Cover Feature

May 4, 2018

Létourneau Pipe Organs, 

Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec, 

Canada, Opus 133

Waldensian Presbyterian Church, Valdese, 

North Carolina


From the Director of Music

Waldensian Presbyterian Church of Valdese, North Carolina, first and foremost wanted a new pipe organ that would stand the test of time. As a church that honors Presbyterian traditions while celebrating its Waldensian heritage that spans hundreds of years, it was important to the congregation to find an organ builder that would enhance the Waldensian tradition of French music and have the longevity to carry them into the future. Létourneau delivered, beyond expectation.

During the months of February and August, you can hear the congregation at Waldensian Presbyterian Church singing joyfully the hymns of their heritage in French. While only used weekly for two months of the year, the Waldensian Hymnal is a small book of French hymns that are embedded deeply in the members’ hearts and are heard frequently outside of the worship services.

Previously, Waldensian Presbyterian Church had a two-manual, electro- pneumatic pipe organ that served the congregation and community for thirty-five years. When the time came for this instrument’s electrical system to be overhauled, one among many serious problems, the church decided refurbishment was not an option. The task ahead of discerning what form a new pipe organ should take and choosing an organ builder was daunting, but the committees involved were determined to make the best choice possible for the future of the church. 

When discussions about replacing the deteriorating organ first began, it was important the end result would be an instrument that reflected the congregation’s heritage and would support the beautiful sounds and colors of French music. The church was also aware of its important responsibility in the Valdese community, and the purchase of a new pipe organ was something that the congregation felt would enhance this local role for generations to come. 

In addition to the sound and quality of the instrument, which were of upmost importance, it was also essential that the instrument looked as though it had always been there and not appear as an afterthought. The sanctuary of Waldensian Presbyterian Church is a historic building on the National Register of Historic Places, and the installation of a new pipe organ had to involve as few changes as possible to the building. This presented a challenge that Létourneau gladly accepted, and their Opus 133 does indeed fit seamlessly into the sanctuary. The organ project also provided an opportunity for a modest reinvention of the sanctuary, with new slate flooring and freshly painted walls.

With just fifteen stops, Opus 133 has rich and luscious sounds that easily fill the room without ever overpowering it. It can also, however, be played so softly that listeners are enticed to listen closely. The ingenious expression mechanism for the Récit division allows organists to have remarkable dynamic control over the music. The pedal stops have beautiful supportive tones that can be felt as well as heard throughout the room. The versatility of the instrument is really striking, and while its main purpose is to support congregational singing and lead worship, it also scintillates as a recital instrument. Further, the instrument is enjoyable to play, and as an organist, it feels as though it does all of the hard work. It can be played with a light touch and demands excellence and sensitivity in musicianship.

In summary, Waldensian Presbyterian Church is thrilled with their new Létourneau pipe organ and is looking forward to the years to come as it establishes itself in our community as a regular presence. It was a pleasure to work with Létourneau on this project. They took in to account all of the needs and desires of our congregation and the quality of the resulting instrument truly exhibits the remarkable pride they take in their work.

—Leslie Overcash, Director of Music


From the Builder

We were delighted to be asked to build an organ for Waldensian Presbyterian Church of Valdese, North Carolina. Our many visits to the church revealed a kind, receptive community that wanted to make decisions in the best interests of future generations. It was equally clear that their new organ was going to serve as an outreach tool within the area’s musical community. In keeping with their desire for excellence, the organ’s installation followed a successful sanctuary renovation that saw the removal of thick blue carpet from the nave as well as a reconfiguration of the raised worship platform.

After the church’s decision had been made to sign a contract with Létourneau, we learned the final two proposals the organ committee had been considering were radically different. The first was for an electro-pneumatic unit organ offering over 30 stops based on half as many ranks while our proposal, the second, was for a 19-rank pipe organ with mechanical key action. The whole reason the church was considering a new organ in the first place was due to continuing failures with their previous organ, a divided instrument flanking the chancel’s central apse on the sanctuary’s front wall. Undistinguished from the outset, this electro-pneumatic pipe organ increasingly suffered as it aged from a myriad of problems including a recalcitrant console, unpredictable electrical gremlins, winding issues and collapsing pipework. The ongoing problems with this instrument in the end underscored our arguments in favor of a timeless key action and a straight specification in which every stop has a distinct role to play.

Questions about what kind of key action was best suited to Waldensian Presbyterian Church’s situation probably seemed esoteric to some on their organ committee, but one point on which the committee was unanimous was the organ’s visual design: the new instrument had to integrate smoothly into the sanctuary’s spare, attractive architecture. Our efforts focused on using the chancel’s small apse, which had been an open space prior to the church renovations with seating for the church choir. Now installed, the organ uses the apse’s heavy curved wall and domed ceiling to project tone into the church much like a traditional organ case. As anticipated, the apse seems to amplify the Pédale division’s single rank, the 16–8 Bourdon, as needed from its location at the very back of the instrument. 

Our designer, Claude Demers, devised the instrument’s elegant façade with its three towers of pipes while the casework features blue and gold trim to harmonize with accents already present within the church. The organ’s polished façade pipes are from the bass of the Gr-Orgue 8 Montre stop and are made from a 70% tin alloy. Behind the façade, the Gr-Orgue windchest sits directly under the thick archway leading to the apse, which helps again reflect sound into the church.

The Récit division resides between the Gr-Orgue and the Pédale 16–8 Bourdon rank. A tight enclosure, its expression mechanism is based on the example seen in the C. B. Fisk instrument at Chicago’s St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church. The Récit’s expression box has shades not only on its face but also on its two sides. Thanks to offset arms coming off the mechanism’s vertical shafts, the first portion of the expression pedal’s travel cracks the sides open before the shades on front of the box begin to move. The effect is remarkably sensitive and smooth dynamic control throughout the expression pedal’s travel.

The two-manual console is detached and reversed from the organ case, offering the organist an excellent view of the sanctuary. The console shell was made from solid red oak with its side and back panels incorporating carved details repurposed from a redundant modesty rail. The mechanical key actions drop into a channel under the console, passing under the pedalboard before going into the instrument behind. As is our custom, the terraced stop jambs and toe piston rails are made from a richly stained walnut while the stopknobs are made from turned ebony. The electric stop actions are controlled by a multilevel capture system from Solid State Organ Systems with 128 levels of memory, an adjustable crescendo pedal, a reversible Grand jeu piston, and eight general pistons along with a general piston sequencer.

In keeping with the Waldensian community’s French origins, we accentuated some of the French elements within the specification. For example, the Récit strings are potent, allowing organists to shade the Gr-Orgue 8 flute and to a lesser degree, the 8 Montre, for a rich fonds sonority. The organ’s most delicate stop is the Récit’s charming 8 Bourdon, which fades to a murmur with the box closed. Adding the charismatic 4 Flûte octaviante and 2 Octavin creates a light secondary chorus that serves beautifully in the context of accompanying or performing solo repertoire. Like the strings, the Récit’s 8 Trompette is big enough to color the Gr-Orgue thanks to its generously scaled resonators (8 C measures just over four inches in diameter) and domed Bertounèche shallots.

The Gr-Orgue is based on a large 8 Montre, generally following a 42 scale, with somewhat relaxed voicing that never takes on a hard edge. The composition of the Gr-O 8 Flûte à cheminée is more complex than its nomenclature suggests: stopped wooden pipes make up the bass octave, shifting to a chimney flute in metal, then moving to “koppel” shape caps, and finally transitioning to open cylindrical pipes with narrow mouths similar to a Nachthorn at the top of the compass. The stop is treble ascendant with enough power at its top end for a solo line against various Récit combinations or to accompany itself. The Gr-Orgue’s three-rank Cornet was scaled and voiced as a solo voice, building on the 8 and 4 flutes to produce a powerful, singing sonority.

We expect the new Létourneau pipe organ at Waldensian Presbyterian Church will serve the church for many future generations, and we remain grateful to the church for giving us the opportunity to build Opus 133 with mechanical key action. Many new friendships were made throughout the project, and we especially enjoyed working with the church’s Director of Music, Leslie Overcash, and the Chair of Worship and Music, Wes Garrou. The organ’s formal service of dedication took place on January 28, 2018, with Dudley Oakes at the console playing works by J. S. Bach, Duruflé, Utterback, and Karg-Elert.

—Andrew Forrest, Artistic Director

Fernand Létourneau, President

Dudley Oakes, Project Consultant


Gr-ORGUE – Manual I –
80 mm pressure

8 Montre 58 pipes

    façade of 70% polished tin

8 Flûte à cheminée 58 pipes

    1–12 stopped wood, 

    13–32 chimney flute, 

    33–44 “Koppel” cones, 

    45–58 open flute

4 Prestant 58 pipes

4 Flûte ouverte 58 pipes

    tapered construction

2 Doublette 58 pipes

223 Cornet III 174 pipes

    12-15-17, large scale, 

    tapered construction

113 Plein jeu IV 232 pipes


RÉCIT expressif – Manual II – 85 mm pressure

8 Gambe 58 pipes

8 Voix céleste (from g8) 51 pipes

8 Bourdon (wood) 58 pipes

4 Flûte octaviante 58 pipes

2 Octavin 58 pipes

8 Trompette 58 pipes


PÉDALE – 100 mm pressure

16 Bourdon (wood) 32 pipes

8 Bourdon (wood) 12 pipes

    ext 16 Bourdon



Récit au Gr-Orgue

Gr-Orgue à la Pédale

Récit à la Pédale


The console’s capture system is by Solid State Organ System:

128 levels of memory

4 divisional pistons each for the Gr-Orgue and Récit

2 divisional pistons for the Pédale

8 general pistons plus a general piston sequencer. 

There is a reversible and programmable Grand jeu piston as well as a 30-stage crescendo pedal.


Two manuals, 15 total stops, 19 ranks, 1,081 pipes


Gr-Orgue Plein jeu IV

c1 to b12 19 22 26 29

c13 to b24 15 19 22 26

c25 to b36 12 15 19 22

c37 to b48 8 12 15 19

c49 to a58 1 8 12 15



Related Content

June 29, 2020
Opus 45 “What have you done here!?,” asked Todd Wilson as he leapt off the organ bench to greet me the day before Opus 45’s dedication. Hoping this…
May 31, 2020
The saga of Aeolian-Skinner Opus 908 This is a special organ. It was built at a special time and for installation in a special city. Most know the…
April 30, 2020
From the builder Having tuned and maintained the organ for about ten years, we had a good idea of what was needed to get the organ back into first…