Meet Gracie Pearl. She leads, she accompanies, she shines on her own.
“Organs always used to be an accompaniment instrument,” says Ric Smith, Director of Music for Wesley United Methodist Church. “But this is a very special instrument. She delivers a variety of color and nuance in her voice. I no longer take organs for granted.”
Gracie Pearl is the new $1.78 million pipe organ at Muscatine’s Wesley United Methodist Church which replaces the previous organ destroyed by an EF2 tornado in September 2017.
“This organ has multiple voices,” said Sally Potter, Wesley Organist, “so naming it into a person is not a far reach.”
The organ is named Gracie Pearl because of the mother-of-pearl material that adorns the buttons on the stops of the instrument. The pearl material was donated by the National Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine for use on the organ stops. In addition to the unique application of the pearl material, engraving the names of the stops on the buttons was also a first for the organ builders.
When it came time to find a replacement for the tornado-destroyed instrument, the organ search committee at Wesley pulled out all the stops to find the perfect organ builder for the perfect instrument in their sanctuary. EDITORS NOTE: pull out all the stops means to use all the resources or force at one’s disposal. This term comes from organ-playing, where it means “bring into play every rank of pipes,” thereby creating the fullest possible sound. It has been used figuratively since about 1860.
The committee engaged the services and expertise of CB Fisk Inc., one of the country’s premier organ building companies.
According to Al Brotherton, a member of the organ search committee, Fisk builds organs using an interesting combination of modern technology and medieval organ mechanics following a precisely documented scientific process. He points out Fisk formulates and casts its own metal alloys to get the best sound and it fabricates organ tracker rods out of 21st-century carbon fiber.
The company was founded by Charles Brenton Fisk who, in WWII, worked as a nuclear physicist on the Manhattan Project. Fisk had grown up with a passion for music and for tinkering with hi-fi equipment, so while in graduate school at Stanford University he began as an organ builder’s apprentice. He stared his workshop in 1961 attracting bright young co-workers who combined their talents in music, art, engineering, and cabinet making to build organs that redefined modern American organ building.
“To some extent the search committee go to help design the organ,” said Brotherton, “but the big heroes are the crafts people at the workshop and here on location that brought this organ to life.”
Ms. Potter said members of the Fisk team included a commercial photographer, an archeologist, an acoustical consultant, a sculptor, artists and engineers. When the committee visited CB Fisk Inc. in Massachusetts they reviewed a preliminary 16:1 scale model of the sanctuary and organ. Members made suggestions about how they’d like to see the organ incorporate design elements of the sanctuary windows. When they returned from lunch, the Fisk team presented cabinetry molding features that can now be seen installed on the new organ.
As beautiful as the Gracie Pearl looks with her gleaming ranks of pipes and warm oak case, her voice is what is most spectacular.
“The emotion spoken by the organ works to magnify the voices for singers,” says Potter. The divisions for Gracie Pearl — Great, Swell, and Choir – along with the organist’s mastery of keys and stops create her voice harmonies that bring joy and goosebumps to listeners.
“She has a voice that will impact the community in many ways for years to come,” said Potter.
To meet Gracie Pearl, the community is invited to her dedication worship service on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 11 a.m. and a dedication recital that same afternoon at 4:00pm. The recital will feature Nathan Laube, Professor at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester.
Gracie Pearl also leads in worship every Sunday at 11 a.m. at Wesley United Methodist Church in Muscatine. She also has her own Facebook page @graciepearlwesley.