Many years ago when the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Livermore worshiped in what is now our historic chapel, Session considered installing a pipe organ. This was not financially possible, so the Church's first organ was a single-manual Everett Orgatron purchased in 1942 with a memorial gift.
In 1955, a generous gift from another family allowed the Church to install a two-manual Baldwin Model 5 electronic organ. The pipe organ dreams persisted, however, so when the present sanctuary was being designed the congregation believed that suitable pipe chambers should be provided. Consequently, organ experts were consulted as to the proper size and configuration of the chambers. The recommendations were followed in the new construction which was completed in 1965.
In January, 1963 an organ committee was formed to determine whether the Baldwin electronic organ already in the chapel was adequate for the new sanctuary. If not, the committee was charged to set specifications for electronic and pipe organs for the sanctuary. The committee decided that the existing Baldwin was not adequate. The committee's assignment was then expanded to include obtaining funding and actually procuring a new instrument.
A fundamental difficulty lay in deciding whether it was the Christian approach to spend so much money on an expensive organ when many poor people, both near and far, were going hungry. Should we build a cathedral or should we spend this money on benevolences? Within our church the issue was also quite focused on another point - should we limit such expenditures for the sake of maintaining a third minister? Under these conflicting priorities the Session was not very active in promoting an expensive pipe organ and chose to leave such a commitment to the initiative of individuals within the church.
In choosing an instrument some of the choices can be quantified, primarily the purchase price, the maintenance cost, and the expected life of the instrument. After these came the evaluation of the tone qualities and capabilities of the instrument, highly subjective areas.
At this time employees of the growing Lawrence Livermore and Sandia Laboratories formed new life in our church, and being specialists at the cutting edge of technology many, but not all, of them believed that with modern science and technology the sounds of pipe organs could be very accurately reproduced by electronic circuits at a much lower cost. Others disagreed, feeling that although this might be true in theory, in practice existing electronic organs were much inferior in tone to pipe organs.
In trying to establish some order in this muddled situation the committee visited organ installations at other churches and heard other pipe organs built by Aeolian-Skinner Organ Co., M.P. Moller, Inc., Casavant Frères, Holtkamp Organs, Swain and Kates, and Wicks Organ Co. These organs included two- and three-manual installations with estimated prices ranging from $35,000 to $45,000. The committee members made efforts to classify these organs and to establish an order or preference among them. They considered cost, construction quality, and the sound quality of each instrument, particularly those of the flutes, strings, reeds, mixtures, and ensemble blend.
Meanwhile, the funding program for a new organ was not going well, so the committee turned more attention toward used pipe organs and electronic organs. No acceptable used pipe organ could be found, leaving electronic organs as the remaining contenders. At about this time the technology of building electronic organs was in a state of flux with the introduction of solid state circuits. But, the committee had to consider existing models. At that time the Allen Company, one of the two manufacturers preferred by the committee, presented their newly developed model the 600D. This was a two-manual electronic organ with good tone, incorporating several new features, including the capability of inserting a computer card to augment the stop list of the various sections. The organ was purchased for $16,000, the console was installed in the sanctuary and speakers were mounted in the pipe loft, and it was ready for use in 1973.
The 18-year-old Baldwin it replaced was returned to the chapel but was not adequate for some events, such as weddings. Eventually, in 1984, it was replaced with a used Allen Model 423C electronic organ. This model was similar to the one installed in the sanctuary although it was considerably smaller and included fewer speakers.
Our Allen organ served the congregation well for nearly twenty years. During that time many members and friends of the church continued to be interested in the ultimate goal of obtaining a pipe organ for the sanctuary. This interest heightened when it became apparent that the electronic organ was showing signs of age and would need to be replaced. A three-year fund raising drive "Restoration and Renovation" to raise money to address long overdue maintenance and capital improvement projects had raised $80,000 toward a new organ. Conversations about used pipe organs were not uncommon around the church and donations to the organ fund, both individual contributions and concert proceeds, were begun. In 1992, responding to this climate, the Session impaneled a committee to determine the feasibility of realizing the long held congregational dream of purchasing a pipe organ. Members of earlier organ committees furnished valuable information and unfailing support.
As it became clear that there would be no grants for that purpose, the committee asked the Session for three months in which to hold a pledge drive. Through a combination of the Restoration and Renovation drive seed money, bequests, one-time gifts, concert revenue, and pledges, the $300,000 goal to purchase a new pipe organ was achieved. The Session then expanded the charter of the committee to include selecting an organ builder.
The committee visited a number of organ installations, listening to the instruments and talking with members of the churches involved and to representatives of organ builders. These representatives also gave presentations at our church. The primary aim of the committee was to purchase a pipe organ to enhance worship in our sanctuary; concert considerations were secondary. We wanted the best organ we could find for the purpose of enhancing our experiences in the worship of God.
In late October, 1994 the Organ Committee met to vote on specifications submitted by five organ builders. After careful consideration a contract with Casavant Frères was accepted.
The organ was installed in time for use at Christmas services in December, 1995. A formal dedication recital as an element of the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the First Presbyterian Church of Livermore was performed on February 11, 1996.
The congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Livermore views this fine musical instrument, the 32 stop, 38 rank Casavant Frères Opus 3748 pipe organ as the realization of long held dreams and plans for our sanctuary; a beautiful example of craftsmanship, artistry, sound, caring, cooperation and giving dedicated to the glory of God. (See Casavant Frères at http://www.casavant.ca)
Prepared by Myron Heuesinkveld and Peggy Burdick.