Church raises money to restore century-old pipe organ

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake City church launched a social media campaign over the weekend to raise money for a collection of 3300 pipes. The effort has nothing to do with plumbing. It's all about music.

For years, the congregation at First United Methodist Church has endured the increasingly frustrating performance of its historic pipe organ.

"Our hope is to restore this organ back to its full glory," said Scott R. Mills, the church's principal organist and music director.

First built in 1906, the huge instrument is believed to be the oldest pipe organ in Utah, Nevada and Idaho that is still getting by on its original unrestored pipes. Those pipes range in size from a couple of inches to 16 feet tall.

The organ is now in such a state of disrepair that it's become a challenge to play and, for listeners, it can occasionally be a teeth-clenching experience. The organ's valves sometimes get stuck open, allowing wind to blow continuously through certain pipes. That means long, sustained notes are sometimes heard that aren't supposed to be part of the music.

"That's bad," Mills said, "because it destroys the music. You can't really play anything with that going on."

Our hope is to restore this organ back to its full glory.

–Scott R. Mills, the church's principal organist and music director.

It takes an experienced organist like Mills to get it right. As he plays, he has to work around the defects. On his console, dozens of "stops" can be pulled out to bring various sets of pipes into play, but Mills has to leave some stops untouched because he knows unwanted notes will be heard.

"I've gotten used to avoiding certain stops," Mills said. "We have to turn it off or play something else. Sometimes I might have to just turn the organ off altogether and hop over to the piano."

Since the organ played its first notes more than a century ago, roughly half the pipes have had to be removed or shut down. The decaying instrument has altered the church's musical repertoire. "I have to avoid certain tunes," Mills said. "We don't have the variety like we would like. And so we're very anxious to have it restored."

"In the beginning it wasn't like that," long-time congregation member Bette Brickey said. "It was very good, very clear."

Brickey started attending First United Methodist in 1952. She kept coming on Sundays, partly because she loved the church's stained glass and its spectacular organ. "In our denomination, music is so important," Brickey said. "And the organ was absolutely wonderful."

The congregation is kicking off a crowd-funding effort, hoping to use social media to attract thousands of online contributors. Although the immediate crowd-funding goal is $100,000, it's expected to cost more than $300,000 to restore the aging pipe organ. The restored organ will wind up with more pipes than it started with, 3300 in all. That's why the fundraising website is called

The church already has thousands of vintage pipes that will be needed for the restoration. They were cannibalized from an organ that the church purchased years ago from the Masonic Temple. The plan is to combine the Masonic Temple pipes with the still-functioning pipes at First United Methodist.

It's a complex, expensive project that may take years to complete, but Brickey is looking forward to it.

"Ohhhhh!," she exclaimed. "The sound would be absolutely wonderful. Meaningful!"


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John Hollenhorst


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