In 1991 Casavant Fréres completed the construction and installation of a 4-manual, 67 rank mechanical action pipe organ, Opus 3689, in the new sanctuary at Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, California. In 1994, the organ was heavily damaged in the Northridge earthquake. The console, tracker mechanisms and chests along with other wooden components were destroyed by water sprinklers having been set off by the severe motion of the quake.
In 1996, Robert Tall & Associates, Inc. was awarded the contract to rebuild and enhance the pipes with digital additions controlled by a new state-of-the-art Rodgers 4-manual console. Sixty of the sixty-seven Casavant pipe ranks were repaired and incorporated in the new specification. The rebuilt and enhanced instrument now contains 151 ranks, 118 speaking stops.
This magnificent instrument has lived to earn its own prestigious reputation among the most hesitant and discriminating musicians. It was featured in the 2004 AGO National Convention held in Los Angeles. We were pleased to receive this message of appreciation from Nancy Ruczynski, Bel Air Presbyterian Church organist for the past 11 years.
The Bel Air Rodgers hybrid organ remains to this date, one of Robert Tall & Associates, Inc. most visible and prestigious installations.
A Message from Nancy Ruczynski,
Bel Air Presbyterian Church
Our organ at Bel Air has been very reliable during the 11 years I have served as organist. And when we need a service call or have any kind of question, Rodgers responds right away. The congregation loves hearing many pieces from the traditional organ repertoire for preludes and postludes (they always give me great encouragement for my playing, which I love), but also enjoys hearing novel uses of the organ, such as a duet we recently did on Easter for organ and electric guitar.
Because the organ is about half digital and half pipes, plus midi sounds, we are able to use some novel effects in “orchestrating” pieces, such as on our hymnal version of Malotte’s Lord’s Prayer, which we did this past Sunday, using midi strings and harps blended together, plus flute, horn and chimes, along with the “traditional” organ sound with full pipes for the big ending.
Because the organ is half digital, we can adjust the tuning to anything we need (even when the organ pipes might be flat due to cold weather) — so we are always able to keep the organ perfectly in tune for playing with ensembles / orchestras, which happens quite frequently at our church. Even though our congregation worships in both traditional and contemporary services, our organ facilitates a connection between the two styles.
Often when kids from the preschool on campus are dismissed, they walk through the sanctuary and hear me practicing. This happened a few days ago. The kids are curious about the organ sound and stop with their parents to listen. I then invite them to the organ, and they have their first “lesson.” They sit on the bench and I put them right to work. They learn about the different sounds: the zimbelstern we call the “magic” button, and I often show them that first. The 32′ bombarde is loved by little boys for its farting sounds. Then I have them push the Tutti II button, because it is a button I have never once used in church — too loud. The children are told that Tutti II might blow up the windows, so of course they push it. Next they learn about the “zero” button (cancel), and that is fun to do, erasing everything. Soon after that comes chimes and harp, etc. Also the midi sounds such as rocket ship, thunder and birds. They are actually able to dial up the midi sounds, even though in preschool!
So I would say we have a lot of fun with this organ, and no one knows more than I (since I have been at the church for 11 years out of the organ’s 20 years of existence) just how reliable our Rodgers organ is.
Nancy Ruczynski Bel Air Church – Organist and Children’s Choir Director
Shepherd of the Hills is a mission outreach congregation of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and was formed in May of 2008. The goal was to find a permanent home in the growing northwest neighborhoods of Las Vegas and to share the saving love of Jesus with the people there.
For the first 9 years, Shepherd of the Hills worshiped and carried out ministry in an office building, alongside two insurance agencies. Worship was often accompanied by computerized music and recorded hymns. Volunteers prepared the services on computer and accompanied the singing by midi files.
In June of 2016, Pastor Tom Unke arrived to serve as the pastor of the mission congregation which had just begun planning a new worship and education building. Pastor Unke’s wife, Jackie, and his son, Zach, began to accompany worship on a simple Yamaha clavinova connected to the sound system. While plans were being made for the new worship center, a piano was purchased and the search for a suitable organ began. There simply was not much money in the budget to purchase a high priced instrument. The worship furnishings committee called several organ dealers in Las Vegas and even kept their eyes on Craigslist, hoping to find a diamond in the rough—a great used organ at a low price.
Robert Tall and Associates came to Pastor Unke with a proposal about the new Rodgers Inspire series that was not yet released. Bob thought it might be the perfect organ for the new, smaller worship building. At their first meeting, they had to talk over the sound of hammers and power tools as the construction had just begun. The timing could not have been more perfect. “The Lord had a wonderful plan for us to be able to build our new worship facility and to be able to enjoy a great worship instrument in this new organ,” said Pastor Unke.
When the people of Shepherd of the Hills heard about the opportunity to get this brand new organ, one donor stepped up and offered to pay for the organ herself. As the first Inspire organs were being created, the new facility in Las Vegas was approaching completion. Bob Tall and his assistant installed the brand-new organ in the church on Wednesday, May 16, 2018.
Jackie Unke, an organist for more than 25 years, was asked to play the organ for the first time the following day. “I never thought our new church would have a wonderful instrument like this in it. This organ has amazing sound and easily fills the entire space with wonderful music. It feels so comfortable to play. The features that are included on this organ are far more than I ever thought we’d be able to have with our budget. We’re so thankful to have this organ to lead our music and singing. What a precious blessing!” Needless to say, Mrs. Unke loves the organ.
Shepherd of the Hills is planning to begin worshiping in their new facility in June and will have its dedication on August 19, 2018. “We know that we will put this amazing organ to good use over the years to come—serving many people with the ministry of music and singing,” said Pastor Unke. “We really like the fact that as our congregation grows, we have an excellent organ that can grow with us and continue to be a centerpiece of our worship services. All the glory goes to Jesus.”
The new church will also feature a preschool beginning in the fall of 2018.
Check out Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran’s website at www.sothlv.org