UNT's Main Auditorium was filled with the sound of construction this summer, but soon the auditorium will be alive with music again following an extensive renovation to a nearly century-old pipe organ that inhabits the stage walls.
The project has brought a feeling of nostalgia for Roy Redman ('60), who owns Redman Pipe Organ LLC, the Fort Worth-based company tasked with the instrument's most comprehensive restoration in more than seven decades.
"It's déjà vu, because I grew up with this organ in a way," Redman says, thinking back on his time as a violin student in the College of Music.
In the late 1950s, Redman attended a series of historical organ concerts in the Main Auditorium that jump started his understanding of the instrument. He went on to a career in church music, including 35 years as the choir director at Unitarian Church in Fort Worth. Additionally, he combined his love of music and interest in the mechanics of things into his own organ repair business, which has done other work on UNT organs over the years.
"When I was in college at UNT, there was a very important movement going on to discover a more classical way of organ building," Redman says. "It came to this country partially with Otto Hofmann, who was an organ builder in Austin. Those were very exciting times. As a result, several of my UNT classmates and I eventually became organ builders."
Beginning in February, Redman and his team of organ repair technicians disassembled the entire instrument and spent several months checking over every moving part of the organ, which was originally built by renowned Danish-born organ builder M.P. Möller and installed on the UNT campus in 1924. It was housed in UNT's Auditorium Building, one of the oldest buildings on campus, which once served as the university's first official administration building.
The pipe organ was thoroughly rebuilt in 1948-49, under the direction of the late UNT organ professor and musicologist Helen Hewitt, to play classical pieces with principal choruses in the great, swell and pedal divisions.
This latest restoration will considerably extend the pitch range and quality of the organ's sound, moving it from a III/60 to a IV/78. One of the major enhancements includes additions from a 1931 Opus 5819 theatre organ once housed at the Philadelphia Municipal Auditorium. The organ came to UNT via the University of Oklahoma, which acquired it in 2006 for preservation.
"To renew something that is 100 years old, there's something extremely gratifying about that," Jesse Eschbach, UNT professor of organ, says. "Due to the instrument's location embedded in the walls on either side of the stage, it has a very mystical and remote sound."
He says the rebuild led by Redman will "significantly enhance the effect" of the organ.
"The great choir chamber is being dramatically reconfigured to allow more presence of sound in the room," he says. "It will be a great asset for our program, especially in playing music from the 19th and 20th centuries."
UNT will celebrate the organ's rebuild with a performance by French organist Daniel Roth March 7 in UNT's Main Auditorium. Check thempac.universitytickets.com closer to the concert for tickets.