Calvary Grand Organ
Ballantyne Magazine features Calvary Grand Organ
Get a closer look at the magnificent instrument and insights
from the curator, organist, and worship pastor… >view
The Calvary Grand Organ at Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina is internationally renowned as truly one of the great organs of the century! Dedicated in 1990, it is history's fourth largest pipe organ to be built at one time, the largest all-new church organ ever built, and ranks as one of the largest pipe organs in the world.
At a cost of $1.4 million, but now valued at approximately $3.7 million, this organ has 205 ranks and 11,499 pipes, ranging in size from smaller than a soda straw to over 40 feet tall.
The history of the pipe organ dates from around 250 BC when the first organ, crude by today's standards, had only a few pipes, a small keyboard and mechanical wind supply regulated by water pressure. The pneumatic organ made its appearance around 120 AD when a bellow was first used. Through the years many refinements have been made and since the turn of the century, electric blowers replaced the human-powered bellows.
The Calvary Organ brings with it the craftsmanship of handmade pipes – not unlike those of centuries ago – along with computerized electronics. Designed in 1986, this organ involved some 350 people working diligently for over four years to complete. The skilled craftsmen of the M.P. Möller Organ Company were chosen for the huge undertaking.
The manufacture of any pipe organ is a tedious and extensive process. Every piece of this organ is custom tailored specifically for the sanctuary of Calvary Church. The pipes range in material from polished zinc, bronze, tin, lead and other metals as well as a variety of wood families. Each pipe has its own unique sound from the bright, almost piercing sound of the festival trumpets to the mellow quality of soft flutes.
Not only does the organ require detail craftsmanship for the 11,499 pipes, it also requires major carpentry work, many cubic yards of air ducts, and miles of delicate wiring.
Once the organ was built and tested at M.P. Möller in Hagerstown, Maryland, each pipe, each beam, every part of the 173,000 pound organ was transported to Calvary Church in 18 semitrailers where the 11 month installation process began. Here, pipes were carefully unloaded and placed in their specific holders then voiced and tuned and refined, one by one.
The voicing of the instrument is affected by the acoustics of the 5,000 seat sanctuary. With just under three seconds reverberation in an enormous 2.5 million cubic feet of airspace, the organ can vibrate the room with support for strong congregational singing or sensitively accompany the choir and soloists, providing a spiritual environment for worship, prayer, communion and commitment.
The blowing plant for the organ — 6,000 pounds of machinery — is housed two floors below the choir and includes nine large electric blowers, efficiently requiring only 29 horsepower. Incidentally, bellows still exist in the modern organ but merely as a reservoir to ensure steady wind pressure.
Meeting all the varied demands of Calvary's diverse musical styles and literature, the organ becomes a grand concert instrument that can play virtually any composition ever written for the organ.
To command all the resources of the instrument requires a massive organ console. Handcrafted from Honduras mahogany, the 2,000 pound console may resemble the cockpit of an airplane to a layman. It contains five keyboards, 306 wooden drawknobs and over 200 other controls, making it the world's largest American made drawknob console.
Unlike many modern day electronic instruments which typically are used for 15 years or less, this pipe organ, with routine care, should last hundreds of years as have many of the great organs of Europe. Visitors from all over the world come weekly to Calvary Church to view and hear this grand instrument. Over the years tens of thousands will have the opportunity to be led in worship with this, one of the most ancient and venerable of all musical instruments. It is fitting that the organ, the king of instruments, be dedicated to the worship of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the one Almighty God.
Organist Dan Miller filled the bench of the Calvary Grand Organ for many years and served on the design team of the organ. His recordings are available through the Word Room or his website. Dan's site includes many intricate details about the organ of interest to musicians and organists.
Former Calvary organist J. Marty Cope has released a CD, A Thousand Voices, featuring the Calvary Grand Organ. The recording is available through the Word Room or at his website. Audio clips are featured at this link as well.
The Calvary Grand Organ is profiled at NPR's Pipedreams website — along with programs and information links about the organ.
Contact: Calvary Worship Ministry Office, 704.887.3687