Hurricane’s Harrah Symphonic organ among world’s best

The Harrah Symphonic Organ at Forrest Burdette Memorial United Methodist Church, Hurricane, W.Va.
Photo courtesyForrest Burdette United Methodist Church


BY Bill Ellis  


The Putnam Herald

Friday, October 27, 2006


     When I was a senior at Hurricane High School, the Rev. Ralph McCord was the pastor of the Hurricane Methodist Church and his son, Tom, was in our class. The church is now known as the Forrest Burdette Memorial United Methodist Church and the Rev. Dr. Dan Hogan is the pastor.

    For years, many in the con­gregation had dreamed of some day having a pipe organ in the sanctuary. The Harrah Symphonic organ is a "dream come true." The following words describing this magnificent instrument were written by Pastoral Assistant Don Gatewood.

    "In 1997 Allen Harrah began attending Forrest Burdette and soon expressed a desire to build a memorial pipe organ. At the request of the United Methodist Women, a proposal was made to the Trustees in the year 2000 by Mr. Harrah to build a combination Pipe and Digital organ. The proposal included remodeling the chancel area to accommodate the pipes, the organ console and also to enhance the acoustics of the music area.    

    "The remodeling work was concluded in October 2000. Mr. Harrah designed the console and chose R. A. Colby, Inc. of Johnson City, Tenn., to build the console in June 2001. The Walker Technical Company of Zionsville, Pa., was chosen to build, install and voice all the digital components of the organ. Mr. Harrah handcrafted the balance of the organ.       

    "The organ is a six manual and pedal organ with 456 draw knobs that has 2,600 actual pipes and more than 20,000 digital pipe notes. It is the largest draw knob console in the world.

    "The digital reproduction of sound in this instrument is supported by 148 speaker systems and has 10,400 watts of power bringing to life the great works and sounds created by various pipe artisans living and dead. This creates a pallet of sounds that seldom exist in a single instrument.


    "Through the use of computers, there is an ability to graft the best of all pipe organ parameters together, making the reproduced sounds of various builders work together in one magnificent instrument. This organ is an example of the melting pot of nations with German, French, English and American schools of organ building in concert together."

    Recently, I invited Bud and Mildred Roberts to hear Alan Morrison, one of America's premier concert organists. My friends attended and responded: "It was just wonderful. We have never heard anything like it. Everyone should attend."

    That is exactly the way I feel about it. Right here in our own Putnam County is one of the great organs of the world and it is played in concert several tunes each year by the world's concert masters.


    On Nov. 12,3 p.m., David Hegarty will present patriotic music in honor of Veterans Day. Recognized as one of the world's best, he is a prolific composer of church music and has appeared in such diverse venues as Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center and the Crystal Cathedral.


    Mike Barnhouse, one of the finest organists and pianists in all of West Virginia, will present a piano concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19. Most of the concerts cost $7; however, this one will be for a free-will offering for a very worthy cause.

    Attending musical concerts at Forrest Burdette and meeting national and internationally known artists is one of the many pluses of living in Putnam County.

Bill Ellis is an award-winning, syndicated columnist who lives In Scott Depot. In this column, "Putnam in Perspective," which appears weekly in the Putnam Her­ald, Ellis takes a look at the history of Putnam County and the people who have made it great. Any feedback or story ideas are welcome at, or you may write to him in care of The Putnam Herald, P.O. Box 2017, Huntington, WV, 25720.

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