Chancel Pipe Organ

The pipe organ at First United Methodist Church, Forest City, was designed in the late 1960’s as a concert organ to be capable of playing the organ music of the masters. Those who had a critically important hand in specifying the organ voices were: 

  • Dr. Austin Lovelace, Rutherford County native and internationally known organist and composer.
  • Dr. Stephen Morrisett, noted choral director and organ authority at Gardner-Webb College.
  • Dr. George Becknell, late member of First Methodist, the guiding force in promoting the organ funding and construction.   


The Zimmer Pipe Organ

First United Methodist Church

Forest City NC


Installed 1968

Modified 2002-2006

Following notes prepared by

Aubrey L. Calton Organist 1981-

These notes updated April 2017


One of the treasures of our church is its magnificent Zimmer Pipe Organ. Installed in 1967-68, it has served the church for close to 50 years-at least 2500 services. The original designers insisted that the instrument be one that could play the music of the masters and it has done just that. The artists who have performed concerts over the years have all been impressed with its sound. So, why did the organ undergo a renovation? Read on.      

Early in the year 2000, the church decided to start a large project to improve our church building handicapped accessibility. Other major changes were concurrently proposed to modernize the church building. I was asked if the organ needed any improvements and we went from there. 

Actually, the requests were modest at first. The pipe organ in 2000 was a fine instrument of 49 pipe ranks and immensely satisfying to play. Concert artists of note included Robert Smith from Converse, Marilyn Mason from University of Michigan, and Austin Lovelace (native of Rutherford County and internationally known organist). The original design specifications were impressive indeed and left only a few deficiencies for an organ with this many pipe ranks. 

However, after 30+ years of service, some potential aging problems developed.  High humidity coupled with the extremes of summer heat and winter cold resulted in stuck keys and faulty switching. Stop tabs sometimes did not work (result – no sound) or even worse sometimes air chest magnets activated by themselves (result –unwanted sound).       

The need for a better switching system was obvious. So, that was a top priority. For additions to augment the already impressive pipe ranks, I proposed first the addition of two digital ranks to bring the deep bass pedal sounds more in balance with the rest of the organ. These were a 32’ Untersatz and a 16’ Principal. To reproduce the sounds using actual pipes would require 32 pipes beginning with a pipe 32 feet long (for the 32’rank) and another set of 32 pipes beginning with a pipe 16’ in length (for the 16’ rank). The two digital ranks for the pedal organ speak from an enclosure about the size of a very large household refrigerator. 

Our organ tuning/maintenance contractor was asked to present a proposal to set forth some other needed improvements and this proposal was presented at a trustee meeting in 2001. Each proposal was assigned a category:

 Critically needed.   Would be nice to have.    Dream on! 

The decision (surprisingly) was to go for all proposed items with very few restrictions- the organ must be kept as predominantly pipe and the present console would be retained and modified as needed. 

The contract specifications included the following major sections 

  • Convert to solid state switching replacing the aging electro-mechanical relay combination switching.
  • Add five digital stops specifically:’ Untersatz, 32’ , Principal 16’ in the Pedal Organ;  Flauto Dolce 8’ . Flute Celeste 8 ’in the  Positiv Organ; Gemshorn 8’ – Great Organ 
  • Revoice the organ to tone down some of the more strident pipe stops and equalize timbre.
  • Replace all three keyboards and the pedalboard
  • Add Couplers to include Sw/Sw 16 , Sw/Sw 4’ . Sw Unison Off
  • Add couplers to include Sw/Pos16 Sw/Pos 4
  • Add couplers to include Sw/Gt 16, Sw/Gt 4, Pos/Gt 16 and Pos/Gt 4 
  • Increase General Combination Number of Settings (at very little extra expense and no additional space, we went from 6 to 990!) Note: The 6 combination capability of the original organ switching required an 8 ft by 4 ft panel filled with electro-mechanical relays. The new combination system, which provides 99 combinations, can be held in the palm of a hand. 
  • Add two Midi stops to each of the four organ divisions
  • Construct and install a Festival Trumpet pipe rank to be playable from the Great organ , the Positiv organ and the Pedal organ. Rank must not couple to any Division.    

The renovation was done by the Spearman Hawkinson Company -our primary maintenance and tuning contractors. The renovation spanned more than three full years because the contractor had many other church organs to tune, repair and maintain. 

Morris Spearman (of Spearman – Hawkinson) was the team leader for the renovation. He subcontracted with Peterson Electro Products for the switching system and Midi system. He subcontracted with Walker Technical Products to provide the digital ranks (5 in all). 

I would like to say that we had no problems during the long project, but we did.

  • The console was shipped to Charlotte to be gutted of the electromechanical relays and couplers and replaced by the solid state system along with the new Keyboards, Pedalboard and Stop Tabs. When it was returned, buttons called Reversibles did not work and later a circuit problem caused all the pipes to sound even though keys were not pressed.
  • The keys were too sensitive with almost no pressure needed to make the pipes sound. One Sunday during a prayer, I had my fingers lightly on the notes to begin the prayer response when the notes sounded. This prompted our pastor (David Hobson) to add a new request during his prayer to make the organ and organist behave!
  • During a Maundy Thursday Service at a quiet time, a ghostly sound began quietly at first and then increased in volume until the organ had to be turned off. This was a faulty seal on the air chest for the new trumpet rank. 

The last part of the overall renovation was a venture into the Midi world. Midi is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. 

Actually, the entire pipe organ switching operation uses Midi technology to route the electric current which turns on the magnets needed to open an airway to a pipe to make it sound on demand. 

In explain (hopefully in simplified terms), each key on each of the three keyboards (183 keys in all) and each pedal key (32 in all) and each stop tab & coupler(about 50 in all) are asked(electronically) 250 times per second if that entity is on or off. If, for example, middle C on keyboard 2 (the middle keyboard) is found to be pressed (On) and it is further determined that the Stop Tab for Rohrflute 8’ is also On, then an electric current will activate the magnet under the middle C Flute pipe which, in turn, causes air to flow into the pipe and sound until a future sample finds that the key and/or the stop tab has been turned off. Midi technology does not produce sound in itself; it provides instructions to each sound source to either turn on and stay on or turn off and stay off.        

The Midi Voices addition uses a sound module along with an audio system to provide the actual sound source where Midi instructions instruct the sound module what voice(s) to activate as well as which note(s) to activate. The  Midi sounds are not actual pipes, but are digital samples of real pipes.  

We selected the Allen Organ Ensemble Sound Module which has 243 voices. From this resource, any 8 of these voices can be programmed at any given time and selected and played very much like the other pipe and digital ranks of the organ. About 100 of the total number of voices are useful additions for a classical organ. The other voices are a combination of percussive and romantic sounds. The time to program a specific sound and store it in memory is about 2-3 minutes.   

The Midi ranks do not couple to any division other than the division programmed. The Midi voices are created in the Allen Ensemble Sound Module and converted to audio signals which then are routed to a dual amplifier and finally to two speakers specifically designed for organ sounds. Some of the voices are adjustable in volume from both the swell Pedal and from the module master volume. The Midi voices can be tuned (if needed) by a simple control.  

All of us at First Methodist  Forest City are deeply grateful to the original organ designers for the wonderful pipe organ instrument. We are equally grateful for the members and friends who made the renovation concept become a reality.




Adult Music Program

  • Chancel Choir
  • Hand Bell Choir


Children's Music Program