Organ more than a pipe dream at Hurricane church

Harrah at organ
File photo/The Herald-Dispatch Allen Harrah of Hurricane demonstrates the power of an organ he designed and built for Forrest Burdette Memorial United Methodist Church in Hurricane in this 2004 file photo. The organ features 2,600 pipes, 148 speaker systems, and several computers to deliver a wide variety of sounds.


The first PipeSounds concert of the 2016-2017 season is set for 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, at Forrest Burdette Memorial United Methodist Church, 2848 Putnam Ave., Hurricane.

Rob Richards, house organist at Disney's historic El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, will perform a Pops concert on the Hurrah Symphonic Organ.

Richards has performed 4,000 shows at the El Capitan since 1999, playing the legendary Wurlitzer pipe organ originally installed in San Francisco's Fox Theatre.

Admission is $10 for adults. Students and children are free. The program is sponsored by the Putnam County Bank. The United Methodist Women of Forrest Burdette will host a reception following the concert.

. For more information or directions to the church, check the web page, or call the church office, 304-562-5903.

For The Herald-Dispatch

The Putnam Herald
August 26, 2016

There is only one musical organ like it in the entire world.

The Rev. Don Gatewood, chairman of the PipeSounds committee, said the PipeSounds concert series showcases that organ.

The series features four concerts per year on the Harrah symphonic organ at the Forrest Burdette Memorial United Methodist Church, 2848 Putnam Ave. in Hurricane.

Gatewood said the concerts are classical, a silent movie, Christmas, and the pops.

"That covers the spectrum of the organ orchestration," Gatewood said.

The organization is still trying to confirm the date and the artist for the fall concert, which will likely take place between September 18 and October 9. The Christmas concert is scheduled and contracted. It is at 3 p.m. on Nov. 27, the first day of Advent.

The artist for the Christmas concert is Rodney Barbour from Cincinnati, who will perform in the series for his sixth time.

"He is a real favorite with the audience," Gatewood said. "He uses a tremendous amount of the colors of the organ - much more than the common organist would. Rodney is also a good performer."

Barbour, originally from Huntington, was the organist for the Cincinnati Reds at one time.

"He's currently an organist in a church in Cincinnati," Gatewood said. "He's superb - both on the organ and in terms of entertainment."

Another performer confirmed is for the classical concert at 3 p.m. on March 26, 2017. Nathan Laube is scheduled for this performance.

"Nathan is one of the younger, up-and-coming stars for the organ," Gatewood said.

Laube, who travels the world performing, is an assistant professor of organ at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Laube holds a master's degree in organ from Musikhochschule in Stuttgart, Germany. He earned his bachelor's degree at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

"That's really one of the top schools for music," Gatewood said.

Gatewood said Laube studied under one of "the really great organists of today" - Alan Morrison.

While three of the concerts are held on Sunday afternoons, the silent-movie concert takes place on a Friday evening.

"This is simply because we need the sanctuary to be dark for a silent movie," Gatewood said.

The date for the silent-movie organ concert is Feb. 10, 2017. The featured artist is R. Jellani Eddington. Examples of films used during past silent-movie concerts include those made in the 1920s, such as movies from comics Charlie Chaplain, Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy.

"It's usually in that realm," Gatewood said.

The series has also featured full-length silent movies such as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "The Mark of Zorro."

Gatewood said the first time the church hosted the silent-movie concert, the organist mentioned how concert attendees would hear the organ for about five minutes.

"He said, 'After that, you'll forget about the organ because you'll be so engaged in the movie,'" Gatewood said. "He was right! The organ accompanies the silent movie and plays all of the emotions that you see in the movie."

Gatewood said the organ at Forrest Burdette has 2,600 actual pipes, and more than 20,000 electronic pipe sounds.

"It's a total symphony," Gatewood said. "It is called a symphonic organ."

To provide an idea as to the size of the organ, it has 456 draw knobs and six keyboards. The church held its first concert with the organ on Sept. 28, 2003.

"There is no other organ in the world like this one," Gatewood said. "It was built exclusively at Forrest Burdette by Alan Harrah."

Harrah was previously the president of the Rogers Organ Company. Gatewood said Harrah is the inventor of this combination organ - the organ of pipes and electronics. "He built the first one while he was with the Rogers Organ Company," Gatewood said.

Gatewood said the organ company wasn't interested in making this type of organ available commercially.

"He got two or three other guys together, and they worked an entire weekend," Gatewood said. "On Monday they had a combination organ."

Gatewood said after the organ company saw what was accomplished in that short period of time and the quality of what was produced, they began producing the organ on the market.

Harrah graduated from Stonewall Jackson High School in Charleston in 1952. Gatewood said Harrah has been interested in developing organs since he was 8 years old. Gatewood said it took three years to build the organ at the church, starting in 2000.

"There were three retired members of the church who assisted him in building the organ; All of the woodworking, the boxes the pipes sit on - the air boxes - all of those were built in Alan's woodworking shop in his garage," Gatewood said. "Everything wooden was done here except the organ cabinet itself."

For more information on the PipeSounds community series of organ concerts, visit, or call 304-562-5903.

Go to the Putnam Herald home page.

Go to the PipeSounds home page.