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Organ Committee Update #3

From April through June our committee was unable to meet in person. We resumed meeting in July and discussed the importance of acoustics and their effect on singing and music in the church. Numerous handouts were distributed for our committee to read and study. (They can be read online at Acoustical deficiencies in our church mainly result from too much sound absorption from soft materials such as carpeting and pew pads. We learned that if acoustic improvements are to be made, they must be done before changes are made to the organ. Our committee voted to request up to $15,000 from the organ fund so that Scott Riedel and Associates from Milwaukee, Wisconsin might do an acoustical study for our entire worship space.


At our July meeting, we contacted the John-Paul Buzard Pipe Organ Builders of Champaign, Illinois and invited them to evaluate our organ and draw up a proposal based on the space available in our balcony. We also provided them with a suggested list of stops, including the sounds we feel our organ is missing.


On August 18, seven members of our organ committee visited four different churches in Saginaw to see and hear organs of different sizes, styles, and eras, and to compare them to our own organ. The “touring members” reported very perceptively on the four organs and locations. At one point during the tour, we also received an organ proposal from the Scott Smith Organ Company in Lansing, MI that was previously put together for St. Peter. After visiting the Saginaw area organs, our committee expressed a desire to hear other organs, especially ones by the Buzard Organ Company.


On August 31, Keith Williams from the Buzard Organ Company traveled to our church to examine our organ and put together a proposal for us to consider. From his visit, our committee was made aware of additional items that needed to be given consideration: pipe height, tuning issues for our current instrument, current HVAC issues, air flow and circulation in the balcony, proper placement of pipes, and balcony space. We took our meeting to the nave in order to look at possible balcony expansion to better accommodate the organ, choirs, handbells, piano, and instrumentalists. The possibility of an elevator was mentioned. We observed that our balcony is actually quite small for any developing music program.


A trip was planned in October to travel to Indiana and Illinois to hear organs built by the Buzard Organ Company. We will share the observations from that visit in our next report, as well as a list of six options we considered to address the problems of our current organ.

Organ Committee Update #2

At our last organ meeting in March before the Covid stay-at-home orders put our organ discussions on hold, our committee reviewed a list of problems with our organ as identified by Irene Beethe, Bob Schluckbier, Ruth Wardin, Jonathan Mueller, Brian Heinlein, and representatives from the Casavant, Buzard, and Scott Smith organ companies. The following list was compiled:


Mechanical Concerns


  • The control system that allows an organist to preset different combinations of sounds is no longer functioning. Attempts to repair it have been unsuccessful. Without this system, it is difficult for the organist to quickly change from one set of sounds to another.


  • The leather in the windchests and other areas is over 40 years old. The organ is in need of a complete and comprehensive overhaul.


  • A reoccurring cipher, a pipe that plays on its own, is getting progressively worse, indicating beginning problems with the valves in the windchests and failing leathers.


  • The blower for the Swell division has made unusual sounds, indicating potential problems in the future.


  • Key tops are coming unglued and pedal bushings are worn out. Both need refurbishing or replacing.


Tonal Concerns


  • There are very few bass sounds in the instrument. The lack of large bass pipes results in a weak foundation sound to the organ and overbearing, dominant upper tones.


  • The mixtures are too shrill and strident. This was the “in thing” for a short time when our organ was built.


  • The number of reed stops in our organ is inadequate for the size of our church and our needs. With only one reed available on the keyboards, it is often too soft to be used as a solo stop and too loud to be used as an accompaniment stop.


Functional Concerns


  • Due to pipe construction, some pipes do not stay in tune even after they have been tuned.



  • The organ is not adequately sized for our church. Ordinarily, a larger instrument with a larger palate of sounds appropriate for liturgy, congregation singing, and choir accompaniment would have been built.


  • There are no “in-between” (loud and soft) stops to accompany different sized congregations and choirs.


  • To compensate for its size, the organ plays very loudly in the balcony in order to reach the congregation below. Since the pipes speak directly into the ears of the choir members, they are overwhelmed by the organ’s volume during the singing of hymns and liturgy.


  • Accessibility problems make tuning pipes difficult. There are no walkways to get inside the organ due to the compact nature of the organ design.


  • The placement of the organ console in a fixed location in the center of the balcony places limits on the flexibility of the balcony configuration and usage. It also makes it difficult for choir members (especially children) to see the chancel during the service. Having a moveable console that could be turned to face different directions or moved to the side of the balcony would allow for greater flexibility for balcony musicians.


Our next report will share observations from an organ tour that members of our committee made over the summer, and will discuss the need for an acoustical study of our sanctuary.

Organ Committee Update #1


We invite you to share our journey of learning about our organ, its problems, and possible solutions for the future.


For the last few years, the Church Council and the Voters’ Assembly have been made aware that our church organ and perhaps the balcony space need considerable work and/or repair, including the potential to possibly replace our existing pipe organ. Organ deterioration has been occurring more rapidly than many people realize. As we sit in the pews, we do not notice many of the organ’s problems because of the skills of our organist. In the fall of 2019, a call went out seeking members of our congregation to serve on an organ committee. A committee was formed from both board representatives and members at large. The members of the committee are:

Don Burdo – Board of Education

Harry Claus – Member at Large

David Earley – Board of Trustees

Brian Heinlein – Music Director

Brad Hubbell – Congregation Chair

Glenn Hubbell – Church Council

Rev. Robert Koeppen – Member at Large

Marilyn Ludgin – Member at Large

Paul Moeller – Board of Trustees

Rev. Dr. William Morris – Senior Pastor

Andy Neuenfeldt – Board of Elders

Rockwell Scherzer – Member at Large

Richard Schultz – Member at Large

Mary Beth Strouse – Member at Large

Ruth Wardin – Organist

Meeting Summary

The organ committee began meeting regularly in February, 2020. We began by educating ourselves on the workings of a pipe organ. We watched a number of videos about the pipe organ, including how it functions and how it is built. We studied the differences between various types of pipes, including strings, diapasons, flutes, and reeds. We also began reading numerous articles regarding the differences between pipe organs over the centuries. Through our discussions, we became aware of several reputable organ building companies. Our current pipe organ was built by Casavant Frères in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec.


At our second meeting, we met in the balcony to view the construction of our current organ and its limitations. Mr. Heinlein demonstrated some of the tonal problems of the organ, along with the organ’s current mechanical failings. We discussed topics such as replacement vs. refurbishing, the costs associated with each, and the need to form a specific goal to direct the actions of our committee. Proposed drafts of a goal were reviewed and discussed. Our committee decided that we were not tasked with the process of financing the project, nor would we limit ourselves to a specific cost for an organ. Rather, we would work to recommend the best long-term solution to the congregation.


In March we discussed notes from our previous music director, Jonathan Mueller, regarding a meeting with a representative from the Casavant Organ Company about our existing instrument. The following main items were generally noted:

1.         The organ is in need of much repair.

2.         It was an “open stock” or “off the shelf” organ, not at all matched to our balcony and worship space.

3.         Even in good repair it would not be considered optimum for our space and worship needs.

As a result, we asked Brian Heinlein to draft specifics as to what an ideal organ would be at St. Peter. The committee also adopted the following goal and guiding principles for us to focus our work:

Suggested Goal


The goal of our committee is to ascertain the condition of the St. Peter Lutheran Church organ. Then, in accord with its strengths and weaknesses, recommend to the congregation repairing and improving, and/or replacing it, possibly to the point of purchasing a new pipe organ.

Historical – Theological Basis for Goal


Since the 1500s, the prominent instrument to accompany worship in the Lutheran Church has been a pipe organ. An organ has excellently served our congregation, choirs, and assisting instrumentalists as we offer our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. Its purposes are to lead the singing of the liturgy and hymns, to set the spirit of our worship throughout the church year, and to deepen our appreciation and understanding of the rich musical heritage of the Lutheran Church. We at St. Peter wish to continue in this tradition.

Guiding Principles to Achieve the Goal

The organ that is recommended:

a.         will need to match the size and acoustics of our worship space,

b.         will need the versatility and balance of sound for edifying worshippers through the song of the church,

c.         would be expected to serve the congregation for at least 100 years with proper care and maintenance, and

d.         will provide the best long-term value per dollar of the resources of the congregation.

(Note:  The committee planned to have their work completed by the end of August, 2020, but due to Covid-19 and the scope of our work, this goal was not met.)

Our next report will identify the specific problems of our organ, share observations from an organ tour that members of our committee made over the summer, and discuss the need for an acoustical study of our sanctuary.


Tel: 989-642-8188

2461 N. Raucholz Rd.

Hemlock, MI 48626


Tel: 989-642-5659


2440 N. Raucholz Rd.

Hemlock, MI 48626


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