Northern Light members, friends' support buys church a new organ

State-of-the-art instrument replaces one installed in '62

Posted: Monday, September 05, 2005

Sunday morning services at Northern Light United Church included the debut of the building's almost-brand-new Rodgers Trillium Model 967 console organ.

The new instrument was fully installed Wednesday and replaced the church's Rodgers Custom Model 37-C, brand new when it was installed in December 1962 at Northern Light. At the time it was the most modern organ in Alaska. But since then, many of its electronic mechanical parts and several of its loudspeakers have deteriorated.

Members and friends of the church raised $40,000 to match a sum from the Richard Britt Fund for the new organ. Britt, a longtime church member, died in 2003.

"It's like comparing the digital state-of-the-art electronics to your old 78-rpm player," said church music director J. Allan MacKinnon, who played the organ Sunday morning. "Folks were pretty excited. It has a different kind of sound than what they might be used to, just because of the kinds of sounds that are there and the way that the tone is generated."

The 967 is a three-manual organ with 130 equivalent pipe ranks and a sound module that adds 77 pipe organ samples and more than 1,000 instrumental sounds. It's been mounted on a movable platform in the front of the church, with help from Don Gotschall and volunteers. Six tone cabinets have been added to the back of the church to improve the sound.

The new organ can be used for concert repertoire, orchestral transcriptions, church worship and original song.

"The plan is to invite an organist, or have a concert series, and let folks know it's available for organ recitals or various ensembles that want to put on a recital or presentation at the church," MacKinnon said.

The Trillium 967 costs $100,000, but the church received a discount because it had been used a few times before. It was on loan early this summer to Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Okla., and used there for the American Guild of Organists Convention in June. The organ returned to Rodgers headquarters in Hillsboro, Ore., where the electronics were tweaked before it was sent to Juneau.

Dan Miller, an internationally known concert organist, is coming to Juneau during the fourth week of October to adjust the organ's "voicing" - the acoustics as they relate to Northern Light's A-frame space. Miller will also present a concert performance on the evening of Oct. 22 and a workshop during his stay.

The last known formal organ concert on the 37-C was in 1976, MacKinnon said. That organ is now sitting in the gathering space in the back of the church. Staff at Rodgers considered displaying it in their museum but decided it wasn't worth the cost of freight. Anyone interested in having it should contact the church.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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