By PAUL A. BARRA
MOUNT PLEASANT — When the electronic organ at Christ Our King parish needed replacing, the congregation decided to go with a traditional pipe organ despite the fact that the suburban Charleston church is so crowded on weekends that the only room is in the sanctuary.
Workers are now assembling the instrument on the wall behind the altar. The crucifix will be repositioned as a suspended artifact in front of the warm wooden colossus with its array of 1951 pipes in two cases. The Holtkamp organ is massive and subdued at the same time.
“One reason we chose Holtkamp is that they recognized this church as a chamber music space and the instrument will be voiced for an intimate sound,” said Christ Our King music minister Bill Becknell. “And it’s first-class quality.”
The Choir Case, the smaller of the two pipe boxes (at 21′ X 7′), also contains a swell box with shutters and inch and a half thick walls; its purpose is to modulate the two dozen different sounds that the huge instrument can naturally produce from its 35 ranks and 24 stops. The organ console will be floor-level and moveable.
Holtkamp is the nation’s oldest organ company. Rick Nelson, who is the foreman of the woodworking crew from Cleveland that is spending three weeks assembling the organ, said that it is a unique instrument.
“It’s one-of-a-kind and was styled for the architecture of this room. After we’re done putting the pipes in, another crew will come in to tune it and make the sound fit the room,” Nelson said.
Woodworker Todd Jordan said that the wood he was installing was “the highest quality oak” with straight grain.
All that was music to the ears of Vic DelBene, who chairs the parish organ committee with his wife Marge. The church needed to raise $400,000 for the organ and for some design changes planned by William Schickel of Cincinnati to accompany the new instrument. The church will be upgraded in looks and sound. The scope of the organ project did not please everybody at COK, but it apparently pleased enough.
“The parishioners were very generous and we had some major benefactors,” Dr. DelBene said. “The people realized that we needed a real instrument that is going to uplift and support the live music we already have.”
DelBene is a physician at the Medical University of South Carolina, where he was involved with the purchase of a new organ for St. Luke Chapel. He is also a pianist who built his own harpsichord. He said that the music ministry is alive and diverse at COK. That diversity includes two children’s choirs, two bell choirs, a funeral choir, and a contemporary orchestra and choral in addition to the full church choir. The East Cooper Concert Series also plays at the Catholic church.
Instead of the usual thermometer to chart the income from the organ drive, Christ Our King has a set of organ pipes on a wall board. Rising gold paint shows that the parish has donated $350,000 so far, above and beyond the regular offertory collections.
Becknell is attempting, he said, to temper his excitement at the prospect of incorporating the new Holtkamp into the parish musical repertory. The purchase was a long time coming: in 1979, when the church was first built, the possibility of a pipe organ was investigated, but the money was not there; 10 years later, Hurricane Hugo damage ended another attempt; in the 80s the parish poured its energies and resources in ECCO, a social ministry outreach; and in the 90s, Christ Our King-Stella Maris School demanded a major expansion.
By the time the parish decided to advance plans to buy a pipe organ, membership had grown to such an extent that every available square centimeter of the church was being used.
“Chris Holtkamp said, ‘The question is, how do we hide a gorilla on the back wall?'” Becknell said. Instead of hiding it, the organ has become an integral part of the worship space. It will be further illuminated by a musical piece commissioned especially for it from composer David Clark Isley. Abbot Francis Kline, who consulted on finding the Holtkamp, will play the Isley composition at an Oct. 3 dedication ceremony.