Pipe organ gets new life at Tucson's Catalina United Methodist

2014-04-20T00:00:00Z 2014-07-03T12:01:15Z Pipe organ gets new life at Tucson's Catalina United MethodistBy Johanna Willett Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

For a senior pastor facing his third sermon on a Sunday morning, nothing lifts the spirit quite like the triumphant boom of a pipe organ.

Today, the Rev. Edward Bonneau, the senior pastor at Catalina United Methodist Church, joins his congregation in celebrating new life. For the first time since July, a pipe organ will accompany worship — just in time for the church’s Easter commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“When you hear the first strains of the processional hymn, and the organ cranks up and the choir processes and the acolytes lead them and the crucifix is in front, it’s energizing,” Bonneau, 62, said. “No matter how down you might have been at the moment, it just brings it back and brings the Spirit into our midst. You’re not alone.”

On this Resurrection Sunday, the church’s new pipe organ breathes life into pieces from the ailing instrument that was installed during construction of the sanctuary in 1956. About 80 percent of the pipework from the original organ was adjusted to fit the new organ console and added pipes, said Eric Johnson the head voicer for the project.

Even reusing old pipes, the project is a hefty one, costing the church about $750,000 to replace and upgrade the instrument.

After a bequest of $240,000 by congregation members Ralph and Shirley Morgan, church leadership would call on the congregation to come up with the remainder over three years.

Since the church dismantled the old pipe organ in July to ship to Quimby Pipe Organs Inc. in Missouri, it has made do without in services each morning.

The dedication today preludes a yearlong Catalina Organ Festival with special commissions by composers Craig Phillips, Dorothy Papadakos and Richard Webster.

The new pipe organ is the only working one in Tucson with four manuals, or keyboards. The previous organ has played host to many local organists, especially before the University of Arizona had a notable pipe organ for instruction or recitals.

Stardust “Dusty” Johnson, the widow of the UA organ professor Roy Johnson, remembers her husband using the instrument to teach students and give annual faculty recitals. He served as the organist for the church for about 10 years, despite the family’s church membership elsewhere.

Roy Johnson taught UA organ students for 29 years until he was murdered in 1995, coming back from an organ concert in Green Valley.

Dusty Johnson, 72, calls his days at Catalina United Methodist with music director David H. Williams “glory days.” The couple’s son, Eric Johnson, now works as head voicer for Quimby Pipe Organs, the company building Catalina’s new organ.

Now 53, he remembers turning pages for his father as he prepared for a recital. This project is more personal than others. Churchgoers remember him as a boy. Dusty Johnson brought doughnuts for workers many of the mornings, supporting her late husband, son and the “majesty (an organ) brings to worship.”

“It’s hard for me to see things go, but at the same time it’s wonderful,” she said of the organ replacement. “They’ll have a glorious new instrument. Roy would rejoice in that.”

About four years ago, the church, led by principal organist Dennis Grannan, began considering what to do about their Reuter pipe organ. This intrinsic part of Catalina’s musical worship had gone for more than 50 years without a cleaning and a variety of issues made it inadequate for the congregation.

The pipe organ needed saving.

“We only have a certain amount of words to express our emotions,” Grannan, 60, said. “I think music uplifts everyone. I think that’s part of the history of this church.”

Salvation for the pipe organ came with the Morgans’ donation. Suddenly, restoration became possible. The new Morgan Memorial Organ honors its first benefactors.

This organ has 58 ranks, or sets of pipes, meaning organists control sounds from more than 3,000 pipes. The facade of zinc pipes with gold throats stretches from floor to ceiling in the front of the sanctuary.

“This organ is going to enhance our worship space,” Bonneau said. “It’s going to bring eyes up, eyes toward the cross and remind them of God and Christ and that’s always our goal in worship. Musically, it directs eyes toward heaven, and visually it directs eyes toward heaven.”

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at jwillett@azstarnet.com or 573-4357.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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