, Muskogee, OK

December 5, 2012

Pipe organ to play again

Civic center event to mark grand re-opening today

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— After nearly 10 years of silence, Muskogee Civic Center’s pipe organ is making its grand music again.

It took an 86-year-old theater organ console to give it new life.

The Civic Center’s five-rank pipe organ will have a grand re-opening at a 6 p.m. concert today. Live organists will perform with pre-recorded selections from the organ’s past.

The organ has been part of the Civic Center since it was built in the 1960s, though few people even knew it was there, said Wren Stratton, a former Muskogee mayor.

The organ’s console was ruined in 2003 when a roof hatch was left open and rain fell on it, she said. The organ’s 389 pipes, located in rooms on both sides of the organ, were not damaged, she said.

Since then, organ renovations proved to be too expensive, Stratton said, adding that refurbishing would have cost about $20,000.

A donation from a retired music teacher and work from an organ builder helped give the old organ a new chance earlier this year.

Jeff Smith of Broken Arrow donated a console from an organ his parents had for at least 30 years. The organ originally was a Wurlitzer built in 1926 for a Utah theater, said Tulsa organ builder Dan Kimes.

Smith said his mother, Dorothy Smith, played the organ until she died several years ago. He said his father died in May.

“We had known Dan Kimes for years,” Jeff Smith said, adding that Kimes needed only the console and relay. Other parts of the family organ went to other homes, including Will Rogers High School and the Circle Cinema in Tulsa, Smith said.

Kimes said he and Hervey Barbour of Pryor installed the console in the room where the former Civic Center console was.

The Civic Center’s first organ was originally built for First Baptist Church of Muskogee, Stratton said. It was installed at the Civic Center when city officials saw its potential for entertainment.

Don’t expect a formal high-church sound when people play the Civic Center organ tonight, however.

A movie theater organ has a more “romantic” sound than one found in a church, Kimes said. The organ has five ranks, or sets of pipes with different voices.

Stratton, a long-time Muskogee resident, said she doesn’t recall hearing the organ at the Civic Center.

Yet, she sees its potential.

“I can see someone playing the national anthem on it,” she said. “Or it can be played during a commencement, whenever anyone needs more formal music.”

Stratton said an old organ at Miami’s Coleman Theater is played when the theater shows silent movies.

“Wouldn’t it be fun to have those old black and white movies here,” she said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogee

If you go

WHAT: Grand opening of refurbished Civic Center organ.

WHEN: 6 p.m. today.

WHERE: Muskogee Civic Center.

ADMISSION: Free, light refreshments will be served.