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Church dedicates brand-new organ
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First Presbyterian Church choir members Brad Brannon, left, and Benji Stegner, right, rehearse Sunday morning before church services. The church’s new pipe organ was dedicated during Sunday’s service.

Through the songs of Johann Sebastian Bach and other well-known composers, First Presbyterian Church got a taste Sunday of its brand-new organ.

James Mellichamp, the provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Piedmont College, headlined the church’s dedicatory recital for the 2,249-pipe organ.

“New organs can be like children sometimes,” Mellichamp said. “They’re going to act up. They may act up in front of company.”

In an hourlong recital Sunday evening, Mellichamp played 10 songs that he said showed the range and the capabilities of First Presbyterian Church’s new organ.

The organ behaved quite well.

As a 17-year-old student of Mellichamp, Nicoli Peek watched his teacher intently throughout the concert.

Peek said he enjoyed how the different tones of the new organ blended together.

“It’s a different experience,” Peek said. “It’s a good experience just to see the design of the organ.”

Peek was one of at least 15 organists who came to hear Mellichamp play.

Over the past several months, employees of Parkey Organ Builders installed each of the new organ’s 2,249 lead and aluminum pipes and carefully tuned them.

“We’ve really gotten quite attached to them,” said Michael Henry, director of music at First Presbyterian, at the end of the concert.

And in the months of its installation, the congregation of First Presbyterian worshipped with piano music.

“For many of us, we have thoroughly enjoyed that, so we haven’t missed the organ all that much,” said church member Cleda Loceye.

And Loceye said she learned a little about the process of organ building. Each Sunday, she said she could see the progress.

“It has been an exciting experience for us to watch it go in,” said Loceye. “... It has been very exciting to see the progress, and then to hear it finally.”

The new organ is twice the size of the original. But the church did not completely discard the organ that provided their music for more than 30 years.

Mellichamp consulted the church throughout the installation of the new organ, which congregation members have been enjoying already for the past three Sundays.

Organ builders were able to incorporate pipes from the church’s original organ into the new one, Henry said.

The previous instrument was installed in the mid-1970s when First Presbyterian Church was built on Enota Avenue, Henry said.

“We had for some time dreamed of being able to enlarge it and expand it and make some changes in it that would make it a better instrument, a more all-purpose instrument,” Henry said.

The church was able to fulfill that dream this year, thanks to a gift from the co-founder of Fieldale Farms, Joe Hatfield.

Before Hatfield died in 2008, he had a notary public come to his side at the hospital to change his will and designate some of his money for the pipe organ restoration at First Presbyterian.

Hatfield and his wife, Carrie, have been members of the church since 1954, their normal spot being a seat in front of the choir and the organ, Henry said.

“It was a wonderful surprise to get news that he had done that,” Henry said. “... It’s a wonderful gift ... and I’m sure it will, over the coming decades, be a very meaningful part of our worship experience and music ministry at First Presbyterian.”

Times staff writer Jeff Gill contributed to this report.

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