Cooperation during Riverside church project delights leadership

Cooperation during Riverside church project delights leadership
Rev. Steve Goyer, Carl Zacheis, Lois Gurney, John Parkyn and Roger Colby pose with new organ console.

Leaders of most organizations know change is difficult. It may be especially challenging for a religious organization, which can often hold fast to tradition – sometimes to the detriment of the institution.

For the Rev. Steve Goyer, senior pastor at Riverside Presbyterian Church, one recent major change was one he wasn’t looking forward to leading but, as it turned out, Goyer said it was one of the best experiences he had ever gone through with his flock.

“The love, the passion that everyone has for the instrument and the level of cooperation from all the players…it’s been a really cooperative community event,” said Goyer about the 56-month project to replace the church’s 1927 Moller pipe organ.

Riverside Presbyterian has a deep commitment to liturgical and classical music, and the church is well known for having one of the best music programs among Jacksonville congregations, explained Goyer. Therein, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, was the rub: new pipe organ vs. digital organ.

Many members, including Goyer, were leaning toward the lower-priced digital solution while the musical purists in the congregation believed only a new pipe organ would do to ensure the rich musical history of Riverside Presbyterian would live on.

The 91-year-old organ’s original design was extremely compact and failed to address sound projection into the sanctuary, according to Carl Zacheis, chair of the organ replacement committee. “Sometime in about 1960, we think, the console was replaced, but it was a second-rate mechanism that left much to be desired.”

In the early 1970s, a leading organ consultant, Dr. Robert Baker, was brought in to address the problem and indicated that “the best thing would be to pull out the old organ and start over,” said Zacheis. Instead, the Moller Organ Company was contracted to rebuild the organ and replace the console at a cost of just a few thousand dollars less than the price of a new instrument.

In the late 1990s, the organ again needed attention and after an incomplete attempt at an overhaul, a variety of consultants all indicated Riverside Presbyterian needed to start over. A consultant for the organ in Jacoby Hall found the pipe chambers “to be a war zone and the organ to be unplayable,” said Zacheis. A reputable technician was brought in to “fix the mess” and the console was replaced with a third-rate console and the ivory keys were replaced with plastic.

A committee was formed in January 2014 and, for the past four-and-a-half years, Zacheis was the primary impetus behind this project. He wouldn’t give up the idea of a new pipe organ, according to Goyer, so under the guidance of John Parkyn, a St. Augustine consultant, the committee entertained proposals for pipe organs and digital organs, and was delighted to find a 108-rank hybrid pipe organ solution from R.A. Colby Organ Builders in Johnson City, Tenn.

“The first step was to consider the vision of the church as well as the musical program,” said Roger Colby, who built the organ with a three-keyboard console. “A good instrument will serve the congregation in worship as a foundational consideration. It should also be capable of playing a variety of organ literature with reasonable registration resources.”

When Colby inspected the existing instrument, he found a great deal of the pipework could be “reutilized to excellent advantage from both a musical and a stewardship perspective.”

He also said the enclosed pipe chamber openings, which faced each other across the chancel and were covered with grill cloth, significantly limited the sound emitted to the congregation. The solution included creating tonal openings in the great arch wall facing the sanctuary. That portion of the project was undertaken by The Haskell Company, which researched and examined stresses for the load-bearing arch wall, and by Lovejoy Construction, which created the opening and installed the steel frame built by Haskell.

Other work in the project included repairing and repainting the interior of the pipe chambers, repainting the water-damaged chancel ceiling, refinishing the floor, and a significant amount of electrical work to bring the building up to current standards to accommodate the new organ.

While the work inside the building was being done, Colby was building the new instrument with a lot of consultation from Parkyn and the church organist, Lois Gurney.

“One of the things that I enjoy greatly is laying out all the stops and controls of the console,” said Parkyn. “It takes a great amount of time to carefully consider the various factors coming into play. But, a well laid out console is such a joy for all those who will use it for decades to come.”

Parkyn added an invention of his own to the specification under “Miscellaneous Controls.” A number of years ago he developed a “Tuba Melody Sub” and for this console suggested a dual-purpose toe piston for moving forward or backward through settings of stops. “It is a first for the Colby Company and we think it might be a first in this country,” he said.

Colby began installation June 18 and the Riverside Presbyterian congregation heard the new organ for the first time Sept. 9. A worship celebration service is planned for 10:30 a.m., Oct. 28, to include choirs, instrumentalists, and a new work composed and played by Andy Clarke, the church’s former organist and choirmaster.

The entire project was funded by a capital campaign, to which an unnamed donor matched funds in order to ensure that organ music could be taught to children.

Throughout the process Goyer was delighted and gratified to see the church’s mission statement play out. “A Movement for Reconciliation” had been adopted by the congregation’s governing body and the staff for the purpose of becoming people who work toward reconciliation with their neighbors and within themselves.

“The last thing I wanted to do was raise money for the organ and, as the pastor, keep all the players in the right place, but it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” reiterated Goyer.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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