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story.lead_photo.caption Scott Montgomery plays a pipe organ Sunday at Central United Methodist Church in downtown Fayetteville. - Photo by J.T. Wampler

FAYETTEVILLE -- Revving motorcycles, live bands and the calling of the Hogs are routinely heard in downtown Fayetteville, depending on the time of year.

Now, the sound of 3,500 wind-blown pipes is joining the list.

Central United Methodist Church on Dickson Street is having the finishing touches put on a pipe organ engineered and built by renowned specialist John-Paul Buzard.

The organ, made possible through an anonymous $1.4 million donation, is the piece de resistance of a larger renovation at the church. The $5 million project includes improved music facilities and work on the sanctuary.

The organ, with its combination of digital and traditional components and separate chambers holding 44 links with about 60 pipes apiece, surely is one of the most complex instruments in Northwest Arkansas, if not the state, said Brian Swain, church executive administrator.

Some churches opt for entirely digital setups with sound pumping through speakers, but nothing touches the walloping breath of a wind-blown pipe organ, Buzard says.

"Think of it this way: You're sending thousands of cubic feet of air moving through those pipes per minute," he said. "There are 3,500 pipes in this organ. Each one of them has one song to sing. One note, one tone color.

"You combine all those together to make one of the most complicated, rich, satisfying sounds known to human beings," Buzard said.

There is still work to do, but the organ is playable. In fact, church members heard the organ at a soft debut Nov. 4.

Even with it churning at less than full power, choir member Debby Gordon said hearing the organ is like an other-worldly experience.

Gordon, a soprano and soloist who sings the national anthem for University of Arkansas, Fayetteville baseball, softball, women's basketball and swimming matches, has heard her fair share of instruments.

"I moved here from Texas from a big church. I'm used to this kind of music," she said. "The first day that I heard the organ, I was moved to tears."

Of course, no organ is complete without a virtuoso at its keys. For Central United, it's Scott Montgomery.

Montgomery has been playing the organ since he was 11 years old. He likened the organ console to a cockpit, like flying an airplane with 90 knobs.

"It's a beast of an instrument," he said. "It can be as quiet as a mouse or as loud and dramatic as a freight train."

Montgomery and Buzard have a coincidental link. Montgomery hails from Champaign, Ill., home of Buzard's operation. Montgomery said he grew up hearing Buzard's instruments, which Montgomery described as the Rolls-Royce equivalent in the pipe-organ world.

Churches often face tough questions about how best to spend their money, Swain said.

"My general answer is that it is imperative that we keep our worship at the core of everything we do," he said. "It has to be excellent, it has to be spirit-filled and it has to be life-changing."

Scott Montgomery is shown at the Central United Methodist Church in downtown Fayetteville.
Scott Montgomery is shown at the Central United Methodist Church in downtown Fayetteville.

That mindset helps attract people to the church who will then carry out generous deeds, adding to the church's charitable endeavors and impact on the community, Swain said.

Bobby Sullivan, with the American Institute of Organbuilders, said it's a big deal when anyone decides to invest in a new pipe organ. The instrument serves as a form of outreach for a church, he said, that will likely get the attention of worldwide players and enthusiasts.

"Next to the church building itself, the purchase of a pipe organ is the next-most-expensive asset," he said.

Buzard and his team arrived in Fayetteville three months ago. Their work at the church should wrap up within a week or two.

However, there's an extra component to the organ. It's played through the bottom keyboard, and that facet is scheduled to be added in the spring or early summer.

Buzard doesn't do all the work himself. He has a tonal director, Brian Davis, who creates the sounds that clients want. His chief engineer, Charles Eames, designed the windchests that are specific to the Central United church organ.

The pipes sit on the windchest. Along with the keys and stops, all three components direct the wind into the pipes to create the sound.

The setup at Central United was especially challenging because the inner workings of everything had to be divided into two chambers, for spatial reasons. All told, the organ should have a lifespan of 100 years and the sound capability for playing any piece written for the instrument.

"This instrument will be very, very special -- not just for the church, but I think for the whole area," he said. "There's nothing quite like it around here."

A Festival of Lessons & Carols

What: Christmas music service and an opportunity to hear the new pipe organ at Central United Methodist Church.

When: 8:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Dec. 9

Where: 6 W. Dickson St., Fayetteville

State Desk on 11/22/2018

Print Headline: Arkansas church's new organ features 3,500 pipes

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