Image courtesy of  Emmalee Schaumburg

Image courtesy of Emmalee Schaumburg

By Suzanne Hogan, KCUR 89.3

Getting the pipe organ Opus 22 installed and settled in its new Prairie Village home at Village Presbyterian Church was no small task.

It's a massive instrument. Standing 24 feet tall, it takes up the whole back wall of the church. It weighs 17 tons, and has 3,600 pipes inside. Some of the pipes are as tall as 16 feet, while others are just a few inches. And each pipe has been carefully voiced so it sounds just right, a process that took 40,000 hours of labor.

"I mean you can't just throw them in there," says  musician Elisa Bickers. "It's got to be measured, and the weight correct and the wind correct. So it's really a fascinating meld of art and science to get it just right."

Bickers is the principal organist at the church. She plays a lot of different instruments, but the organ is her favorite. She's been playing since she was 12.

"It can create such gentleness or such power," she says. Organs offer an endless variety of sounds, and no two organs are the same. And Bickers couldn't be more excited about playing this new organ. It's a major improvement from the old one.

She used to call that one 'old wheezy' because of the way wind would escape from some of the pipes. Ten years ago the congregation created a pipe organ committee to address what to do with 'old wheezy.'

They brought in consultants, considered the acoustics of the room and eventually hired organ builders Richards Fowkes and Co., of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to build Opus 22. The cost: two million dollars.

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