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New Dobson in Philly (not at Kimmel)

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  • New Dobson in Philly (not at Kimmel)

    DAVID SWANSON / Inquirer Staff Photographer

    Part of the 2,800 pipe organ that is being hand-built in St. David's Episcopal Church in Wayne.

    The shriek of a drill bit piercing metal made it hard to hold a conversation last week at the front of St. David's Episcopal Church.

    By late September, it will be all but impossible.

    Other sounds will play second fiddle to the soaring voice of a 2,800-pipe organ being hand-built at the Wayne chapel by a crew from Iowa.

    The work began March 4. The crew will complete assembly by May, and experts will tune each pipe by mid-summer.

    When dedicated this fall, the 39-foot-high instrument is expected to enrich the spiritual experience of the 292-year-old parish, said the Rev. Frank Allen, the church's rector.

    "Every ministry should be trying to draw people into the life of God," Allen said. "The worship service is part of that. We want to make it as beautiful as we can."

    The congregation decided in 2002 to build a new chapel next to its old one at 763 Valley Forge Rd., when the latter became overcrowded. An important consideration was music.

    The church dispatched a committee to research organs up and down the East Coast. The one that the group liked best was made by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa. That's the firm that built the organ at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.

    After hearing the test organ's enveloping sound, the committee decided to purchase a mechanical "tracker" organ. The project cost $1.4 million.

    The sound "surrounds you; it can vibrate the pew you're sitting in," said Clair Rozier, the church's musical director.

    A tracker organ produces sound by forcing air through the pipes from a blower deep inside it. The organist makes this happen by hitting keys connected to a series of wooden levers. The levers slide back a cover, allowing the air to go through.

    The length of the pipe determines pitch. Long ones produce low notes; short ones, high notes. The longest pipe is 16 feet; the smallest is the length of a pencil.

    Thirty-three of the pipes are mounted on the front of the organ above what looks like white wainscotting. The rest are hidden from view.

    Bob Savage, one of four men working on the St. David's organ last week, said the pipes were made of polished zinc, lead and zinc, or wood. Some are made at Dobson's plant. Others are imported from Germany.

    The instrument's "expression," he said, comes from pressure on the keys that controls precisely how much the cover slides back to admit air into the pipe.

    "There's little room for error when there are that many pieces," said Savage, pointing to a thick stack of draftsmen's drawings of the organ. "It has to fit."

    The organ was put together in Dobson's plant, then tested. It was dismantled and packed in wooden crates for the tractor-trailer trip to St. David's.

    On March 4, after a special celebration service, 300 parishioners carried the crates into the fellowship hall for storage. There, the boxes were gradually being unpacked last week.

    In late September, once the drill bit has given way to the sound of the new organ, there will be a special service and dedication.

    Six piano students have said they want to learn to play the new instrument. There also will be a series of performances by Rozier, associate music director Bob Gallagher, and organist Ann Elise Smoot.

    "We have grown our music program, and we will continue to grow," Rozier said. "I think the organ will deepen everyone's experience of music here."

    For Information

    To learn more about the organ project, visit For more about the organ, see