First Baptist Church of Warsaw donated an analog organ to the Warsaw Community High School Performing Arts Center for school and community concerts. Pictured (L to R) are Judie Meulink, former president of Classic Arts Programs and now the artistic director of the Lakeland Youth Chorale; Lori Widman, president of Classic Arts Programs; Ben Essick, Classic Arts vice president; and Cassandra Petrie, WCHS choir director. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
First Baptist Church of Warsaw donated an analog organ to the Warsaw Community High School Performing Arts Center for school and community concerts. Pictured (L to R) are Judie Meulink, former president of Classic Arts Programs and now the artistic director of the Lakeland Youth Chorale; Lori Widman, president of Classic Arts Programs; Ben Essick, Classic Arts vice president; and Cassandra Petrie, WCHS choir director. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
First Baptist Church of Warsaw, Classic Arts Programs and the music department of Warsaw Community High School worked together to have an organ permanently in the school for community and educational activities.

“We’re glad to partner with our local fine arts friends in this way,” said First Baptist Church of Warsaw Pastor Steve Rahn in a provided statement. “We are thrilled that the organ is going to be used, and used well, right here in the Warsaw community for years to come. It’s a beautiful instrument and we’re thankful it will continue to be a blessing in our hometown.”

Lori Widman, president of Classic Arts Programs, said the whole process began about two years ago when a concert featuring Dan Forrest’s “Requiem for the Living” was planned.

“We were going to perform this work two weeks after everyone shut down for COVID, so we were in the process of getting ready then,” she said.

Judie Meulink, former president of Classic Arts Programs and now the artistic director of the Lakeland Youth Chorale, said the organ is such an integral part of the piece and WCHS didn’t own one.

“And we were, at the time, planning to use some of the school choir singers, so it was this big thing that had to happen here,” Meulink said. “So, at the time, First Baptist Church said, ‘We have an organ we want to get rid of.’ And the choir director here said, ‘We want an organ.’ So, our organization - Classic Arts - decided we’ll make it happen. And, literally, the day that (Classic Arts Vice President) Ben (Essick) was going to bring it in was the day the school closed for COVID.”

Fast forward almost two years to the day later, the organ was finally moved to the WCHS Performing Arts Center.

“We’re all thrilled to be a part of this move that is going to benefit so many people in the community. It’s helping First Baptist, it’s helping us and our concert, it’s helping the high school and their future performances. And the Grace Wind Ensemble is actually going to be using it first in the next week or two here in a performance. So it’s going to get some good use. There’s a lot of life left in that old organ,” Widman stated.

Moving the organ to its permanent home at WCHS came with some unexpected expenses, she said. “But it’s an investment for sure.”

Essick said he’s moved a lot of things in his career and moving the organ was “just par for the course.”

“We did not realize we were going to have to tear out some structural elements to part of the church to get the subwoofers out and everything like that, but Terry Ellis, their maintenance guy, helped me with that and was there to help me get stuff moved out. But, it was quite the chore,” Essick said.

They got it all into a trailer and hauled it over to WCHS. About four or five guys helped Essick with the move.

Another thing they didn’t anticipate, he said, was that foam around the cone of the subwoofers was deteriorated beyond use.

“So our organ technician took those home, redid that foam and reinstalled them because all the speakers are really tuned for this system, for this organ, so we really needed to have those, but being that it came from a much smaller application, we have beefed it up with a secondary subwoofer just to be able to give that beautiful organ sound that is just a wonderful thing to have,” Essick said.

The organ originally was installed brand new in 1984 in the old First Baptist building where CVS is located now at the corner of Detroit and Center streets, he said. The organ and piano were taken out of that building because the repairs to that building would have cost more than building a new structure. Widman estimated that was sometime in the 1990s.

“It’s been around a long time, but it’s in really nice shape, and thanks to Ben and his efforts, now we have some awesome newly worked speakers and they’re all going to be a part of the package that will stay here at the PAC,” Widman said.

Essick said it really is a fully functional organ and a couple of technicians fine-tuned it Monday for the upcoming concerts.

Cassandra Petrie, WCHS choir director who also one of the soloists for the upcoming “Requiem for the Living” concert, said she was “super excited” about the organ.

“We tried to do this a couple years ago,” she said. “I had looked for an organ donation for our holiday concert, so the church reached out to me, kind of last second, and they said it was a very large organ and it wouldn’t be something that could move very easily, so we went with a smaller organ that we just got out of somebody’s basement.”

Petrie first saw the organ when it was delivered to WCHS. “And then I was like, ‘Whoa!’”

She said one tradition she started is that with every holiday concert that the WCHS choirs do they include Handel’s “Hallelujah!” chorus from “The Messiah.”

“You can do that with piano, but it’s more stylistically appropriate to do it with organ, and then we’ve been lucky to have members of our string department come and also play for that. Everybody in choir sings that altogether, so (the organ) makes it that much more special, and I hope that we can come up with some other things (to use the organ with),” Petrie said. “Ever since getting the organ, the students are like, ‘We need to do ‘Phantom of the Opera’!”

Widman said the organ introduces students to a new sound that some of them may not have heard before as a lot of churches don’t have organs anymore.

Petrie said the students seeing a more legitimate instrument like the organ may hopefully spark their interest in learning about new instruments.

Essick said one of the things they wanted to do with the organ itself was to make it more adaptable for multiple uses.

“The adaptability is, is that both of our speaker systems, one of them is unpluggable so that you can move it off and you can only use one of the speaker system carts, if you will, so that if you’ve got a large orchestra on the stage but you have small space, but you want this organ, we’ve got the ability to be able to do that,” he said.

The organ, due to appreciation, is probably worth somewhere north of $75,000 to $90,000. The original price paid for the organ and everything in 1984 was around $27,000.

“You can’t find this type of organ (now) because it’s analog. A lot of organs today are digital where you hook them up to a computer and you can fine-tune it within a computer program. But this has circuitry on it that is definitely analog, but unless you find it in a church, you can’t find these anymore,” Essick said.

Widman said the “cool” thing about it is that now there is a community venue with an organ.

Classic Arts Programs will present Dan Forrest’s “Requiem for the Living” at 7 p.m. March 27 at the WCHS PAC. Meulink said the first half will be children’s choirs, including the Lakeland Youth Chorale and the Bremen Children’s Choir. The second half will be the adult community choirs. The work features the Lakeland Community Choir, the Lancer Chorus from Grace College and nine orchestral members from the Wagon Wheel Symphony of the Lakes, as well as the organ. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at www.classicartsprograms.com.

The organist for the concert is Paul Satre, the principal organist at the Moody Church in Chicago where he has performed on several recordings of piano and organ music.