Making music

Local church working to keep historic pipe organ playing at services

Salem United Methodist Church member Karen Buchmann holds a board dated Dec. 2, 1910 signed by workers from the Wirsching Organ Company of Salem who built the church’s historic pipe organ that is currently being refurbished. The board was found inside a chamber of the organ that was not visible until the recent work began. A silent auction will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 2, along with a Swiss steak dinner from 4 to 6 p.m., to benefit the organ project. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

Silent auction and Swiss steak dinner

–WHEN: Saturday, March 2

–AUCTION: Bidding open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., winners 6:15 p.m.

–DINNER: 4 to 6 p.m., $10 adults, $5 children 12 and under, free 3 and under

–BUY & TAKE: Tables of $5 items for purchase

These are some of the larger wooden pipes that help create the sound from the Wirsching organ at the Salem United Methodist Church. They will be merged with the many other pipes, some made of metal and all of various lengths, from the more than 100-year-old organ, which is being augmented with pipes from a second organ. The organ’s new sound is slated to debut on Easter Sunday. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

–WHERE: Salem United Methodist Church fellowship hall

–BENEFITS: Pipe organ project

SALEM–Salem United Methodist Church will host a Swiss steak dinner and silent auction March 2, all to raise funds so the historic Salem-built Wirsching pipe organ will continue to touch hearts with its melodious tones for years to come.

Bidding for the silent auction begins at 10 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. in the fellowship hall in the lower level, with the winning bids to be announced at 6:15 p.m. Church member Roger Zeigler, who is assisting auction chair Kathy Bennett, said bidders can bid as much as they want as many times as they want since they will be able to see the highest bid and have an opportunity to bid again to beat it.

Some of the donated items up for bid include two tickets to an Ohio State vs. Miami football game, a church schoolhouse clock from 1910, a John Singer Sargent 12 Apostles framed print, an early choir chair, antique quilt, P. Buckley Moss Amy’s Cradle print and Cameo Geese print, tickets to the Canfield Fair, Fostoria Glass cake stand, youth bicycle, large wooden American flag, wet/dry vac, wooden Methodist cross, home organ, gift baskets and local merchant and restaurant gift cards.

The shorter the pipe, the higher the pitch it produces. These small metal pipes are part of the Wirsching organ being refurbished at Salem United Methodist Church. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

One table will feature $5 items requiring no bid — people can just buy the item and take it.

“We wanted to make sure there’s something for everybody,” Zeigler said.

The Swiss steak dinner will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. or until it is gone, with David Peterson and church members cooking the feast. The cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children 12 and under, but free for children 3 and under. Tickets will be sold at the door only the day of the event. The dinner will also take place in the fellowship hall, which is accessible by elevator, with parking in both the north and south lots.

Letters were sent out to various businesses and organizations soliciting donations for the auction. Any business, organization or individual wanting to contribute can contact the church office at 330-337-9531.

“The positive response from area businesses has been exceptional,” Zeigler said.

The above number is also the one to call to make a direct donation for the pipe organ project. Fundraising began last year, with church members making offerings and memorial donations being made to honor deceased loved ones. The cost for the organ restoration is estimated at $100,000 to $125,000.

Some may describe the project as working to preserve history, others refurbishing, but church member Karen Buchmann prefers the terms “augmenting and merging” because that is exactly what they are doing. They are preserving the Wirsching pipe organ built in 1910 by carefully taking it apart and putting it back together, using the parts that can still be used and using some parts from another pipe organ to “augment” what is there, merging some of the pipes from that organ with the existing organ.

Buchmann, who is also the church pianist and substitute organist, gave a little bit of history, noting that the first Wirsching organ in the church came in 1887. When the congregation moved to the current building on South Broadway Avenue in 1910, a new organ was acquired from the Wirsching Organ Company in Salem and that is the existing organ. Since that time, the organ has been updated two or three times, with the tubular action electrified in 1948 and a new console provided. The last update was done in 1973.

Because the pipe organ is more than 100 years old, she said it is deteriorating and repairs are getting more costly. Three years ago, she was named as liaison between the church trustees and organ repair personnel. The church had two choices–buy a new organ or rebuild the existing one. In her research, she learned a new pipe organ of the same quality would cost $800,000 to $900,000. Replacing a rank of pipes would cost $20,000 to $30,000. Each rank includes 61 pipes with each pipe representing a note or pitch. The existing organ has 20 ranks, or 1,220 pipes of various sizes, made of both wood and metal. The pitch corresponds to the length of the pipe.

Clark Wilson, owner of JC Wilson & Associates Pipe Organs of East Liverpool, had been maintaining the organ in working order for years and agreed to oversee the organ restoration. He found an Aeolian-Skinner performance recital pipe organ that Ohio State University wanted to sell that he thought could be used to “augment and merge” with what the church had so it was purchased two years ago for $5,000 and put in storage.

Project prep work started in the fall. Buchmann’s husband, Philip, who is a church trustee, volunteered to coordinate the construction component of the project, overseeing the electrical work and doing the carpentry work with assistance from other church members. Wood that made up the front facade had to be removed and over 1,200 pipes were taken out to be restored. The front will be moved out more to make room for the augmented organ. The new, restored organ will have 32 ranks or 1,952 pipes.

Before taking everything apart, Wilson provided the church with a temporary setup with minimal function, so they could still have music for services, using the same console with two keyboards or manuals that they have been using and will continue to use once the project is finished.

Wooden chests hold the pipes and while dismantling the chests in a chamber, a board was found hidden away that was dated Dec. 2, 1910 and signed by the workers from the Wirsching Organ Company who built the organ. Some of the tongue and groove boards from the chests are being reused. Buchmann said they are preserving everything they can.

“The church felt an obligation, because we have the last existing Wirsching in Salem, that it was important that we maintain it for posterity,” she said.

Plans call for the “augmented” organ to make its debut at the 10:30 a.m. service on Easter Sunday, April 21, a day known for rebirth. When asked what it is going to be like with more pipes, Buchmann compared it to “driving a Cadillac.”

Both she and organist Linda Peterson will be playing that day.

“More pipes give you more options, more creativity…a brighter sound,” Buchmann said.