Ronald Gibson: He’s Mr. Organ Transplant

LAGRANGE, Ohio (AP) — As he sat at the four-stop pipe organ describing its inner workings and the instrument’s full, rich range, it’s easy to understand Ronald Gibson has great respect and love of the music organs can produce.

“Organ preservation and church music are like a religion to me,” Gibson said. “They are as sustaining as oxygen.”

Both have enriched Gibson’s life, judging from the eloquent, knowledgeable and thoughtful way in which he discusses them.

The Oberlin resident, 61, spent much of a recent day at LaGrange United Methodist Church, where he was starting to dismantle a 1965 pipe organ, which is being donated and shipped to Liberty Hill Baptist Church in Reynoldsburg, east of Columbus.

“This is a joint venture not motivated by the usual motivation . money,” Gibson said with a broad smile.

No, this collaboration was driven by a love and appreciation of music that is resulting in a new home for this gem of an “orphan organ” as he referred to the 50-year-old instrument.

Which is why he was so motivated to see that it continues to provide music in a new home.

Gibson has been involved with the work of moving organs for years — a sort of natural evolution for a man who first became intrigued by organs as a teenager.

Over the years, Gibson’s fascination with the instruments led to a dual interest in their mechanical side “which, of course, becomes quite useful when an organ needs moving to a new home,” leading him to help move more than 24 organs for churches, concert halls and private owners.

Gibson first began talking with Pastor Troy Shaw of Liberty Hill Baptist Church after Gibson answered an ad placed by the church seeking advice on how to move an organ.

Those talks eventually led to the deal being struck between the LaGrange and Reynoldsburg churches to donating the organ.

“Our congregation (which typically numbers 150) had just changed, and we are moving toward a more traditional style of worship,” Shaw said. “We were concerned about a movement toward secular music and wanted our worship to sound special and unique, and we began to look for an organ.”

Terming the music made by organs and other instruments “a more direct window into the soul” than spoken words, Gibson himself provides organ music weekly for First Congregation United Church of Christ in North Ridgeville.

Gibson will be spending quite a bit of time dismantling the four-stop organ, built by the Moller Co. of Hagerstown, Md., which Gibson said produced more than 13,000 pipe organs before going out of business in 1991.

After centuries of European companies producing the world’s best-known and highest-quality organs, American organ-makers have finally come into their own in recent years, having produced major organs for cathedrals in Europe, according to Gibson.

Organs produce sound via a hollow wooden box or wind chest filled with compressed air provided by a bellows or blower. When organ keys are depressed and valves known as pallets are opened, it sends compressed air up through pipes of varying lengths to create specific musical notes meant to emulate the sound of instruments such as flutes, stringed instruments and trumpets.

The LaGrange organ will be taken apart and out of the church’s original white-frame building then sent via truck and trailer to Columbus where its new home will be a 10,000-square-foot sanctuary.

Gibson’s work will include removing the dozens of individual 8-, 4- and 2-foot pipes, which he will pad and place in special trays he made.

“They’re quite fragile as they are made of tin and lead and easily damaged,” Gibson said.

Gibson will have some assistance for the more physically demanding parts of moving the organ and the Columbus-area church will bear the modest out-of-pocket expenses the move.

“Once we began talking to Mr. Gibson, we knew we didn’t want anyone else to move this organ but him,” Shaw said.

As a way of thanking Gibson for his expertise and help, Liberty Hill Baptist Church has provided him with small honorariums, which paid for trips by Gibson to evaluate potential organs for the church that were in Middlepoint, in northwestern Ohio, and at the University of West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va.

Fortunately, the organ has been well-cared for and requires no major work or repair before it makes its journey.

“We’re doing a little organ transplant here,” Gibson quipped.


Information from: The Chronicle-Telegram,