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New Fisk pipe organ delivered in Santa Fe

February 27, 2008
The Santa Fe New Mexican

The gift arrived Sunday morning in a not very festive big gray metal box on wheels — a 53-foot-long semi that had been driven from Gloucester, Mass. Now, at 10:30 a.m., it was parked on Grant Avenue between First Presbyterian Church and the under-construction bulk of Santa Fe Center.

The first things down the ramp hinted that someone had planned a business trip mixed with winter sports: snowboards, a bag of ski and ski and snow gear, big boxes of tools, a huge backpack, a bicycle. They belonged to employees of C.B. Fisk Inc., the firm that sent the truck. Moving dollies, wheeled tables and furniture pads and blankets followed.

As gawking drivers edged their cars by, people came out of the church and stood on the sidewalk — nearly 100 congregants ranging from Sunday School class youngsters to their parents, from eager teenagers to an expectant senior congregant in a wheelchair.

Then came the moment everyone was waiting for. Fisk vice president for operations Gregory Bover, who had flown in a few days before with three fellow staff members, handed down into eager hands the wrapped first piece of the church's new pipe organ.

A cheer went up. A gift First Presbyterian had given to itself and its worship, and to the musical life of Santa Fe, had finally arrived — one of the last steps in the congregation's multiyear,
$6 million renovation project.

Over the next four hours, through sunny warmth and just beating the onset of chilly rain, some 2,065 pipes of wood or metal, ranging from 16 feet to three-eighths of an inch long, would be unloaded. So would the blower mechanism, the console, miles of intricate wiring and scores of wooden pieces ranging from wind-chest parts to beautifully carved frames that will hold the façade pipes.

Every piece, whether meant to be seen or not, lived up to Fisk's reputation for sterling work: All were meticulously and even lusciously crafted.

"We are, just about — let me think for just a second — we're at just over 12,000 hours on this project," said Bover. "We'll be at 15,000 hours before we're done. This installation crew of four will be here for a month. Then the voicers will begin their work, in two-person teams, for a total of fourth months."

The organ will be completely installed in September. A dedication recital will take place in October; Larry Palmer of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, the project consultant, will be soloist.

The Fisk is big artistic news in a city and state with very few pipe organs. For one thing, it's the first new, large instrument Santa Fe has seen in almost 50 years. First Presbyterian's old pipe organ, a 1952 Austin, was sold when the remodeling started. The McNary Organ in St. Francis Auditorium, the unused pipe organ in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and the pipe organ in the Scottish Rite Center all predated it.

The M.P. Möller pipe organ in the Church of the Holy Faith was installed in 1961 and renovated in 2001. A tiny, locally built pipe organ was used at St. Bede's Episcopal Church for some years in the late 1980s and into the '90s.

With three manuals or keyboards, one pedal board, and
41 ranks, or sets of pipes, this Fisk should be an outstanding instrument. The company, founded in 1961 by the late Charles Fisk, is one of the best-known in the field. Fisk has built instruments for Harvard University, Wellesley College, Rice University, Stanford University, the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Minato Mirai Concert Hall in Yokohama, Japan, and Benaroya Hall in Seattle, among many others.

Like most of the company's instruments, the First Presbyterian acquisition is a tracker organ. Its pipes are sounded through mechanical actions controlled directly by the organist's fingers and feet, rather than by electricity. The technology goes back to Bach and before, and is extremely durable: Many organs made more than 300 years ago are still in regular use.

Before the unloading began, Bover addressed the helpers in the sanctuary. "It's time to give what we usually call my Henry V speech," he said, referencing Shakespeare's play. "But I can't use the 'we few, we happy' line with so many people here!

"Our first priority is safety," he stressed. "The best way to make sure we get through the day is to go slowly. We're not here to set any records for unloading the truck. So the first rule is, please don't rush.

"The second thing I want to say is, I don't know how many installations this is for me — 27 or 28. We've never had any major accidents or injuries. So I ask you for your patience.

"Let us tell you how to carry things," he added. "You may have carried heavy things before in your lives, but we have our particular way. Some things you carry today may be worth $10,000. So if we seem nervous, bear with us." In fact, the organ is estimated to cost a little more than $800,000.

Bover finished his address to applause, especially when he noted, "By the time we get done this afternoon, all 11 tons will be in here and it will look like an organ has exploded! But you will be able to have church here next Sunday."

Before being sent to Santa Fe, the organ was set up at Fisk headquarters for an exhibition that drew around 1,000 people, Bover said. Linda Raney, First Presbyterian's organist and director of music, was among those from the church who flew out for the event, and she played a number of selections on the instrument there.

Now, as she stood quietly inside the sanctuary, watching the organ pieces enter in the hands of her friends, her smile was huge. How did she feel?

Raney laughed. "I'm overly, overly, overly excited," she said. "It's like the biggest Christmas ever."

Contact Craig Smith at 986-3038 or [email protected].