World-renowned organist to play at local church

The Harrah Symphonic Organ

Frederick Swann will present a concert of classical music on the Harrah Symphonic Organ at the Forrest Burdette United Methodist Church, Feb. 22.

BY Carolyn Harmon
The Putnam Standard
Tuesday, February 17, 2009

HURRICANE - In addition to thousands of solo recital presentations throughout North America and many foreign countries, Frederick Swann performs frequently with symphony orchestras and choral organizations.

PipeSounds, A Community Festival of Organ Concerts Organization is announcing a classical organ concert, featuring Swann, to take place at Forrest Burdette Memorial United Methodist Church.

This, his third concert on the Harrah Symphonic Organ at Forrest Burdette United Methodist Church, is his last. Swann is retired and returns to Hurricane as a special favor to his many friends there.

He serves as Organist Emeritus of the Crystal Cathedral; Organist Emeritus of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles; Organ Artist-in-residence at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, California; University Organist, Artist-in-residence, and Artist Teacher of organ at Redlands University.

What brings such a big star to a church in Hurricane?

According to Pastoral Assistant Don Gatewood it is the organ, built by Allen Harrah.

The Harrah Symphonic Organ took Harrah and volunteers three years to build. It is the only one like it in the world, Gatewood said.

The organ is a six manual and pedal organ with 456 draw knobs, 2,600 actual pipes and more than 20,000 digital pipe notes.

The digital reproduction of sounds in the organ creates a pallet of sounds that seldom exist in a single instrument.

Harrah's interest was sparked at the age of 13 when he requested to keep an old church organ.

He worked on it in his basement and got it playing. Harrah built the first commercially successful combination organ, both pipe and digital, in 1972.

In the late 1970s he founded the Harrah/Van Zoeren Pipe Organ Company which CBS purchased and incorporated it into the Rodgers Company, of which Harrah was president.

After Harrah retired, he came to Forrest Burdette Memorial United Methodist Church, and at the request of the United Methodist Women, Harrah made a proposal to the trustees in 2000 to build a combination organ.

The proposal included remodeling the chancel area to accommodate the pipes, organ console, and to provide enhanced acoustics.

Organ console The Harrah Symphonic Organ at Forrest Burdette is the only one like it in the world.
The dedicatory concert for the organ was Sept 2003.

"He [Harrah] is so knowledgeable, having built the organ, he could play it and know if there is a note off somewhere in the sections of the organ," Gatewood said.

According to Gatewood, the organ was built to be both a church and community organ

and PipeSounds is the community aspect of that, which manages the concert series in the church.

The organ has attracted world-renowned musicians, such as Richard Morris, Joyce Jones, David Hegarty, and for the third time, Frederick Swann.

"They know about the organ and the fame of it has spread all over the world," Gatewood said.

Since the dedication, in 2003, audiences coming to PipeSounds concerts have been good, Gatewood said. Putnam County Bank has sponsored each concert, which has really helped, he said.

Frederick Swann will perform Feb. 22 at 3 p.m. at Forrest Burdette United Methodist Church, 2848 Putnam Ave. in Hurricane.

Tickets are $10 and are available at the church office or at Hurricane Floral on Main Street in Hurricane.

For more information, call 304-562-5903.

Go to the Putnam Standard home page.