by Claire Bushong
Juget-Sinclair, Op. 46
Sinai Lutheran Church
Yesterday the altar flowers at Sinai were provided by a member of the congregation as a way of expressing gratitude for the music program. While I have never felt under-appreciated in this congregation, it was another reminder that the beautiful Juget-Sinclair organ installed just about a year ago is helping us serve the congregation more effectively than we were able to before its arrival.
I had many reasons for coming to Sinai as organist in 2002. I knew of their commitment to liturgical worship and their history of supporting music in the church and in the community. Their beautifully resonant worship space encourages vigorous congregational singing and is a satisfying space for other music-making. But the organ was disappointing, and I was not the only one aware of its limitations. Ideas for augmenting the instrument had been proposed several times before my arrival, but the cost of a significant project always seemed to put it out of reach. Of course, the question of an electronic instrument surfaced now and then, but some were aware that much could be lost by replacing even such inadequate pipes with speakers. At one music committee meeting the frustrations with the organ surfaced again and Michael Ostrom, then pastor of the congregation, decided it was time to put the matter to rest. It was time for a study of the situation and a recommendation on whether replacing or augmenting the instrument was feasible, and if not, we would direct our energies elsewhere.
Eleven people responded to the invitation to form a committee. The commitment of these people has been impressive. (One even began organ lessons so he would be better informed.) Most had been a part of the congregation long before my arrival. All brought unique perspectives to the study. The journey was for the most part enjoyable, with many stimulating discussions, potlucks, some road trips, and even a wedding cake. Leadership of the committee changed when the original chair moved to Africa, but we were fortunate to have two capable and dedicated leaders during the process. The study was lengthened by a change of clergy, but the committee continued meeting during the interim and we were grateful that Pastor Al Duminy was willing to be a part of the process when he arrived.
We were fortunate to engage Michael Bauer as our consultant. His engaging teaching style and depth of knowledge led us through the process of making this significant decision. His distillation of the requirements of the organ (leading congregational singing; accompanying the choir, soloists, and instrumentalists; and playing organ music during the liturgy) helped the group maintain focus, but perhaps most important was his highlighting the importance of beauty in worship and in life. Introducing committee members to quality instruments that produced beautiful sounds and enhanced the visual appearance of their respective worship places inspired individuals on the committee to imagine such an instrument at Sinai.
An important part of the success of the project was Dr. Bauer’s approach in asking builders for proposals for the smallest instruments that would effectively carry out our requirements. Sinai is a small congregation, and without a single major benefactor behind the project we knew we needed to be careful not to exceed what we could reasonably expect the congregation to accept in the way of a financial commitment. The builders who offered proposals all suggested instruments of 11-12 stops. The committee selected the Juget-Sinclair firm in part because of their history with small instruments, and because of the committee’s response to their instrument at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church when we visited St. Louis. I could not have been happier with the decision, and the innovative organ that they built for us has made the most of the very carefully selected resources. Several stops are playable on both manuals, and most of the organ is under expression. It is amazingly versatile and works well with a wide range of organ literature.
Dedicating the organ at the congregation’s 125th anniversary service and introducing the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation gave us opportunities to highlight its use in the different contexts in which it will serve, from leading congregational singing in festival worship and in a hymn festival with choirs and instruments to solo recitals. It will move seamlessly into another year of the congregation’s modest concert series in both solo and accompanying roles, and it has given us opportunities to host other local and regional events.
Participants in the youth choir were fascinated with the new instrument from the beginning, when their director brought them to the balcony during installation, and they have responded enthusiastically to the invitation to assist me with registration on Sundays. The organ has won over some of the skeptics in the congregation who had the opportunity to observe quality workmanship first hand during installation, who hear the stunning difference in its support of congregational singing, and who appreciate the remarkable visual impact it has on the worship space. Nearing the end of its first year, the organ is living up to its promise, and I am very hopeful about the future of music in this place.