.P. Möller Organ Company of Hagerstown, Maryland, to design and install a 65-rank, four-manual pipe organ (Opus 10590) that remains one of the finest examples of Möller’s work. The result was a great improvement on the portable pump organ used at the church’s founding in 1946!
The Sanctuary of River Road Church is ever God’s house. In 2014, it was our time to continue, with vision and sacrifice, what a prior generation began. It was our time to evaluate our Möller organ, so essential to every service in our Sanctuary. As this instrument began to show signs of age we needed to consider the possibilities: new organ vs. restoration and renovation. The church decided to engage an objective and independent consultant to not only evaluate the Möller organ but also to aid us in making crucial decisions about its future. Jonathan Ambrosino was an obvious choice. The broad scope of his expertise in the field of pipe organ building and restoration has made him the most sought-after expert in the United States. As an outcome of Mr. Ambrosino’s detailed report on the state (and style) of our organ in 2013, we decided that a new organ was not necessary. Rather, the entire organ deserved to be restored and renovated. We chose Emery Bros. of Allentown, Pennsylvania for the project – this firm had lovingly and competently maintained the instrument for many years. We decided to have a new console built by Richard Houghten of Milan, Michigan and Joseph Zamberlan of Wintersville, Ohio, retaining and restoring the keyboards and keycheeks of the original console. Only 61 pipes (out of more that 3000) were discarded and replaced (the Choir Cromorne 8′) – and this decision was made unanimously by the Ministers of Music (present and emeritus), Mr. Ambrosino, and Emery Bros.
The new, moveable, mahogany organ console, includes modern solid-state mechanisms for setting combinations, was constructed and installed in 2016. The installation included a lift and related modifications to the left of the chancel allowing the console to be raised from the organ pit and moved to the center of the chancel for occasions such as concerts.
The organ restoration included removal, cleaning, restoration, re-installation, and regulation of all existing pipes. Some components were refurbished in place. Internal mechanisms such as leather pouches, tremolos, and all original wiring were replaced. The work included the addition of five new ranks or sets of pipes, as well as some re-voicing of existing pipes.
Please click here to see the stop list.
The Chapel Organ
The chapel, originally built in 1950 as the first formal worship space at River Road Church, is still used for small worship services, weddings, and funerals. In 1989, the late Elizabeth Gottwald gave a second, smaller Moller Pipe Organ, this one with two manuals and five ranks, for use in the Chapel.
River Road Church has been blessed to have in its inventory of instruments four grand pianos, each given to the church by members (individuals and a board) who have recognized through their generosity the importance of the church’s music ministry as follows:
The Steinway model B grand piano in the Sanctuary, a gift from Hannah Coker in honor of her mother.
The Baldwin model L grand piano in the Main Rehearsal Room, a gift from Sarah and Charlie Drummond.
The Steinway model M grand piano in the Youth Rehearsal Room, a gift from Willard Alley (early chair of Music Committee) and Willie Reams at the time of the completion of the Sanctuary.
The Boston model B grand piano in the Sanctuary, purchased through a grant from the Endowment Board in 2007.
The Steinway model S grand piano in the Chapel, a gift from Bill Stanton in memory of his wife, Ellen.
The instruments in the Sanctuary and Choir Rooms were fully reconditioned in 2016 by David Hughes as a result of the Rejoice & Give Thanks capital campaign.