Sally Sloane is having a ball. Sitting at the pipe organ in the sanctuary of Riverside Presbyterian church, she’s not only just hitting the keys. With her hands and her feet, she’s flipping switches that control the instrument’s 130 pistons, she’s opening and closing the shutters in front of the screened-in pipes, the oldest of which date back to 1904.
“I’ve been having so much fun,” says Sloane. “I haven’t been able to play like this since the ’90s”
For the first since she became the organist/choir director at Riverside Presbyterian Church in 2004, she’s got an instrument that can bring the thunder – or whispers – with all of the color variations a top-class pipe organ can deliver.
Earlier this year the pipe organ was refurbished over a three-month period, a $75,000 fix that’s part of a series of improvements, which included the restoration of its rose window and making bathrooms handicapped-accessible, the church has completed in recent years.
The church raised the money as part of a major capital campaign begun a few years ago.
The pipe organ — it’s more than just the console; hidden behind a screen are scores of wood and metal pipes, chimes and the electro-pneumatic system that makes the whole thing work – was installed in 1904.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that the electric action was added to the pipes. That was done at the time the church bought a “new” 1930s-era keyboard console for the organ. More pipes were added in 1984. That was the instrument Sloane inherited when she was hired 20 years later. The church added a zimbelstern (which produces delicate tinkling chimes) to the organ in 2013.
When Sloane got the job in 2004, the existing organ console’s capabilities were very limited. The organ had just 12 pistons (and none that could be trigged by foot), but only six of them worked, said Sloane.
By 2015, just two of the pistons were working.
“You’re very limited in what you can play,” Sloane says.
But after the refurbishment, which included the purchase of a “new” Austin console from the 1970s, the instrument is fully capable of playing not just its principal pipe-organ sounds, but flutes, reeds and strings, all triggered by the now vast array of pistons.
Sloane says the console is almost identical to the one she played as a student in college.
“It was meant to be,” she says.
The completely refurbished organ also made something else possible.
“Now it’s possible to do a concert,” Sloane says.
So that’s just what Riverside Presbyterian Church, 116 Barrypoint Road, has decided to do.
The congregation will rededicate the pipe organ at a special concert on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 4 p.m. Sloane, of course, will be at the console, but so will a special guest. Gwendolyn Wolski, a 13-year-old organ prodigy from Oak Park who started out as one of Sloane’s piano students.
Among the pieces to be played are works by composer Joel Raney, including some of his organ and piano duets, which will be played by Sloane and Mary Ann Sadilek. There will be traditional church music along with works by Bach and Jehan Alain.
Sloane will also play the dramatic Cesar Franck’s Chorale No. 3.
“The reason I’m playing [Franck’s Chorale] is that it really shows off the organ,” Sloane said.
The concert of open to the public. Attendees are asked to make a free will offering for the church’s organ fund.