Sweet Symphony:Organ is a Point of Pride

The Harrah Symphonic Organ Allen Haarrah, who designed the Harrah Symphonic Organ, plays the instrument in this photo, taken at the Forrest Burdette Memorial United Methodist Church, located at 2848 Putnam Ave., in Hurricane.

The Harrah Symphonic Organ is used at functions including church services and the PipeSounds Concert Series.

Become a Patron

Various levels of giving make it easy to help the PipeSounds Concert Series regardless of one's budget. Keep the music alive

The PipeSounds Concert Series is able to sustain season after season due in large part to the support received from Putnam County Bank, but also because of the Patrons of PipeSounds program initiated in the 2010-2011 concert season.

The Patrons of PipeSounds are those who, through four levels of giving, provide the financial means necessary to support and schedule future seasons of the concert series, as well as the development of educational opportunities for students from Putnam, Cabell, Lincoln, Mason and Kanawha counties.The four levels of giving move through $25 increments with "Pedals" giving anywhere from $20 to $50s,"Drawknobs"giving $50 to $75 dollars/'Keyboards" giving $75 to $100 and "Pipes"—the highest level — giving $100 or more.

Contributions made to the Patrons of PipeSounds are tax-exempt and can be mailed payable to "PipeSounds" at PipeSounds c/o Forrest Burdette Memorial United Methodist Church, 2848 Putnam Ave., Hurricane, W.V. 25526.

Additional information about the PipeSounds Concert Series and the Harrah Symphonic Organ is available at pipesounds.org. —Shermar Chantel

by Shermar Chantel
Community contributor
The Valley View
June 2014

The Forrest Burdette Memorial United Methodist Church, located at 2848 Putnam Ave., in Hurricane, is home to the second-largest symphonic organ in the  United States.

The organ was designed by Allen Harrah, of Charleston, and took more than $1 million and three years to construct. Fundraising efforts have primarily been executed by the United Methodists Women committee, who surpassed their original goal and gathered more than $250,000 in donations toward the construction of the Harrah Symphonic Organ. Incidentally, the committee also arranges the reception following each symphony played with the organ, which allows the audience an opportunity to meet the performer(s).

Ten Years
Agnes Henderson made the donation which made it pos­sible to begin renovations on the chancel area surrounding the altar and organ. Additionally, Hurricane Floral, located at 2757 Main St. and owned by Gloria and Chuck McCane, provides the floral arrangements and decorations for each symphony. Chuck McCane is also part of a team nicknamed the "Three Musketeers" and along with Jerry Lilly —whose wife, Karen Lilly, says "Anyone who has not yet experienced the Harrah Symphonic Organ at least once should give it a try, because the experience is overwhelming" — and Rusty Raines, they have come together to volunteer a significant amount of time as laborers for construction as well as maintenance of the organ.

Finally, the Putnam County Bank, run by president Jack Wilson, has been a dedicated financial supporter to the proj­ect through the very start to the current season. Without the community-minded donations of the bank, the Forrest Burdette Memorial United Methodist Church would not have the Harrah Symphonic Organ.

Though its official dedication ceremony was on Sept. 28, 2003, it remains a work in progress, as additions have already been made and there are plans to continue building on to the in­strument in the future. Currently, the Harrah Symphonic Organ is a six manual and pedal organ with 2,600 pipes and 465 draw knobs that produces more than 20,000 digital pipe notes. The Kurzwell 2600 MIDI Workstation and Roland/Rogers MX2000 MIDI Digital Sound Sampler have helped to add several hun­dred additional sounds and effects to the instrument. The organ itself sits elevated in relation to the audience at center stage and is able to digitally reproduce musical notes with the use of more than 10,000 watts of electricity to power 148 speakers strategi­cally placed around the congregational seating area.

Stop Knobs
The stop knobs of the Harrah Symphonic Organ appear above. appear above.
In addition to the various parts that are visible to the attendees, there is also a room under the stage that is used to conceal the blower that makes the pipes function properly. The pipes, which are professionally known as swells, took more than a year just to be constructed and fitted together perfectly. A multicultural amalgamation of American, German, English and French organ-building techniques were combined at a world-class level to create the Harrah Symphonic Organ.

When the organ was first constructed, it was used on a weekly basis, during the Sunday services, but since the previous minister's departure, it is now only played sometimes, by Nelda Hogan, during special services, such as those when Com­munion is offered.

Despite being used less frequently during traditional church services, the organ still gets plenty of use. Local students studying music drop by to use it for practice. There are also educational events scheduled regularly by the surrounding colleges and high schools. However, the most frequent function of the organ is to serve as the musical instrument of the PipeSounds Concert Series, which is celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. 

The 2013-2014 concert series included five events culminat­ing with the season finale, which was free to the public.

The first event of the season, a classical concert, was held Sept. 22, 2013, and performed by Christopher Houlihan, who graduated with his masters from the Julienne School of Music, in New York, and has performed in almost three dozen states, plus three other countries. The Christmas 2013 program was performed by Rodney Barbour on Dec. 1. The "Symphonic Pops Concert" was held on Feb. 9 and included two perform­ers: David Hegarty on the Harrah Symphonic Organ and Mike Barnhouse on the Concert Grand Piano, an item which was also donated to the church by Harrah.

The 1929 silent movie "Spite Marriage," starring Buster Keaton and Dorothy Sebastian, was shown at the Forrest Burdette Memorial Church on Friday, March 28. The film, about a wealthy movie actress who gets dumped by her co-star and is then set up with a fake marriage by her promoters and agents to make her former flame jealous, was shown while John Schwandt used the Harrah Symphonic Organ to produce the musical backdrop and soundtrack of the film.

David Donathan, minister of music and organist for Christ Church United Methodist, in Charleston, played the final concert of the season on Sunday, May 11. This particular show celebrated the 10th anniversary of the PipeSounds Concert Series and the admission fee was waived for all. Donathan used the Harrah Symphonic Organ and was accompanied by a brass quintet and percussionist, while presenting "Fanfare for the Common Man," a piece composed in 1942 in response to the speech "The Century of The Common Man," given by Henry Wallace, the acting vice president of the United States, earlier that year.

The most frequent function of the Harrah Symphonic Organ is to serve as the musical instrument of the PipeSouunds Concert Series.

Photos by Ken Burns
The The foot pedals of the Harrah Symphonic Organ appear above.
The Harrah Symphonic Organ is the second-largest of its kind in the U. S.