Concert will highlight the expansion of pipe organ at St. Matthew Lutheran Church

A celebration of music heritage

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Gary Ritter plays at the new electric organ console installed as part of the existing pipe organ at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Washougal. The community is invited to a celebration on Sunday, when Portland organist Bill Crane will perform. Ritter and Ian Guthrie are the regular accompanists for the congregation during Sunday church services.

Thirty-five years ago, Gary Ritter helped design the first pipe organ installed at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Washougal. And today, as one of the church organists, he is celebrating the expansion of that instrument into one that can now produce rich, complex tones.

“It’s a wonderful way for us to have so much more capability,” Ritter said. “This church really has a history of honoring the musical heritage of the Lutheran church, so it was important to them to have a good speaking instrument.”

The new installation consists of a Dutch built Johannus electronic organ connected to the existing pipes to produce a hybrid instrument of greater scope than before, Ritter explained. Pipes and speakers combine to add strength to each component’s qualities, the strength and beauty of the pipes and the greater tonal resources of a large instrument.

“One of the things that is the beauty of an instrument like this is that it can do a lot of the things a traditional organ would never have been able to do,” he said.

The introduction of the electronic components now allows the organist to transpose the music of the pipes to new keys with the push of a button.

In addition, the digital components can separate the notes played on a single keyboard so that the bottom note plays on the pedal pipes and the highest note plays on the upper keyboard where a solo instrument sound can be played, giving the impression that the organist is playing three keyboards.

The original pipes and wind chests of this instrument were built for the congregation in 1974 by the Reuter Organ Company of Lawrence, Kan.

Due to the high cost of building pipe organs even then, it was only feasible to purchase a modest two keyboard instrument of 8 ranks (sets of pipes). These 487 pipes range in length from about 1 inch to 8 feet.

According to Ritter, although the pipes still produced a beautiful, rich sound, the organ was limited in its stylistic range. After more than three decades, the organ console was not always functioning reliably.

That’s what inspired the church to replace the old console with a new instrument which would also play the pipes, combining windblown and the electronically sampled pipe sounds in one instrument.

The newly expanded organ now boasts a specification equivalent to a 44 rank pipe organ.

Fund raising for the purchase began about a year ago, and came primarily from donations from church members — some being memorial contributions.

On Sunday at 3 p.m. those efforts will be highlighted as the 75-year-old St. Matthew Lutheran Church marks the new installation by offering a free organ concert to the community played by celebrated Portland organist Bill Crane.